Law Office Management
LOMA : Articles
A Rose By Any Other Name: Characteristics of an Efficient Practice, Part Two

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.

People Make a Quality Law Firm

According to the ABA publication, Compensation for Law Firms, "75% of every fee dollar goes toward compensation in a law firm, be it partner compensation, associate or support staff salary and benefits." If this is true then make certain that the people who with and for you are the very best because they can make all difference in the ultimate success of your practice. Although we know the importance of our partners, associates and staff, we often neglect this very vital component in our efficiency and success.

Listed are some critical procedures that must be in place if your staff will contribute to or detract from your ultimate success.

INTERVIEWING AND HIRING

  1. When interviewing candidates for a position be brutally honest regarding the tasks that need to be done and the personalities of the people involved.
  2. You may also want to tell a candidate what future roles/tasks you may want the person to assume. This is extremely important if you plan to have your firm grow.
  3. You should also a list of "personal" qualities you expect from a new employee beyond just skills. These can include punctuality, attention to detail, great phone presence, etc.
  4. If possible have prospective candidates meet others in firm. This is extremely important in small firms because personalities are crucial.
  5. When a new employee starts, have a checklist of items to be discussed the first few days and what tasks you want the person to handle at first.
  6. If you are unable to offer top dollar consider flexibility - working at home, flex hours or other ideas.
  7. POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

  8. Every firm no matter how small needs policies and procedures and all of these policies and procedures should be in writing. If you have staff, ask them what the policies are for a new client, calendaring items , answering the telephone, etc. I think you will be surprised by the answers.
  9. Before hiring anyone, you should have policies on time off, office hours, vacation, insurance, holidays etc. You can always add to the policies but you should have some of the basic items. All policies should be administered the same for the same level of employee.
  10. Even if you are working alone, you should start to put in writing all steps for all the procedures in your office. This too is a working document. You should have procedures for answering the phone, handling the mail, opening a document, maintaining your database, doing billing and collections. The procedures should be simple and followed by anyone new coming into the firm. After you hire an employee, you should have that person continue to add to procedure handbook. You should have a folder in your file manager in Word or Word Perfect where all procedures are kept.
  11. MOTIVATION

  12. Make certain that your secretary/staff are treated like integral members of the firm and the firm's success. All employees want to feel as those they are making a contribution and that the contribution is being recognized.
  13. Make certain staff members are introduced to clients.
  14. It takes very little effort to say "Good Morning" or "please" and "thank you" Ask yourself if you would want to work for you.
  15. Encourage questions from your employees about the client work and the work of the firm. It is important for everyone in your firm to understand as much as possible about the business and the clients.
  16. Share your enthusiasm for your practice and your clients with your staff. Share with the staff the excitement of getting a new client or winning a big case. Excitement and enthusiasm is contagious.
  17. Do not assume that your employees know what excellence or quality client service is. It is your responsibility to constantly reinforce to your staff what you expect from each of them. Can you define what you mean by excellent service and have you communicated that information with your staff.
  18. According to Jay Foonberg, the guru of running a solo or small law practice, "failure to provide adequate training is the single worst mistake that lawyers make with employees." In this era of constantly changing technology, it is critical that employees be adequately trained.
  19. SUPERVISION

  20. All employees must have written job descriptions. They should be evaluated using these descriptions.
  21. Meet with staff regularly to review the progress of work in the office. This is especially important for practitioners who may spend a lot of time out of the office or consumed with one or two extended cases.
  22. Support staff should always be kept informed about the whereabouts and schedules of persons for whom they work or those in the office.
  23. Staff should be taught how to deal with unpleasant or aggressive clients and staff should be supported when dealing with difficult clients.
  24. All staff should be taught about confidentiality in the law firm. The should know the Rules of Professional Conduct and where the Rules can be found.
  25. You should provide training to staff on a variety of topics such as ethics for the law firm, handling trust accounts, law office management in addition to technical training.
  26. Encourage your secretary/staff to give suggestions on improvement of tasks performed in the firm. However, never allow an employee to voice a complaint about a subject without also offering a solution on how he or she would solve the problem.
  27. As often as possible, give your secretary/staff adequate time to complete assignments.
  28. When you assign a task to an employee and you are comfortable he/she understands your request, allow them to proceed unsupervised.
  29. Always try to give employees a completion time or due date for a task, especially for long term assignments. It is important to let the employees know it is their responsibility to inform you know in advance if they will have difficulty in meeting the completion date.
  30. Never angrily criticize or correct an employee in public.
  31. When correcting an employee's performance your goal should be in making certain the employee understands the error and will not make it again.
  32. The most effective way to ensure that an employee will not continue to make the same mistakes is ask to him/her to tell you what he/she plans to do to improve performance. Make them responsible for their progress.
  33. Constructively correct mistakes as they happen. Do not assume that if you ignore them, they will go away.
  34. All employees should be evaluated formally in writing using their job description at least once a year.
  35. If someone is not working out after being given an opportunity to improve, fire him/her
  36. SOME RESOURCES

  37. .The Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association has some excellent publications.

Compensation for Law Firms, edited by James D. Cotterman, Altman Weil, Inc., 2001

Easy Self Audits for the Busy Law Office, by Nancy Byerly Jones, 1999

Keeping Good Lawyers: Best Practices to Create Career Satisfaction, M. Diane Vogt and Lori-Ann Rickard, 2000

Handling Personnel Issues in the Law Office, Francis T. Coleman and Douglas E. Rosenthal, 1997

Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos and Small Firms, Demetrios Dimitriou, 1998

In addition, LOMA has a variety of Information Packets on Personnel and Supervision, including job descriptions, for information go to http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/index.htm.

You may borrow these or other publications for 15 days from the LOMA department. There is a $5.00 shipping and handling charge for each publication. You may also come into Bar Headquarters at 520 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD to review the publications. A list of all publications available for borrowing is on the website at http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/index.htm

You may also purchase the ABA publications from the MSBA at a discount if you wish to add them to your library. For more information go to http://www.msba.org/departments/membership/discounts.htm.

If you have any questions, please contact Pat Yevics at pyevics@msba.org or at 800-492-1964, ext 3039.

 


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