|Solo/Small Firm Practitioner
You Really Don’t Know Everything!
~How and Why to Draft Your Own Procedure Manual~
By Pat Yevics
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?
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
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 are 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
best way to avoid this scenario is for you to have a procedure manual for
your office. This will detail every activity that is done on a daily, weekly,
monthly or even yearly basis.
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 guide will quickly refresh your memory. So why not start compiling
a ready-reference book on your job today?
Past “I Don’t Have Time for This”
is an old saying that goes, “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 having such a
document. But if done in small steps, this can be an ongoing 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.
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 management.
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.
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:
your organizational format as a guide, you or your assistant should 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.
your assistant begin keeping a record of everything that is done daily
over a two-week period. Try not to overlook any tasks, even the most routine
ones. Making a list of your duties as you do them will help ensure that
you don’t forget anything.
your calendars and follow-up files to find those tasks or projects that
are done monthly quarterly and annually.
all staff members list every task each of them performs each day for a
two-week period. Use your administrative staff as much as possible.
your assistant make a list of all the tasks that you do on a daily
and weekly basis. You will ultimately need to spend some time with him/her
to go into more details.
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
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:
standard memo forms do you use?
do you set up client conferences?
do you handle visitors and telephone calls?
are client files set up?
is incoming mail handled and distributed?
types of office equipment are you responsible for, and what are their basic
do you check for conflicts?
do you communicate with the client about fees?
are the procedures for billing clients?
are the procedures for paying bills?
your notes and writing up instructions for each task you perform are undoubtedly
the most time-consuming parts of putting together a 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.
you or your assistant 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.
is not a document that is ever finished. It will be changed as policies and
procedures are changed, added or deleted, and it should be kept up-to-date.
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.
a large (but not complete) list of some of the items to be included in both
a procedures and policy manual, please go to www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm for
a list of all articles. This article will be listed under Office Management.