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Because You Really DON'T Know Everything!! How
and Why to Draft Your Own Procedure Manual
By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.
What would you do if your
assistant decided one day to simply run away and never come back to work?
Do you know how every task in the office is handled? Would a new or
temporary employee have some way to figure out how to do all the day to
day tasks that were handled so well by your former assistant? Would you
have the time to train someone new immediately?
Let's say you do not have
an assistant. It's just you and a computer. What would happen if one day
you were unable to handle all the work in the office? Would someone be
able to come in and figure out how all of your tasks are handled?
The reality is that solos
and small firm practitioners have an even greater need to have written
policies and procedures than larger firms. In small firms, there is
usually just one or maybe two people who know how the office runs on a day
to day basis. If something happens to one or both of those people, as a
solo practitioner, you could find yourself with some difficult days
The best way to avoid
this scenario is for every solo and small firm practitioner to have a
procedure manual for his/her office. This will detail every activity that
is done on a daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly basis.
If you’ve already written
such a guidebook, you can understand the benefits are worth the effort. If
you haven’t yet put together your own procedures manual (NOTE: This is not
an employee manual; it is a How To Manual), the task may seem
overwhelming. But like anything else, once you break the project into
smaller steps, it becomes much more manageable. It can be invaluable for
new employees and for those jobs that are done only occasionally. If
someone is going on vacation, you can be confident that other staff will
be able to work effectively by using the procedures manual. If you’ve
forgotten the steps to a project that you perform only now and then, your
how-to-do-it guide will quickly refresh your memory. So why not start
today to compile a ready-reference book on your job?
GETTING PAST "I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS"
There is an old saying
that "There is never time to do it right but there is always time to do it
over". Lack of time is one of the main reasons that solo and small firm
practitioners give for not have such a document. But if done in small
steps, this can be an on-going and painless task. If you have an
assistant, paralegal, secretary or someone who handles your administrative
tasks, this is the person who will start this project. He/She will
compile the information and work with you to get the job done.
Another reason solo and
small firm practitioners give for not having formalized rules and
procedures is that they do not want a bureaucracy as in the large firms.
Having a How to Manual is not a bureaucracy. It is good management.
Being a solo or small firm practitioner is NOT an excuse for bad
There are three basic
elements that make up an effective procedures manual: good organization,
attention to detail, and clearly written instructions directed at your
reader. A technique or procedure that you take for granted may not be
familiar to a substitute. Before you begin writing, however, you need to
decide on an organizational layout for the manual. This will depend
largely on the nature of the jobs being described. The word processing
section might contain such headings as Forms, Form Letters, and Form
Paragraph Library, while the secretarial section would contain sections on
such tasks as handling telephone calls and paying invoices. Whatever type
of organization you choose be sure the format can be easily grasped by an
outsider. It may be helpful to add an introduction that explains the basic
organization of the manual.
Once you have a general
idea of how to organize your project, you’re ready to move on to the
specifics. The primary purpose of your procedures manual is to describe
all the major and minor administrative procedures that are done in the
office on a daily basis. But you must first pinpoint them and this may be
harder than it sounds. Some jobs will come to mind immediately, but others
will be more elusive. These steps will help you get started:
First, using your
organizational format as a guide, you or your assistant will begin listing
all the different jobs which are done every day, adding new tasks under
appropriate categories as you think of them. You may also want to label
manila folders by task categories so that you can easily retrieve your
notes and working copy.
Next, have your assistant
begin keeping a record of everything that is done daily over a two-week
period. Try not to overlook any of them, even the most routine ones.
Making a list of your duties as you do them will help ensure that you
don’t forget anything.
Then consult your
calendars and follow-up files to find those tasks or projects that are
done monthly quarterly and annually
Have all staff list every
different task each of them performs each day for a two-week period. Use
your administrative staff as much as possible.
Have your assistant make
a list of all the tasks that YOU do on a daily, weekly basis. You will
ultimately need to spend some time with him/her to go into more details.
DETAIL EACH TASK
You or your assistant are
now ready to begin analyzing each task in order to capture all those
details that are, by now, second nature. For example, how many copies do
you make on a particular type of correspondence? To whom are they
Make notes of these
details before you begin describing daily tasks. Be sure to list all the
specifics for each task. That way, any substitute or co-worker will be
able to complete the job as efficiently as you or others in your office
do. Keep the following questions in mind:
What standard memo forms
do you use? How do you set up client conferences? How do you handle
visitors and telephone calls? How are client files set up? How is
oncoming mail handled and distributed? What types of office equipment are
you responsible for, and what are their basic operating instructions?
How do you check for conflicts? How do you communicate with the client
about fees? What are the procedures for billing clients? What are the
procedures for paying bills?
Compiling your notes and
writing up instructions for each task you perform are undoubtedly the most
time-consuming parts of putting together procedures manual. It may take
several months before a final project is completed, but it doesn’t have to
be a painful experience. Once you have carefully planned your manual’s
format and contents, you can outline the most crucial instructions. Then
work on the other procedures, in order of importance, as time permits.
As you or your assist
adds a new procedure, it should be put into a binder or in a special
folder on the computer so that anyone may access it. I suggest that you
have at least one hard copy of the manual. Each time the manual is
updated, the new date should be included on the materials.
This is not a document
that is ever finished. It will be changed as policies and procedures are
changed, added or deleted. It should be kept up to date.
Finally, remember to
date all changes and review it annually. As with an Employee Manual, have
employees sign when they receive the manual. Rather than keep a paper
version, you might want to keep the manual (Read Only) in a shared folder
for all employees. When you do make changes to an existing procedure or
add a new one, explain the reasons to staff.
For a large (but not
complete list) of some of the items to be included in both a procedure and
policy manual, please go to
/articles/officemngmt/policyinclude.htm for a list
of all articles.
This article will be listed under Office Management.