A law firm organizational chart is an important tool to understand your law firm’s structure and hierarchy, and can even be a valuable tool for a true solo lawyer to understand their many roles and responsibilities. A written organizational chart helps everyone at the firm understand where they fit and who they can report to, but it also should function as an accountability chart that lists the roles and responsibilities each person has in your firm. Accountability charts create clarity and transparency in your firm, allowing you to see who may have too much or too little responsibility so you can reorganize and create a more efficient structure for your practice.
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Within your law firm organizational structure, there will be different departments with different and specific functions to help you grow your practice. While the list of departments may sound daunting, keep in mind that no one person has to be in charge of everything–if you’re a solo practitioner, you can outsource some departments–but everything should have one person in charge.
Marketing. Knowing how to market your law firm is arguably one of the most important skills you need to develop when you first start your law firm. Your marketing department will develop ways to attract clients to your practice, distinguish you from your competitors, and help develop your law firm brand.
Finance and Accounting. Your accounting department will help you manage your law firm finances, including budgeting, bookkeeping, and taxes. The responsibilities associated with this department require skill and can be time consuming. If you’re a solo practitioner, this is one department you will want to consider outsourcing.
Billing and Collections. Sending clients bills and getting them to pay them isn’t always a fun task. This department will try to make this process as painless and smooth as possible with the help of human kindness and maybe some specialized software.
Sales. Sales, or business development, helps you bring in and manage clients. Sales will work closely with your marketing department to make sure that you’re advertising your sevices effectively so you’re bringing in your ideal client.
IT Functions. Whether you plan to have a server in your office, have company computers, or want someone to manage your software and cloud platforms, you’ll want to have a go-to person to troubleshoot any issues that arise with your firm’s technology.
Office Management and HR. Office management is an important, but overlooked, department. It can encompass ordering supplies, managing compensation, benefits, and employees, managing the office rent and lease, and other aspects of the business side of your law practice.
Delivery of Legal Services
While the roles and responsibilities will vary by department, in a law firm, generally, there are four main roles:
Owner or CEO. The owner, or owners, are the ones in charge of the law firm. There should only be one managing partner though. While input from other owners or partners is important when making decisions, managing by committee eventually leads to nothing getting done. Only one person, the CEO, should have the ultimate and final decision making responsibility for the firm. All other employees in the law firm fall under the supervision of the owner.
Attorneys. Attorneys are the ones who manage cases, litigate in court, provide legal advice to clients, and are experts in their practice area. There may be managing attorneys for each practice area in your firm and junior attorneys that answer to them, but those managing attorneys will report to the CEO. Attorneys may be:
- Partners, the more experienced and senior attorneys in the firm who are also usually owners of the firm too.
- Associates, or junior attorneys at the firm who may or may not be on partner track in the firm.
- Contract of Freelance Lawyers hired on a contract basis, or for particular cases, on a temporary or part-time basis for the firm. Their tasks can range from bringing a particular expertise to a matter, or assisting in research and legal writing when your caseload is overwhelming.
Legal Assistants. Legal assistants are usually trained in law, but don’t have the license to represent clients or practice law. They can be:
- Paralegals, who handle most of the paperwork and even some legal drafting for attorneys.
- Legal secretaries, who help manage the attorney’s schedule and other administrative duties.
- Law Clerks, law students who work at firms for training or internships. They help by assisting in legal research and case preparation.
Support staff. Support staff may not be legally trained, but help carry out daily tasks for the law firm or managing the workplace. Support staff can include IT support staff, receptionists, marketing directors, or other administrative personnel.
The roles and responsibilities of each person may overlap with other roles and departments, the main goal of each responsibility is to have one person in charge of final decision making for each aspect of your law firm.
Leadership and Accountability
Traditionally, law firms have built their leadership and reporting structures around seniority. It wasn’t always clear who managed whom. Junior attorneys at the firm simply reported to any senior attorney, and that was it.
Similarly, law firms lead and managed by committee. While it sounds like a good idea, allowing everyone to take part and make decisions for the firm, it’s an inefficient process that often does more harm than good. When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge.
