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. Lack of proper law office management is a missed opportunity for your practice and can lead to disaster if ignored. Assuming you’re looking to build your law firm, you should treat your law office’s with love, care, and attention.
To get ahead of your law office management needs, focus on a few important principles:
- 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.
Contrary to popular belief, managing your office doesn’t have to take the bulk of your time. With processes in place, proper law office management, and a mind open to automation, you can run your practice with efficiency and get back to doing what you do best: practicing law.
Process & Procedure Manuals
In any office, processes and procedures make up the roadmap for daily operations. In your law firm, they 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 may include employees trying to track down answers to simple questions or documents put in the wrong places. You can solve these issues with documented procedures.
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. To get started, follow these steps:
- Identify your processes. Consider each task you complete on a daily basis. Include simple processes as well as complex processes. Some example law office processes include:
- Client intake
- Document filing
- Using the CRM tool
- Using phones, task management software, and other tech tools
- Sending an email
- Break your processes down into steps. Take each process and break them down into simple steps. Use numbers for each step, ensuring the process is quick and easy to follow. You can use flowcharts to make this easier to visualize, especially if different individuals are responsible for certain steps.
- 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.
- 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, compile them into a 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.
Review your process manual often. As you grow your firm, processes may change. As a cornerstone of law office management, your manual should reflect that.
Documentation & Paperless Law Firms
One of the most critical assets in your firm is documentation. 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
When documents become e-files and communication lives online, law firms improve their efficiency and productivity. 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 to the client. 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 unnecessary documents that simply take up space. You only need what was pertinent to the case.
- 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 destructed documents. When you destruct files after the safe time period passes, notate it in a separate destructed document record.
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. 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 in place a strong project management system.
Project management involves the process of 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.
How to Properly Manage Law Firm Projects
In your law firm, the most common projects are client cases that have a definitive 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.
Law Office Management Workflows & Automation
In approximately 60% of occupations, at least one-third of the activities that make up the job could be automated. The tasks you complete in your law office are no exception. Take a moment to consider what you do each day. Consider all the mundane tasks that seem to take up all of your time. By automating these tasks, you’ll have more time to spend on legal work.
Automation reduces manual effort, resulting in decreased manual errors. It also decreases project timelines by streamlining processes.
There are areas of your law office management workflow you can start automating today, such as:
- Document creation. Stop creating contracts, estate planning files, and other documents from scratch each time. Instead, save a master copy of these documents with fillable forms for each use case. With each new case, simply fill out the form, saving you drafting time.
- Client scheduling. End the tedium of back-and-forth emails to schedule meetings and manually entering meetings in your calendar. Instead, use scheduling tools to allow your clients to schedule appointments on their own and sync them to your calendar. You’ll receive a confirmation as well as a scheduled appointment without lifting a finger.
- Emails. Your email inbox can be a complete time suck. Thankfully, you can save time by avoiding having to write a brand-new email every time you sit down to send one. Instead, use canned responses for follow-up emails, inquiries, and more. Even if you must customize an email, you’ll save some time.
- Invoice reminders. With simple software, you can set up automated invoice reminders for your clients. If an invoice isn’t paid, the software sends a reminder automatically depending on a timeline that you set.
To discover other tasks available for automation, take a glance at your process manual. Look for steps in your processes that don’t involve human touch. These are the tasks you can easily automate to streamline each process and reduce your workload.
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.
- 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.
- 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. Once each day, consider which tasks are most important first and write them down. Block off time on your calendar to get these tasks done. Do this daily to ensure you’re moving forward.
You started your law firm for a reason. You can’t reach your reach 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.
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