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Small Law Office Management for the Legal Professional


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This slide presentation is part of a talk I gave in 2007 on managing a small law office for attorneys.

Published in: Law
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Small Law Office Management for the Legal Professional

  1. 1. Small Office Management for the Legal Professional November 14, 2007 Oklahoma City, OK Shawn J. Roberts
  2. 2. What is a small law firm? A 2002 survey conducted by the OBA revealed the following: 31% of respondents work as solo practitioners 43% of respondents work in law firms of 10 or fewer attorneys
  3. 3. Disarray a mental state characterized by a lack of clear and orderly thought and behavior; "a confusion of impressions" untidiness (especially of clothing and appearance) disorder: bring disorder to
  4. 4. Chaos • a state of extreme confusion and disorder • the formless and disordered state of matter before the creation of the cosmos • (Greek mythology) the most ancient of gods; the personification of the infinity of space preceding creation of the universe • (physics) a dynamical system that is extremely sensitive to its initial conditions
  5. 5. What is the problem with loosely organized chaos? --high likelihood of costly mistakes --toxic work environment for some or all of people in the office --spending more non-billable time than necessary to accomplish tasks
  6. 6. A. Law Office Organizational Structure
  7. 7. 1. Decision-making Levels →Create order out of chaos with clear and consistent decision-making process →Identify the different areas in which decisions need to be made → Determine which decisions should be made by which people in the firm Purchasing basic office supplies vs. Purchasing a new conference table
  8. 8. Management Principle: Profession vs. Business • Over 6,000 lawyers in Oklahoma County • Many legal services are viewed as commodities • Adopt customer service principles from other businesses • Analyze cost/benefit of a client
  9. 9. Dealing with your law firm should be marked with the following: • Ease (relative) • Pleasant • Consistent • Quality
  10. 10. 2. Staffing the Office  Organizing the TEAM  Refers to people who work at the firm and people that provide critical services to the firm on a regular basis – IT, banker, copier,  Finding Staff
  11. 11. Optimizing Law Office Performance  Know and recognize the role the staff plays in the firm’s success Value Add Example  Recognize contributions to the bottom-line other than billable hours  Staff is first level of contact with customers  will person make positive first impression  capable of handling intake information  Focus on skills not titles
  12. 12. Office Systems and Procedures 1.Tracking DEADLINES and dates
  13. 13. Perform on the things you can control There are many things that are out of the control of the attorney. However, being reliable and responsible is ALWAYS within the control of the law office. A fundamental element of being reliable is meeting deadlines.
  14. 14. Why are deadlines such a big deal in law offices? Because often the consequences of missing one are severe and not easily remedied Avoiding malpractice
  15. 15. Elements of the System  Immediate & automatic calendaring of relevant events  Double checking of entries & notifications  Sufficient time for preparation and performance  Reminders to avoid missing deadlines  Regular follow-up
  16. 16. Things to consider in designing system A. Who is required to perform the tasks B. What activity needs to be performed C. Where the activity will take place
  17. 17. Litigation Docket Control System should include: Statute of limitations Due dates for pleadings Due dates for motions Due dates for briefs and other documents Due dates for responses to discovery Scheduling of depositions Scheduling of trial or hearing dates Notices of appeal
  18. 18. 2. Form Database It is about LEVERAGE. Doing something once but continuing to get value out of an infinite number of times
  19. 19. • contracts drafted and/or reviewed, • Petitions, Summons, Answers, • Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents, • motions for summary judgment, • orders, • legal memoranda, • legal briefs, • letters on topics such as collection, probate pleadings, • divorce pleadings, • tax documents, • wills, trusts and powers of attorneys.
  20. 20. Necessary Elements • A central storage place; • Easy access for anyone wishes to use it; • An index or sorting mechanism that allows quick location and retrieval of documents; and • A commitment by the law office to build and maintain the database.
