One of my goals this year is to put together manuals for everyone in my law firm. That quickly grew to encompass my subtenants, co-counsel, and independent contractors. And I also realize a lot of those people need the same information. So while I started out drafting one manual at a time, they got unwieldy quickly.

A wiki is perfect for an operations manual, but since it is not organized linearly like a document, you can easily add all kinds of extra information without worrying about your Attorney Manual growing to encyclopedic dimensions.

Why a wiki works

You can’t go anywhere online without running into Wikipedia. The free encyclopedia is ubiquitous, and it is easy to use—for readers and contributors. Many people have made a small contribution—correcting a typo here and there, or adding a footnote. The ease of using Wikipedia is one of its main benefits.

The other main benefit to a wiki is the disorganized organization. How often have you wound up at Wikipedia for information on one thing, and found yourself reading articles on something completely different a half hour later? It’s all those links that draw you from an article on due process to one on corporate personhood to one on the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The same method of stumbling from one article to another, related article is a great way to browse your firm’s “memory.”

What to put in your wiki

I started out intending to put my Office Policies and Procedures and Virtual Assistant Manual into my wiki. Almost immediately, I realized I should put everything I know into it. Every time my associate or my virtual assistant ask me how to do something, from transferring a phone call to obtaining an IRS EIN for a business, I put my answer into the wiki. The next time someone needs that information, they won’t have to ask.

We sat down to prepare a client for his deposition last week, and then I spent a few minutes outlining a how-to on deposition preparation. It is both a handy checklist for me, and a manual for the next associate who needs to prepare a witness for her deposition.

In short: put everything you know into your wiki.

How to get the most from a wiki

A wiki can and should be a repository for your firm’s institutional knowledge. It should also be a collaboration among all the members of your firm, from the receptionists to the name partners. Here is how to get everyone involved:

  • “Seed” the wiki before you share it with the firm. Add your existing policies, procedures, and manuals to the wiki. Give it a friendly and helpful front page so that people can easily get in the front door.
  • A few days after you announce it, give a brief demonstration of the wiki. Show everyone how to create new pages and edit existing ones.
  • Tell people to put their answers to questions into the wiki. It should include everything from how to work with a particular mediator to when an employee confidentiality agreement is a good idea to how to work the coffee machine.

Finally, at least at first, put someone in charge of keeping an eye on changes to the wiki, cleaning up the formatting, and looking for things that might need to be considered by the management.

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Last updated October 7th, 2010