Organize Your Firm (and Yourself) with a Wiki

Lawyers in the Lawyerist Insider and Lawyerist Lab communities are known for adopting procedures manuals for the functions of their firms, including 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.

Graham Martin
Graham Martin is an estate planning attorney in Minneapolis.