  21. 21. Finding Practice Tools What are we talking about?  Sample Briefs, Motions, Complaints and Settlements  Forms and Contracts  Jury Verdicts
  22. 22. Places to Look • Google it • OSCN it • For appellate briefs you can . . . – Supreme Court at Findlaw – – Selected Federal – and – state courts 7th & 8th Circuits Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina North Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin
  23. 23. 3. Communications
  24. 24. Forms of Communication with the Public • Unified Presentation in all forms of contact with the public: – Face to Face – Telephone – Email – Written Documents
  25. 25. Paying attention to details Consider the Signature Block on Email
  26. 26. What does this signature tell the recipient? • Precisely who the message is from • All contact information to contact the sender • Unified message for all recipients • All the information necessary to create a basic contact
  27. 27. 3. File Management Requires Commitment & Participation of whole office
  28. 28. Components of File Management System • Preparing files • Opening files • Logging the contents of files • Putting documents in files • Getting files out • Putting files away • Closing Files • Destroying documents in files
  29. 29. A documented file management system tells everyone in the office: • What to do when a new matter is opened • Where to find the key documents in a matter • Where to find a file • Where to return a file to Sample Policy, p. 28 of written material
  30. 30. Color-Coded Filing Scheme Red Domestic Relations Bloody & Heated Green Real Estate Money & Grass Blue Probate & Wills Sadness & Blues Yellow Litigation Caution Pink Business Matters In the Pink Peachy Best clients favorite color Peach Warren Miller, Institute of Law Management & Economics, OBA 1979
  31. 31. Closing and Destroying Files
  32. 32. Items to consider when closing a file: • Are there any originals to return to the client? • The Index or system that will be used to track the closed files • Where are the closed files going to be stored? – Ease of access – Digital????
  33. 33. Destroying Files • The Oklahoma RPC allow attorneys to destroy files • RPC is not specific on how long files must be maintained or how they should be destroyed • Consider the OBA Journal Article by Jim Calloway on the topic Closing Files, Destroying Files and Making Money, Oklahoma Bar Journal, August 4, 2007, Vol. 78, No. 21, pages 1979-1981.
  34. 34. D. Systems Setup and Management
  35. 35. 1. Digital Documents How many people have a PAPERLESS law office? What are some of the ways that your offices uses digital documents? How many people have e-filed?
  36. 36. A paperless office???
  37. 37. What makes more sense is the “Paper LESS Office™” • Process focuses on turning physical paper into electronic paper, while the paper itself gets filed away and may not need to be accessed until file destruction or closure • Store docs as Searchable PDFs • Connect them to Client/Matter files via document management functions • Instant access to the “digital paper” from anywhere, anytime • Stop wasting time chasing paper files
  38. 38. Ways that DIGITAL can impact the law office • frees up storage space – especially for closed files • frees up time that would be spent searching for and retrieving documents • saves paper, reduces clutter • review, track and label documents more efficiently
  39. 39. Core Components 1. Scanner 2. Digital Document Software 3. System for tracking digital files
  40. 40. An example from our office 1. Xerox DocuMate 510 2. Adobe Acrobat Professional 3. Documents saved in file management system built into Windows XP
  41. 41. Multiple files for different file formats
  42. 42. Necessary Actions • Create all documents as PDFs The Lawyer’s Guide to Adobe Acrobat • Scan all incoming documents as PDFs David Masters One more advantage: access documents from any Internet-enabled computer
  43. 43. Practical Uses Transfer large quantities of documents, quickly, without making copies Deliver a document to someone for immediate review, regardless of where the person is located: The handheld device view
  44. 44. Richard Keyt: Simple Inexpensive Way to Create the Paperless Law Office 1. I bought two Xerox Documate 262 scanners (one for each of us) for about $900 each. It's about the size of a shoe box and sits next to our flat panel computer monitors. 2. Each of us has Adobe Acrobat. I have the Pro version (approximately $400) and my wife has the standard version (approximately $250). 3. We networked our two computers using a peer to peer network. All data files are saved on my computer. I make regular backups onto DVDs and hard drives and store the back up media in a safe deposit box at my bank. 4. We use Time Matters for many things, including document management. It is $350 for the first Pro user and $200 for each additional user. I've used Time Matters since 1998.
