Organize Your Firm (and Yourself) with a Wiki


Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

For a while I have been hearing about the value of composing checklists and forms for different events (new clients, file closings), enacting office policies for payment and scheduling and communication, and generally creating an image of the law firm to focus the practice and services provided. But when I’m doing everything I can to keep my solo practice afloat and stocked with clients, drafting documents solely for myself falls to the bottom of the list pretty quickly.

Recently, however, I was inspired to put together a wiki for my office as part of an image overhaul. So I signed up for a free wiki with WikiSpaces. Unfortunately, the free account allows anyone to see your wiki, which isn’t a great feature if you want to keep information confidential. So I signed up for the $5/month WikiSpaces upgrade, which makes the wiki ad-free, and allows you to make it private and customize the theme.

Once I had my theme looking more like my new website, I started thinking about what information I would want available to either a substitute attorney (in case there was an emergency) or a new employee. What I found was that I started writing my initial pages far more like letters, requiring them to be concise, organized, and full of linkable information. This process also forced me to brainstorm what information I would like future employees to have immediate access to, and what messages about my firm I would want conveyed right away.

This had two important, unintended impacts: (1) I discovered that what I am most concerned about is providing consistent experiences across the firm, with each client receiving the same level of attention; and (2) my firm has a message to convey, and I was finally able to put it into real words (outside a business plan setting) that would make sense to any literate individual.

My thought process for writing these pages initially regarded how I could communicate as much as possible in a small space, while allowing for the distribution of that information to scale up (in case my solo practice turns into the next 1,000-attorney firm—hah!). But regardless of the size of my firm in the future, my goal with the wiki is to be able to sit new employees (attorneys or not) in front of it and provide them with a general understanding of the culture, policies, and procedures of the firm in under an hour.

An additional benefit of creating a law firm wiki when there is only one person is that I get to create the institutional memory from the ground up; I won’t have to go back later and hurry to put everything together once I find myself in need of emergency substitute counsel or realize I have a new employee starting in 3 days. And I won’t need to figure out how to incorporate the views of 5 attorneys into the firm’s culture, or try to create checklists when everyone has their own procedure.

Finally, because it is a wiki, I can edit it whenever I need or want, and I can assign permissions to other users to view or edit it as appropriate. For now, of course, there are no other users, but it is incredibly easy to add new members as necessary.

So although I have composed only two pages of my wiki, I now have two great outlines for content to create, an understanding of what is most fundamentally important to me as a provider of legal services, and a vision for the future of my firm.



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  • Guest

    I do the same with Google Documents; which lets you hyperlink everything while keeping it private. Google document also lets you upload documents to the Cloud.

    • Google Docs works well, depending on what kind of firm operations manual you want. It’s much more limited than a wiki at creating dynamic bodies of knowledge, but much better at creating, well, documents.

      • guest

        Hi Sam:

        Great post BTW. I don’t think its necessarily more limiting because it lets you create hyperlinks. I can create a page that lists all open cases. I can hyperlink these to a page for each open case. This page serves as a log of what I am doing on each case. The log has hyperlinks to things in each case (including Word documents & pdfs) like depo transcripts, memos, letters, etc. This functions as a dropbox or type document cloud but is better because, rather than just a list of uploaded documents, you can create your own documents that hyperlink to the uploaded documents but also serve other purposes.

        I have a question I was hoping you could help me with. I would like to create a system of hyperlinked documents (like Google Docs, Wikia or a website/blog) that is NOT ON THE CLOUD, BUT ON MY OWN DESKTOP. Do you know of any way to do this? Any software that I could buy that does this?

        Thanks for everything.
        Lawyerist is a great site!

        • Yes, you can create links between documents, but it’s more cumbersome than it is with a wiki. Again, it depends on whether you want a wiki or a set of documents for your operations manual. Google Docs makes a poor wiki, but is pretty good for linking documents together.

          I’m pretty sure you can link between documents using Microsoft Word or LibreOffice, actually. If you can’t figure it out, I’ll see if Deborah can create a tutorial.