Running a successful law practice in today’s market requires business, marketing and technology know how. Most personal injury firms are in a state of technological ambiguity – fully embracing some technologies, partially committing to others, while shunning a good deal more. For these firms there tends to be a fairly large learning curve to understanding which technologies will best serve their practice and how to implement them correctly.
Unfortunately, most firms think it’s easier to make smaller technology changes on a case by case basis than developing and implementing a more comprehensive technology plan. Without the proper research and planning, smaller changes tend to fall short due to lack of implementation planning, staff support, budgeting, training and technical assistance. And many times result in even greater expense and frustration over the long haul. Here are six recommendations for making your personal injury practice enviously efficient.
First, liberate your case intake. Client intake is a critical starting point for any new personal injury case. Personal injury case information is considerable and complex, requiring a wide range of data on damages, injuries, insurance companies, medical and billing information, related parties, and more. From the point of intake, cases move forward quickly as insurance carriers are notified, records are requested, demand letters are prepared, pretrial motions are scheduled and the remaining case work flow is established. Most personal injury firms admit to frustrations with their current intake process, regarding it as inefficient and error prone.
Use practice management software to get rid of paperwork (paper intake forms, paper case files, paper documents, paper memos, paper copies, etc.), multiple people, and delays. With practice management software you have an integrated, electronic intake form that automates the intake process. This intake form validates data at the point of entry and checks for conflicts. Once you’ve filled in the intake form, the practice management software automatically fills in and saves your case data, contacts, notes, and events, linking everything correctly. Finally, the intake form sets into motion the next steps of setting up a new case, such as drafting a client welcome letter, calendaring follow-up events, and assigning case tasks to staff members.
Second, go paperless and do it right. Compared to other areas of practice, personal injury firms are paper intensive. With a flurry of documents going back and forth including record requests, representation letters, court forms, discovery letters, questionnaires, complaints, and motions, it’s easy for mountains of paper to build up. It’s no wonder lawyers lose 15 minutes each day looking for misplaced information and that ten percent of cases have at least one piece of information that can’t be found when needed. A lot of time, space, and resources are required to maintain paper in any kind of order. Commit to going paperless and do it right by scanning every incoming document, link all documents in your practice management software, shred everything that doesn’t include original irreplaceable content, store irreplaceable documents in a secure area, maintain multiple onsite remote backups of all digital files and make a plan and follow through.
Third, commit to case work flow. Personal injury cases have a number of set phases – including case intake, gathering information, settlement negotiations, and litigation – with specific activities that take place during each phase. As cases move from phase to phase and activity to activity, your firm should have a clear set of procedures for managing the transition. Without work flow procedures, cases frequently get neglected, stuck or delayed at individual phases. To establish and monitor your case work flow, follow these recommendations:
1) Create case rules
Set up case rules in your practice management software for each case type and case activity. Some firms prefer to set up their rules by attorneys as well. Case rules establish the case work flow for specific activities – such as case intake, information gathering, sending demand letters, settlement negotiations, etc. – by adding a series of events and reminders to the case calendar assigned to individual staff members. Set up your case rules correctly and you will always know what is scheduled next and who is responsible.
2) Regularly monitor the status of your cases
In addition to your open case status reports, set up alerts and reminders to make sure cases are progressing as planned and everyone is aware of upcoming activities and deadlines.
Fourth, click and fill documents and forms. Personal injury firms produce a high volume of documents and forms, including records requests, representation letters, court forms, discovery letters, demand letters, questionnaires, complaints, motions, etc. Generating these documents is often an unnecessarily labor intensive process, tying up significant staff time and resources. Furthermore, costly human mistakes commonly occur as a result of repetitive tasks. For example, demand letters containing miscalculations, missing medical costs, or lost wage figures will delay your case or undermine your firm’s ability to generate optimal settlements.
Use practice management software to automatically generate documents with information you’ve already captured, including contact, case, court, calendar, accident, litigation, insurance, settlement, and calculation based data. Avoid programs that force you to double enter this data into another program. Also, use your practice management software to maintain a firm-wide document library, storing Word, WordPerfect, and PDF templates. Finally, all documents should be linked to the case file in your practice management software so they are easy to find, edit, share, and print.
It is important to be able to find people instantly. The fifth tip for an efficient PI firm is to properly manage your contacts. Personal Injury attorneys have plenty of contacts to manage: clients, defendants, opposing attorneys, adjusters, experts, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, witnesses, judges, referring colleagues, important business contacts, etc. Don’t waste time searching for a contact’s phone number in one location, an email in another, a document in a third location, and financial information somewhere else.
Use practice management software to find any contact instantly in one location. With the contact’s name screen open, immediately find notes on the contact, follow-up events, related contacts, case information, emails, documents, forms, and billing information. For example, if you needed to find a letter sent to an expert witness for a new client and can only remember the client’s name, you should be able to 1) type in the first couple letters of the client’s last name (all data should be accessible by smart searches and keywords), 2) locate the client and pull up the contact screen, 3) go to the linked names screen and locate the expert witness, and 4) open the expert witnesses contact screen and find and open the appropriate letter. With practice management software, this should be a simple process since all data is linked and a couple mouse clicks away.
Lastly, make your calendar smart. Personal injury practices depend heavily on the guidance of their calendaring system. Firms expect their calendar to accurately manage complex series of dates for numerous people and cases – keeping everyone on top of every event and deadline. They expect a flexible and efficient system that adjusts quickly to changing circumstances, keeps everyone in and outside the office synchronized to the master calendar, and provides reminders and alarms that ensure everyone stays ahead of deadlines and activities. Unfortunately, most personal injury firms find their calendaring system doesn’t live up to their expectations, and are often disappointed in the results.
If you follow the above suggestions you can have an efficient and successful personal injury practice. Firms that take the time to develop policies and continually work to improve upon them through training, technology, effective leadership and communication are generally more successful in reaching their goals.