  45. 45. 2. Office Software The Mechanical engine of the law office Makes the machines run Can either promote efficiency or create endless opportunities for struggle
  46. 46. Suites of Office Software Microsoft Office WordPerfect Office Google Docs & Spreadsheets
  47. 47. Control the office software do not allow it control and limit you. This means: • Get software that people can use • Get help if you don’t know how to use it • Make the software do what you want to do with it • Use the features and functions of the software you have
  48. 48. You might have a computer problem, if . . .
  49. 49. 3. Written Office Policies and Procedures
  50. 50. Why written office policies? • Increasing the chances a tasks can be performed correctly and consistently • Alleviating the need for the person who created the policy to explain it each time • Increasing efficiency by eliminating the number of questions that must be asked about each task
  51. 51. Essential Policies Job descriptions Structure of office Supplies and equipment Office docket control system Communications Billing
  52. 52. Law Office PPrroocceedduurreess MMaannuuaall ffoorr SSoollooss aanndd SSmmaallll FFiirrmmss, Third Edition, DDeemmttrriiooss DDiimmiittrriioouu, ABA Law Practice Management Section.
  53. 53. E. Organizational Tips and Tricks for Effective Office Administration
  54. 54. 1. The Management and “Control” of Time A. Implement the digital law office Deliver documents digitally instead of with hard copy A. Self-study. Consider spending one week recording every minute of your office time, including trips to the restroom and personal phone calls and drop-in visitors. C. Analyze office staff to ensure that right people are in right positions performing the right functions D. Affirmatively address client deadlines and demands
  55. 55. 2. Return phone calls and message • Be reliable and consistent • Return messages by end of the day they are left • Directly impacts firm image and reputation
  56. 56. 3. Managing People • Listen to podcasts on management – • Consider an HR consultant to address issues that suck the life out of the office – Low morale – Frequent staff turnover
  57. 57. 4. Maintain a Contact Database • Organize a contact database • Allow everyone in the office to access • Enter every contact you have in it – then you will not have to enter it again or search for the information
  58. 58. OBA Tips 1. Don’t let the staff get caught between dueling lawyers 2. Be Flexible 3. Staff training is a good 4. Do something nice and unexpected 5. Be careful with criticism 6. Everyone loves a bonus Motivating Law Firm Staff, Jim Calloway, Oklahoma Bar Journal, Published 77 OBJ 3115 (Nov. 4, 2006)
  59. 59. Web Resources • Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog • • Blawg Directory: Law Practice • • ABA Law Practice Management Section •
  60. 60. The Balancing Act: Time and Financial Management • Challenges to handling the Workload • Avoiding systems that create burden • Timekeeping and Billing • Tips and Tricks for Efficient Time and Financial Management
  61. 61. A. Challenges to handling the Workload
  62. 62. The workload can seem overwhelming when: Deadlines mount with no plan for meeting them Focus is on the volume of work rather than the steps needed to complete the work Clients are not informed of progress on project leading to client pressure for completion usually on an unreasonable basis
  63. 63. Planning to handle the work load • Establishing reasonable completion schedules for major and minor projects – List the players and each players role – List each component part that must be completed to complete the project – Get agreement from the team on completion dates on each phase » Sharing the completion schedule with clients
  64. 64.  Gather necessary information from client;  Analyze information and determine precisely which documents will be drafted (one to two days, performed by attorney);  Communication with client for follow up questions and gathering of additional documentation (telephone conference with client by attorney)  Initial drafts of documents (performed by legal assistant usually one to two days)  Review of initial drafts by attorney (one to two days)  Send initial drafts of documents to client for review and comment  Conference with client to answer questions, discuss comments and make revisions to the documents (within 10 days of time drafts go out to clients)  Finalize documents, including making all necessary documents and preparation of transfer documents (one to two days after client conference, combination of attorney and legal assistant)  Document signing ceremony (usually within one week of finalization of documents)  File necessary transfer documents with government and/or third parties (usually within one week of document signing ceremony, performed by legal assistant)
  65. 65. B. Avoiding systems that create burden
  66. 66. An office system might simply increase burden if: • No one in the office can explain why the system is used • The system is used simply because it “has always been done that way” or “everyone else does it like that” • Execution of the system invariably leads to frustration, anxiety, confusion etc. . .
