Findings from the Smokeball State of Small Law Australia Survey 2022
Small law firms across Australia still rely heavily on referrals (84 per cent) and word of mouth (82 per cent) to attract new clients or matters, according to the second annual Smokeball State of Small Law Australia Survey. When asked to describe all their marketing methods, networking (64 per cent), the firm’s website (48 per cent) and social media (34 per cent) rounded out the top five channels.
Advertising and professional associations only resulted in a quarter (25 per cent) of new work attracted, while lead generation emails (14 per cent) and sponsorships (10 per cent) resulted in the least amount of work.
NSW followed the national results with 85 per cent of new clients or matters coming from referrals, 78 per cent from word of mouth, 62 per cent networking, 50 per cent from a website, 34 per cent from social media, 24 per cent from advertising, 18 per cent from professional associations, 12 per cent lead generation email and 12 per cent sponsorships.
Victoria also mainly followed suit however 30 per cent of their referrals come from professional associations. Other channels were 89 per cent referrals, 86 per cent word of mouth, 68 per cent networking, 38 per cent website, 27 per cent social media, 19 per cent advertising, 11 per cent lead generation email and 8 per cent sponsorships.
Bucking the trend is Queensland where although referrals (86 per cent) and word of mouth (82 per cent) still lead along with networking (64 per cent) and the firm’s website (57 per cent); social media (43 per cent), professional associations (40 per cent), advertising (29 per cent) and lead generation (25 per cent) are much more valuable market channels to attract new clients and matters with sponsorships only responsible for 3 per cent of new work, the least return on investment across the country.
“We see a lot of smaller law firms struggle with the skills, experience and investment required to create successful newer market channels through digital, advertising and social media campaigns,” explains Bianca Bowron-Cuthill, General Manager of Smokeball. “What we need to understand to support them better is whether they need to leverage those at all. For example, in New South Wales and Victoria, are those channels not as fruitful as for Queensland firms because they are not used properly or is their way of doing business always going to be more traditional? There can be pressure to use these channels from well-meaning advisors or friends and family, but if they are not your main sales channel should you bother, especially if they are causing a lot of headaches for partners and staff?”
Almost one in five companies (22 per cent) had increased the number of matters in their firm in the past 12 months by 5 – 10%, while 14 per cent of firms had increased by 10 – 20% and 15 per cent by more than 20%. 12 per cent of firms had increased between 0 – 5%, while 10 per cent of firms did not increase their matters and one in five firms (27 per cent) were unsure if they had increased or not.
Victorian firms were higher than the national average in the number of firms (19 per cent) that increased their number of matters by more than 20% but also registered the highest number (19 per cent) who did not increase their matters at all. 24 per cent increased by 5-10%, 14 per cent increased by 10 – 20%, 11 per cent increased by 0 – 5%, and 14 per cent were unsure.
In New South Wales, 23 per cent of firms increased matters by 5-10%, 15 per cent increased by 10 – 20% and 12 per cent more than 20%. 14 per cent increased by 0 – 5%, and 7 per cent did not increase. 30 per cent were unsure.
In Queensland, 14 per cent of firms increased matters by 5-10%, 18 per cent increased by 10 – 20% and 14 per cent more than 20%. 11 per cent increased by 0 – 5% and 7 per cent did not increase. 36 per cent were unsure.
Helping with the management of increased workloads, almost one in four (23 per cent) firms estimated that practice management software saves them between 30 mins to an hour every day, while one in five (20 per cent) say it is 30 mins per day. 19 per cent estimate a time savings of 1 to 2 hours and 13 per cent more than 2 hours per day. However, another 24 per cent do not believe it saves any time.
Queensland firms recorded the biggest time savings, with one in four firms (25 per cent) saving more than 2 hours per day. However, another 29 per cent of firms in the State say it doesn’t save any time, while 14 per cent save 30 mins to one hour, 21 per cent 1 to 2 hours, and 11 per cent 30 minutes per day.
Victorian firms follow with 16 per cent saving more than 2 hours per day, 27 per cent saving 30 mins to one hour, 11 per cent 1 to 2 hours, and 22 per cent 30 mins daily, while 24 per cent say it doesn’t save any time.
Only 8 per cent of firms in New South Wales record a time saving of more than 2 hours per day, with 28 per cent saving 30 mins to one hour, 22 per cent 1 to 2 hours, 20 per cent 30 mins and 22 per cent not saving time.
Twelve per cent of respondents don’t use their practice management software to communicate with clients but of those who do, more than half (52 per cent) believe the most important benefit is the ability to track all communications in one place, 16 per cent say their communications are more secure, 8 per cent believes it makes their firm look modern or professional, 7 per cent say it helps them deliver a better client experience and 3 per cent say it reduces the time it takes for clients to respond.
While Queensland has the highest number of firms (21 per cent) who do not use practice management software for client communications, half of the firms who do say the main benefit is helping track all communications in one place (50 per cent), more secure communications (11 per cent), better client experience (7 per cent), and the same number (7 per cent) believing it makes the firm look modern and professional.
Firms in New South Wales are more likely to use with only 9 per cent of respondents not using and the benefits notes as helping track all communications in one place (49 per cent), more secure communications (20 per cent), better client experience (7 per cent) with the same number (7 per cent) believing it makes the firm look modern and professional. 4 per cent of firms in the State agree it reduces client response time.
In Victoria, 62 per cent of respondents feel it helps track all communications in one place, 8 per cent that it allows more secure communications, 11 per cent that it gives a better client experience, 8 per cent that it makes the firm look modern and professional, and 11 per cent do not use for client communications.
The dreaded timesheet including detailed descriptions is taking 22 per cent of small law firms up to 30 minutes a day to fill in manually, with 15 minutes a day noted by 16 per cent of firms, one hour per day for 13 per cent of firms and more than 2 hours per day for 3 per cent. 18 per cent of firms are using automated time tracking with no time spent typing entries.
Queenslanders are spending the most time on their timesheets, with one in four respondents (23 per cent) spending an hour per day on time tracking but none more than 2 hours per day. 14 per cent of respondents spend 15 minutes typing time entries daily, with an additional 14 per cent spending 30 mins. 18 per cent of respondents use automatic time tracking.
New South Wales follows with 11 per cent spending an hour and 3 per cent more than 2 hours per day on their timesheets. 30 per cent of respondents spend 15 minutes daily, and 22 per cent spend 30 mins. 16 per cent use automatic time tracking.
Victoria has the highest rate of automatic time tracking users at 22 per cent, with an additional 22 per cent of respondents spending 15 minutes on their time entries daily and 30 per cent spending 30 mins, 5 per cent an hour and 2 per cent more than 2 hours per day.
“No matter how many years of practice you have entering timesheets, they are always a process that no one enjoys,” says Bowron-Cuthill. “That’s why we developed AutoTime in 2021 to take away another unnecessary task from the fee earner and let them concentrate on doing their work rather than eat into hours by recording it”.
The business of small law and the tools and systems that can help support fee earners and support staff by improving daily efficiency is central to the learning and development opportunities at the upcoming Smokeball Spark conference on 17 February 2023 in Sydney. Delegates can gain up to five CPD points from the event. Follow the link to book your Smokeball Spark tickets.
Also Read: PracticeEvolve Announces New Mobile App
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Novum Learning or Legal Practice Intelligence (LPI). While every attempt has been made to ensure that the information in this article has been obtained from reliable sources, neither Novum Learning or LPI nor the author is responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information, as the content published here is for information purposes only. The article does not constitute a comprehensive or complete statement of the matters discussed or the law relating thereto and does not constitute professional and/or financial advice.