Law Practice Management

Law Firm Survey: It’s Not Easy Being Green; Unimportant Docs Get Printed, Paper Costs Grow

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An online survey of mostly smaller law firms has found that they are falling short of green ideals.

Law firms want to be perceived as green, according to the survey on expense management commissioned by Expense Reduction Analysts. Forty-four percent of the respondents said it’s important to be perceived as green and ecologically friendly, and 23 percent said it’s very important.

But the reality falls short of the hoped-for perception, according to a press release and white paper (reg. req.).

The respondents—which included administrators and law firm managers—were asked what percentage of the documents regularly printed at their law firms is unimportant. Forty-two percent said that half of their regularly printed documents are unimportant, and 28 percent said 60 percent or more of their regularly printed documents are unimportant.

When asked if printing and paper costs had become better or worse, 46 percent said worse, 36 percent said they were unchanged, and 17 percent said better.

Similarly, printed libraries are a big expense, but most firms plan to keep them rather than rely on electronic research. When asked what areas of research were most expensive, 43 percent of the respondents said books and the printed library, 36 percent said research services, and 19 percent said online subscriptions. Despite the cost, a majority of the respondents said there was still a need for physical, printed libraries in law firms.

Sheila Okabayashi is president of Integrated Solution Design, which conducted the survey for Expense Reduction Analysts. She tells the ABA Journal that the findings about libraries were one of the surprises of the study.

“The general belief was that the managing partners and the lawyers who have been there a while really like the printed materials and everyone else would like to go to online research libraries,” she says. But the survey didn’t find a huge difference between the views of managers and those of administrative staffers. Fifty-eight percent of the managers saw a need for physical, printed libraries, compared to 50 percent of support and administrative staffers.

The survey drew responses from 809 law firms in 38 states. The respondents had learned of the survey from articles, marketing and legal professionals groups, and other sources. Fifty-one percent of the respondents were firms of two to 25 lawyers, and 32 percent were sole practitioners.

The survey also found:

• When asked to select the areas where their firms were most likely to approve additional expenditures, technology was by far the most popular answer. More specifically, 64 percent said technology was the area most likely to be approved for more spending, 31 percent said office upgrades, 29 percent said marketing, and 20 percent said client or prospective client entertainment. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one category.

• When asked to name the trends at their law firms for expense cuts, 15 percent said support staff reductions and 15 percent said negotiating vendor contracts, the two most popular answers. A close second was pay freezes.

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