  67. 67. B. Timekeeping and Billing
  68. 68. 1. Timekeeping • Different Methods/Same Results Recorded with a pen and paper Dictated Inputted directly into billing program by a staff person Inputted directly in the billing program by the attorney
  69. 69. Contemporaneous Timekeeping Baby Steps Expect Imperfection Use reminders Inspire yourself Attitude
  70. 70. 2. Billing and Collecting • Bring another person in the office into the process
  71. 71. a. Review the billing • Print, distribute, review • Revise The billing is a communication on behalf of the law office
  72. 72. b. Deliver the bills to the Client  On a consistent basis Cumulative Effect Loss  At least once a month  Regularity keeps the office on track  Communicates organization, reliability and responsibility to client  In the manner most convenient to the client
  73. 73. Collecting the Bill – pre-invoice The First Meeting Written Fee Agreement Periodic Updates Establishing what to charge
  74. 74. Collecting the Bill – post-invoice When will the law office first contact a client who has not paid a bill? How far behind do clients have to be on their bills for the firm to withdraw from representation or cease work on the matter? What type of contact will be used and when will it occur? How long does a client have before the law office (if part of the policy) send a matter to a collection agency?
  75. 75. Time Action Description Within 30 days Track and record billing Track and enter time into billing program time entries on a daily basis; keep client up to date on fees; prepare prebills for review on thirtieth day of billing cycle Day 30 Review prebills and finalize billing, mail out (bills are due upon receipt) Circulate prebills within the firm, review and make revisions, print out final bills and place in mail to client on first business day after final day of billing cycle Day 61 Reminder telephone call Office manager or collection supervisor calls billing contact at client’s office to remind them that payment has not been received Day 71 Reminder Letter Simple letter from office manager or collections supervisor enclosing copy of invoice and reminding that payment needs to be made promptly Day 86 Problem Call Office manager or collections supervisor calls client to determine if there is problem with payment of the bill Day 101 Collection Letter Office manager or collection supervisor sends letter requesting (demanding) payment on bill that is now at least 70 days overdue and giving 10 days to make payment Day 117 Final Call Office manager or collections supervisor makes telephone call to client to alert them that if payment is not made the matter will be turned over to
  76. 76. D. Billing Systems for the Small Office Software v. System
  77. 77. Things to consider Understand the Firm Try out the Application Get information What is being used locally? Stick with major players Get training
  78. 78. Budgeting and Account Management QuickBooks or comparable program • Basic Accounting Program – Acts as checkbook – Use additional features such as payroll – Allows manipulation data • Control of Overhead
  79. 79. C. Tips and Tricks for Efficient Time and Financial Management Avoid tracking minimal costs Credit Cards (with oversight) Track all time during the month
  80. 80. Making a Connection: The Art of Communication Part II
  81. 81. A. Important of Building Strong Client Relationships 1. Effective Representation 2. Trust 3. Satisfaction 4. Counselor 5. Repeat business 6. Referrals
  82. 82. B. Verbal Communication • Setting a common objective • Clearly identifying responsibilities • Establishing schedules • Stating expectations – Define success!
  83. 83. Active Listening • Stop talking and listen • Remove distractions – ELIMINATE CELL PHONES • Make the speaker comfortable • Give auditory and visual clues • Empathize • Be patient • Ask questions • Repeat – seek confirmation
  84. 84. C. Practical Communication
  85. 85. Tips • Signed written fee agreement • Have someone proofread your documents • Written Materials, Communicate with the client about P. 100 the case on a regular basis, in a form that the client desires – No substitute for face to face contact • Understand e-mail – its limitations and benefits
  86. 86. Building Rapport with Clients Put new clients at ease Find common interests and make small talk Continue to develop your relationship Follow up with client relationships Be consistent and frequent