Law firms are both complex and fast-moving, requiring firm leaders to be strategic with the creation and implementation of systems. As an attorney with a small law firm, it’s easy to focus all your attention on your clients. While clients are a critical part of your practice, your firm won’t run itself.
Proper office law management = avoiding disaster. (Or, at least, being very prepared for disaster.) Whether you’re just starting your law firm and want to have the right systems in place or whether your firm is growing and you want to ensure your management strategies keep pace with it, you should treat your law offices with care and attention through systems so that you don’t leave money on the table and so that you can scale.
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How to Manage a Law Firm
To get ahead of your law office management needs, ask yourself if this describes your firm:
- Your firm has clear, documented systems and procedures that reflect your core business model and you follow them.
- Your documented procedures include both administrative and client services workflows and you have a system for regularly reviewing those workflows to find opportunities to automate or improve them.
- You follow good personal productivity and time management practices.
If your answer to these questions is no, don’t panic! This resource will help.
Guess what: Managing your office doesn’t have to take the bulk of your time. With sharp processes in place, proper law office management, and a mind open to automation for systems and processes, you can run your practice with efficiency and get back to doing what you do best: practicing law.
Law Firm Systems and Procedures
In any office, processes and procedures are your solid road map. In your law firm, processes ensure you can easily locate contacts, tasks, emails, documents, and more associated with your clients. They also help you use your time and resources efficiently and ensure your staff does the same.
Approximately 20 to 30% of revenue is lost due to inefficiencies in company processes each year.
In your firm, these inefficiencies might include employees hunting answers to simple questions or documents put in the wrong places. You can solve these issues with documented procedures, both freeing up your time and keeping your operations consistent.
How to Craft Your Law Office Management Procedures
Put together your office procedures so that, as you grow, you have a foundation in place for each new employee or member of your firm. You’ll want to compile all procedures into a law office procedure manual for safekeeping and reference. This includes your plan for contingencies like natural disasters or remote working policies. To get started, follow these steps:
1.Identify your processes. Consider each task you complete on a daily basis. Include simple as well as complex processes. Some example law office processes include:
- Client intake
- Document filing
- Using a CRM tool
- Using phones, task management software, and other tech tools
- Sending an email
2. Break your processes down into steps. Take each process and break it down into simple steps. Use numbers for each step, ensuring the process is quick and easy to follow. You can use flowcharts or screenshots to make this easier to visualize, especially if different individuals are responsible for certain steps.
3. Test, test, test. Don’t miss a step or important rule of thumb as you delineate each process. Ask an employee or a colleague to follow the process once you complete it and get their feedback. Make any changes needed to further clarify and simplify your steps.
4. Revisit and revise. Processes will change over time. It’s best to revisit your manual and revise as often as needed or at least each quarter.
Make Your Processes Accessible
Once you have your processes outlined, make that manual. Make sure each new employee receives a copy of the manual and store one in your office for easy reference. Consider using a wiki or a folder in the cloud to store your processes to make them accessible to your entire firm, regardless of their location.
Paperless Law Office and File Management
You gotta document. It’s critical. You’ll need to store both client files as well as internal documentation such as your law office management procedures.
The most cost-effective and streamlined way to keep track of it all is to go paperless.
Everything You Need to Go Paperless
Digital files destress your life. Truly. If you’re ready to go paperless, there are a few key things you’ll need to make it happen:
- A document scanner
- Adobe Acrobat
- A tablet
- A shredder or shredding service
- Cloud storage
Your Paperless Workflow
Besides equipment and tools, you’ll also need a dedicated paperless workflow for scanning and filing documents. To start, scan existing files into your digital filing system. Then make a process to scan every document or file that comes your way before you do anything else with it.
You’ll also want to decide how to organize your files, whether by open client files and closed client files or another method. Name each document in a way that reflects the client, the type of document, and the date. Remember to add this process into your office processes.
The What, Where & How of Client Files
As you manage your firm’s documents, it’s important to have a process that includes what to save and what to shred, even in a paperless office. When it comes to client files:
- Return documents you no longer need. At the end of a case, return client documents to the client, unless you specify otherwise.
- Get rid of unnecessary documents. At the close of a case, make sure you get rid of any non-pertinent documents that simply take up space.
