|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
INTERVIEWING AND HIRING
- When interviewing candidates for a
position be brutally honest regarding the tasks that need to be done
and the personalities of the people involved.
- 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.
- 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.
- If possible have prospective candidates
meet others in firm. This is extremely important in small firms
because personalities are crucial.
- 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.
- If you are unable to offer top dollar
consider flexibility - working at home, flex hours or other ideas.
POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Make certain staff members are
introduced to clients.
- It takes very little effort to say
"Good Morning" or "please" and "thank
you" Ask yourself if you would want to work for you.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- All employees must have written job
descriptions. They should be evaluated using these descriptions.
- 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.
- Support staff should always be kept
informed about the whereabouts and schedules of persons for whom they
work or those in the office.
- Staff should be taught how to deal with
unpleasant or aggressive clients and staff should be supported when
dealing with difficult clients.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- As often as possible, give your
secretary/staff adequate time to complete assignments.
- When you assign a task to an employee
and you are comfortable he/she understands your request, allow them to
- 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.
- Never angrily criticize or correct an
employee in public.
- When correcting an employee's
performance your goal should be in making certain the employee
understands the error and will not make it again.
- 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.
- Constructively correct mistakes as they
happen. Do not assume that if you ignore them, they will go away.
- All employees should be evaluated
formally in writing using their job description at least once a year.
- If someone is not working out after
being given an opportunity to improve, fire him/her
- .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,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or at
800-492-1964, ext 3039.