As an attorney, we bet you know everything you do from the moment you walk into your office to the second you turn off the lights. You’ve gotten into the groove of serving your clients and making it through your day-to-day activities. In fact, you might be on autopilot. To work efficiently, deliver the best client service, and scale your business, however, it’s imperative that you document those processes. Don’t keep them in your head!
A law firm operations and procedures manual is a document that contains your law firm’s processes and business policies. It’s critical for law office management, thoroughly outlining client acquisition, day-to-day workflows, financial systems, and more. Getting those systems out of your head is going to save you a world of time and money.
Why Does Your Firm Need a Procedures Manual?
You might think your day-to-day is running just fine without your processes written down (though we’re gonna guess it’s more likely everything feels chaotic!), but a procedures manual is going to be that final, beautiful icing. Think about it:
- Optimization. Documented procedures will optimize your work to improve efficiency and speed. Plus, they’ll help you discover holes in your systems that need filling to improve workflow. Work smarter, not harder, remember?
- Enhanced client experience. Client-centered processes such as bill payment should be consistent for the best client experience. The only way to ensure consistency across the board is through documentation. Consistent billing = consistent profit.
- Easier delegation and training. Whether you’re currently adding members to your team or plan to in the future, documented law office procedures make it easier to delegate tasks and train new employees. You’ll decrease or even eliminate delays, ensuring you still deliver work to fuel your business and keep your clients satisfied.
- Fewer mistakes. When you have written procedures for you and your growing team to refer to, people always know what to do, even when you’re not around (you can go relax under a palm tree).
- Scaling and selling. Growth becomes simpler with documented procedures. Plus, you can ensure your clients are well taken care of in the way they’re accustomed to, should you decide to exit your practice.
How to Start Creating a Law Firm Operations Manual
Sold? If so, the best way to get started is to just dive into your law office procedures headfirst. To create your first law firm operations manual, start with a simple document (we’ll discuss other options later). You can choose to use Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or whatever word processing tool you use in your firm. Just open a blank document right now.
Brain Dump Your Law Office Procedures
It’s time to get all of those daily processes and to-dos out of your head and onto paper. Take some time to “brain dump” your processes. For example, think about everything you do from the time you start work until the end of the workday. It might be a good idea to carry a notepad with you during the day to take notes. Write down a little “A Day in the Life” here.
Tip: Does writing stress you out? Consider dictating into your phone, then getting a transcription from a cheap auto-transcription place like Temi.com.
We know this step sounds overwhelming. After all, you’re a busy attorney with a firm to run. We promise you’ll experience some much-needed clarity once you move past this step, though. Just stick with it!
As you create an inventory of your processes, you’ll want to consider:
- Client acquisition. Consider the steps you take to acquire new clients as well as the onboarding process. We’ve found that this is one of the most common processes that attorneys start to delegate as they grow.
- Day-to-day workflows. Now, consider each day-to-day workflow you complete. For example, how do you manage client work and projects? How does client communication happen? How do you send an email? This is the meat of your manual.
- Financial systems. Consider processes such as billing, accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll.
- People systems. Your people systems include your processes for hiring, staffing, and overall management of your team.
Take each of these core processes and break them down into simple steps. Once complete, follow each process to test their accuracy.
To make it easy on yourself, just pick one of these to start with. You don’t have to get all of this down in one sitting. Small bites, always.
Procedures Manual Creation Tools
No! More! Paper! We believe client-centered = a paperless law firm. If you want a manual that’s easily accessible for all members of your team—remote or in-office—there are options available beyond the traditional word processing document.
- Shared files. You can use tools such as Dropbox or Google Docs to create an online manual for your team.
- Wiki tools. You could also create an online wiki-type website that’s private and password-protected for your employees.
- Video. Video tools such as Loom and Zoom make recording your procedures and workflows simple. Plus, video is a perfect training tool for new employees. It’s a win-win.
How to Structure Your Law Firm Procedures Manual
After creating your process inventory, you’re ready to structure your law firm procedures manual. Each of these processes on your list will have its own place inside your manual.
Key Sections to Include in Your Manual
There are a few key sections any basic law office procedures manual should include:
- Table of contents. A quick win. Create an easy-to-scan table of contents at the beginning of your manual. This will help you and your team locate procedures quickly.
- Organizational chart. Lay out an organizational chart that defines each role in your firm. This chart should document who’s responsible for what part of your processes, complete with contact info should an issue arise.
- Business policies and procedures. The meat of your manual will be your procedures. Add each procedure to its own section, outlining each step, no matter how small. Define the reasoning behind each process to avoid confusion. Cover policies such as payroll, confidentiality, attendance, codes of conduct, etc.
- Emergency procedures. Don’t forget to include your emergency procedures in your manual. You’ll want to include what to do in the event of a natural disaster or data breach to help protect your firm.
- Date. Date your manual and update the date any time you make changes.
Remember, your first procedures manual doesn’t have to be wildly in-depth. It simply needs to outline your critical business processes. As your firm grows and evolves, you’ll start to see your manual do the same.
How to Keep Your Law Office Procedures Manual Up to Date
If you’re frustrated having to keep all of your processes in your head – think about what your employees feel. They can’t read your mind. While we’re in the future, kind of, we still can’t download information from other people’s heads. You need to get your manual in writing and more importantly, update it when things change.
Make your manual a priority, updating it frequently. This helps avoid messes such as complicated processes, work falling through the cracks and increased frustration amongst your team. We recommend reviewing your procedures at least monthly to ensure everything is correct. In fact, stop reading this, and put 30 minutes on your calendar right now. After all, updates to your procedures happen as you automate and grow.
Also, get your team involved! This shouldn’t be a siloed project. One of our Labsters, Justie Nicol, has what she calls a Master Vision Notebook. It’s a business plan, a list of visions and values, and detailed procedures. It’s updated monthly and emailed to the whole team for thoughts and notes. This way, everyone has a stake in how the firm runs.
You could do this, too. During monthly meetings, take some time to discuss your processes and how you can improve. Discuss what’s working and what isn’t. Any changes you decide to make should then be reflected in your manual.
How to Use Your Manual in Work and Training
We’ve heard attorneys avoid new hires because the firm runs exactly how they run it – and they’re worried no one else will do it as they do. (This is a common anxiety!) But think about it — by writing down these procedures, you’ll have better success getting people to follow your systems.
Each employee you hire should immediately receive a copy of your manual or a way to access your manual online. Make it a point to underline the importance of following these procedures to ensure accuracy, efficiency, and client satisfaction. You should also lead by example, keeping a copy of your manual nearby your own desk to stay fresh and to show its’ importance to you.
During training, you’ll work alongside each new employee to ensure a smooth onboarding process. Yet, make sure you point them to your procedures manual when they have questions about how to complete a process. It’s all about creating a habit of referring to the manual.
A Well-Documented Manual Is Worth the Time & Effort You Put Into It
Creating documented procedures will reduce stress, improve organization, and help you run your firm like a well-oiled machine. We know this task is overwhelming with everything else you have to do in a day. We’ve all been where you are, wondering how you’ll ever document every single thing that makes your firm a success. Yet, it can be done. And, when it’s complete, you’ll wonder how you ever worked without it.
Grab Our Sample Law Firm Operations & Procedures Manual Template
Back when we were sitting in your chair, we needed someone to simply show us how to start. That’s why we created our sample Law Firm Operations & Procedures Manual Template for you to use to create your first manual. Grab it today by downloading it from our Insider Library.
We go over this – and more – in our law firm survival guide, The Small Firm Roadmap. Click here to join Insider and download the first chapter.