A lack of clear leadership and accountability creates confusion for your staff and can delay decisions, which could result in lost opportunities. Having a more vertical structure and clarity in who reports to whom and having only one person accountable for responsibilities in the firm helps create a more streamlined and efficient law firm that gets things done.
Having law firm organizational charts and accountability charts helps everyone better understand their role, place, and responsibilities in the firm. It also provides guidance as to whom would be the best person to ask certain questions about the firm.
Organizational Charts vs Accountability Charts
Law firm organizational charts show relationships between individuals or departments and who is in charge of who or what department. They show the law firm organizational structure and the relationships and relative ranks of its parts and positions/jobs. It provides an overview of what your law firm looks like and the seniority of your firm. Law firm organizational charts are often shaped like a pyramid, though it could be more vertical, looking like a column, or be short and wide indicating that just one person is in charge of many. If your law firm organizational chart looks like a ball of yarn, you’re probably in trouble.
Accountability charts go into more detail than organizational charts. They list the law firm organizational structure and who is responsible for what in the company. Accountability charts can help you clearly see who is responsible for which areas in your firm. This isn’t to say the accountable party has to make every decision alone, input from others is important, it simply means that they have the authority to make a decision when it’s game time.
An accountability chart can help you lay out essential functions of your firm. It should list all departments, personnel, and their functions. It should be clear on who is responsible for what, who they report to, and how each function fits into the larger picture.
To build your first accountability chart:
- List all the functions in your firm without listing who in the firm has that role.
- Start with the leader, either the managing partner, CEO, or owner, and note what roles that function needs to play in the law firm organizational structure, which typically includes big picture things like creating and maintaining firm culture and values, overall profit and loss, and team management
- Then tackle the next level of the chart, which is the leadership and accountability for each function of your firm. This includes at least sales and marketing, and firm finance and administration, though your firm may have more. For each function, note the roles and accountabilities for each.
- On the next level or levels, add in other functional roles in the firm. This might include things like attorney, paralegal, client service. Note the roles and accountabilities for each of these functions.
- Once you’ve mapped out all the functions in your firm, go back in and add names to each box. Be careful about having more than one person with the same accountability. It’s ok to have multiple lawyers with similar roles, but it’s best to have only one in charge of a particular function.
- You may find out that there is no one assigned to a particular function. If that’s the case, you can temporarily put yourself in that role to make sure it’s being done, until someone else has that responsibility.
By creating an accountability chart, you’ll have a clearer idea of your law firm’s structural pain points, or see that someone has too many responsibilities to perform all of them effectively. You should also keep in mind that your accountability chart is not a static document. You should feel empowered to regularly revisit your accountability to make changes and updates as your firm changes and grows.
Delegating and Change Management
Now that you have your accountability chart made, you have a clear idea of who leads and manages what. Chances are, you’re at the top of your accountability chart as the main leader of your law firm. One of the more difficult things you have to do now, is lead, not do. As leader of your firm, your responsibilities are more complex and big picture. It’s important to continue to do the legal side of your work, but on the business side, you have to focus on shaping the thoughts and ideas of other attorneys and departments rather than dictating their specific work plans. In other words, you have to learn to delegate.
It’s an instinct to want to protect what you’ve built, but you may be holding onto too much, being too controlling over your practice and colleagues. As simple way to figure out whether you’re being too protective is to ask yourself: If you were to take a week off work unexpectedly, would your law firm’s goals and priorities advance? If you said no or that you’re unsure, you’re not being a leader, you’re micromanaging.
To delegate and manage changes effectively, you have to have an idea of what you’re ultimate big picture goals and ideas are. What are your reasons for that? Once you have that in mind, write it down and share it with your staff. When they understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’ll be able to better understand where they fit into the big picture and find personal relevance in their responsibilities. Help guide the main brush strokes of your firm but leave the details to those in specialized roles.
For example, you have an idea of what you want your firm’s marketing to be, but you don’t necessarily have the knowledge or expertise in the particularities of running a marketing campaign. You’ll let your marketing department know what your goals are, and allow them to manage the finer details of what your firm’s marketing campaign will ultimately be, with input from you along the way.
Staying mindful of your role, responsibilities, and expertise, as well as your staff’s roles, responsibilities, and expertise, you’ll be in a better position to delegate and empower others to achieve your law firm’s goals.
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