The time of your attorneys is your firm's most valuable asset, correct? Yet, I suspect that your legal tech budget does not account for your attorneys' time. This oversight will lead to problems in 2024 because legal tech and other innovation projects rely on attorney involvement for their success. With attorney time being a precious and limited resource, it's crucial to consider their involvement as an integral part of the legal tech budget to avoid delays, cost overruns, adoption challenges, and failures.
The Unseen Challenge
Ignoring the Iceberg
The business cases for various projects, whether it's transitioning to the cloud, implementing generative AI, or upgrading the Document Management System, typically provide comprehensive cost breakdowns, including software expenses and external consultants. These plans might also outline the hours contributed by staff members, as they actively participate in project planning and are aware of their resource constraints.
However, attorney hours are often taken for granted, creating two significant issues:
- Problem One: It will be difficult to prioritize and optimize your portfolio of options when only having insights into about half of the resources a project may consume. Based on our client experiences, attorneys' hours frequently represent 50% to 70% of project costs, making them a significant cost factor.
- Problem Two: During project execution, attorney time will become the bottleneck, leading to delays and cost overruns.
In essence, law firms discussing legal tech and innovation budgets may be navigating treacherous waters, unaware of what lies beneath the surface.
More Than a Time Sink
The Value of Attorney Participation
I am passionate about involving lawyers in legal tech and innovation projects because my research has shown again and again that it is the difference between success and failure.
Some potential clients express concerns about engaging their attorneys in innovation programs due to time constraints. I empathize with this perspective, as early in my career, I had to meticulously report my time in six-minute increments. Although the bookkeeping was cumbersome, it instilled in me the value of time and the importance of not squandering it.
However, I disagree that attorneys don't have time or don't want to get involved. Attorneys despise wasting time and have a keen sense for identifying time-wasting endeavors. They know from experience that many internal projects are futile and, as a result, are reluctant to get involved.
What should concern us all, is that apparently many innovation programs are so ineffective that attorneys prefer using time-consuming workarounds rather than engaging in creating solutions. This is costly. Based on data from Thomson Reuters, the inability to adequately address these inefficiencies may cost law firms about 3-5% of their revenues each year, not to mention the impact on morale and employee satisfaction.
Navigating Existing Constraints
Making the Most of Limited Time
So, how and where could attorneys find the time to address inefficiencies? There is a finite number of hours available for attorneys to dedicate to innovation activities. To illustrate, let's consider Vic Titious LLP, a fictitious law firm with 100 attorneys and 100 staff members.
At Vic Titious, the billable hour target is approximately 1650 hours per attorney, leaving them with 350 hours of unbillable time. That means that there are in total 35,000 hours available for client acquisition, training, business development, marketing, pro-bono work, and all other unbillable work.
The question is, how much of this o-billable time are you going to allocate to bring legal tech projects to fruition? 10% of this time would give you 3,500 hours - which should be enough to get about 10-20 projects the attorney support they need in 2024.
It Takes Time
The time available to a single attorney falls short of making a meaningful contribution.
If each attorney were to allocate 10% of their nonbillable time to innovation activities (equivalent to 35 hours per year), it would barely be enough to attend a few weekly meetings and demos. Even with adequate help from support staff, this likely would not be sufficient to address inefficiencies and implement a solution.
However, by encouraging attorneys within practice groups to pool their time, significant progress can be achieved. In the case of Vic Titious, with 10 practice groups, each comprising 10 attorneys, would provide them with 350 hours in a year, sufficient to make a substantial impact. If the practice group assigns one or two attorneys to drive the project on behalf of the practice, significant progress can be made.
The Unaccounted Factor
However, this collaborative approach will not materialize if your legal tech budget is approved without considering attorney time.
Without proper resource allocation, legal tech projects will receive sporadic support from attorneys. Further cementing the perception that participating in innovation projects is a waste of time.
In conclusion, as you plan your 2024 legal tech budget, it is vital to recognize that your attorneys' time is a valuable and limited resource. Failure to account for this resource will lead to project delays, cost overruns, and potentially undermine the success of your firm. Stay tuned for our next blog, where we will explore what stands in the way of creating project proposals that include attorney hours.