- Have a separate file location for closed files. Keep open cases and closed cases separate inside your filing system. This prevents confusion and overwhelm within your files.
- Track your destroyed documents. When you destroy files after the safe time period passes, notate it in a separate destructed document record.
- Decide when and how you will shred documents that are now scanned.
- Date boxes of paper or digital files so you know how much time has passed since you last used them- this will help you figure out what to keep.
Finally, ensure the rest of your staff understands what to do with client files. Communicate the process in your law office management procedure manual.
Completing projects and tasks haphazardly to simply keep the lights on can lead to burnout; putting out one fire at a time is a guaranteed recipe for chaos, too. To avoid making life harder for yourself and your staff, and to ensure you continue to provide high-quality legal services to your clients, you must put a strong project management system in place.
Project management involves creating and executing a plan to meet a specific goal. The actual definition of a project involves something temporary with a definitive beginning and end. Getting all these ideas out of your own head will help you collaborate with your team to close gaps in your process.
How to Properly Manage Law Firm Projects
In your law firm, the most common projects are client cases that have a definite beginning and a close. Yet, you might also come across other projects such as internal projects, pro bono work, and more. Proper project management ensures your team remains productive, regardless of the size or type of project at hand.
In its most basic form, effective project management involves:
- Setting a goal. With each project you start, you must set a goal, whether it’s a client case, a new marketing initiative, or something else.
- Creating a timeline. Create a timeline that outlines the steps you must take to reach the goal, including deadlines for each task or step.
- Defining who’s responsible. Identify who’s responsible for each task or step, as well as who’s responsible for bringing the project to final completion.
At the end of each project, you and the rest of your firm should communicate what went well and what you can improve next time. This will ensure you’re moving forward, increasing efficiencies with each project.
Project Management Tools
To keep everyone on the same page and your projects moving forward as they should, implement a project management tool. These tools allow you to create tasks, mark tasks complete, track all your projects, and more, all in one place. Plus, they enhance team collaboration, regardless of location.
Productivity and Lawyer Time Management
As a busy attorney with a new law firm, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture or the goals you set for your firm. It’s easy to go with the flow of client meetings and other tasks without considering how they connect to your firm, your career, and your life. To stay the course, you need a personal productivity system.
Personal productivity isn’t the same as case or project management. Instead, personal productivity relates to you personally—what you should work on right now, next week, next month, and beyond. To get started, follow these steps:
- Set your goals. Write down your overarching, big-picture goals for your law firm. Consider what you want to accomplish this quarter, this year, next year, and even 10 years from now. Once you have your goals written down, consider the next step, or what you’ll need to accomplish first to make each goal happen. Decide which of these goals or actions steps are immediate priorities.
- Capture. Take time to capture everything you need to do right now. Email tasks to yourself, grab a legal pad, or make a list using an online app. The goal is to get everything out so you can process it. This list includes pressing projects and action steps that move you towards your most important goals identified in the step above.
- Process. Next, schedule time to process your tasks daily or weekly. This doesn’t mean completing tasks. Instead, process them to your calendar or to-do list, creating time to complete them. Choose whether you need to do it, if you can delegate it to someone else, or if you are able to defer it to a later date.
- Make lists. Create a list that includes all of your matters and other projects. On this list, add in upcoming dates, tasks to do now, and tasks to do later. Create another list that includes tasks that aren’t associated with a specific project (e.g., phone calls or follow-ups).
- Plan. Decide which daily tasks are important each day and block off time in your calendar accordingly. Always complete these tasks first. At the end of the day, review what tasks are on tap for tomorrow and decide if they are still your top priorities and whether any of them can be outsourced to someone else.
You started your law firm for a reason. You can’t reach your goals, however, unless you make time to properly manage your firm. Law office management streamlines processes, improves collaboration, reduces costs, properly allocates resources, and keeps your firm moving forward.
Manage Your Firm the Lawyerist Way: Become an Insider
Learning how to manage your law firm takes practice and industry insight. It also takes creativity and innovation, resulting in better ways to solve legal problems for your clients and your firm. To learn from other attorneys like you, engage with new ideas, and start running your firm as a business, become a Lawyerist Insider today.