As an associate with legal practice management specialists Cosgrove Associates, I focus a lot of my time on eliminating “productivity blockers” which stand in the way of our clients’ profitability and efficiency.
Getting rid of productivity blockers makes for a happier, more productive and profitable workplace.
I frequently step in to act as an interim office manager for clients, taking on a wide variety of responsibilities including, human resources, law office administration, facilities management, marketing co-ordination and financial management.
In those roles, I identify some recurring problems and they typically fall into one of four broad categories: systems, time management, technology and support staff, or marketing.
In this, the first of a two-part series, I will explain how systems and time management issues can stop law firms from reaching their profitability and efficiency potential.
I often see firms trying to get by with accounting systems that are simply not adequate for their complicated finances.
But even if an organization has the best accounting software available on the market, it’s not much good if nobody knows how to get the most out of it.
It’s important to have some sort of procedural manual and training provided to the staff on how the accounting processes work. For example how to process client expenses for cost recovery, which accounting codes to use, how to handle cheques and other forms of payment to meet with compliance, etc. You want to avoid a situation where everyone is doing their own thing. The term often uses when this happens is “garbage in – garbage out”.
There also needs to be checks and balances in place, which means clear tiers of authority that show who needs to sign off on amounts above a certain level and confirm accuracy.
When it comes to the practice of law, a comprehensive set of templates and precedents can save lawyers and their staff a great deal of time.
You shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel every time you send out a retainer letter or draft a particular type of document. Each practice area has particular documents and forms that get used over and over again, so having a template that is easily accessible that you can fill in and adjust according to each particular client is very useful.
Much of my time with new clients is spent drawing up or revising policies and procedures for various law firm departments that can be used for training new hires and serve as refresher protocol for others.
This includes areas such as desk space organization, email management to encourage critical matters are being taken care of first, and better scheduling to limit the number of drop-ins. Lawyers are often surprised by the cumulative effect that multiple, and generally minor, adjustments can have on their overall efficiency.
It can be tough for many law firms to strike a balance that results in effective workplace communication.
It’s important to develop good work relationships with your staff, and communicate regularly, in order to avoid errors or missed deadlines. If you’re not connecting with one another, that’s when things get missed.
To prevent wasting time, we teach clients to hold better meetings by encouraging them to put together an agenda and impose strict time limits on discussions – separating offshoot topics to other dates.
In my experience, one issue lawyers struggle with the most is delegation. But when done effectively, it can reap some of the biggest rewards.
You need to know your staff’s capabilities so that you’re aware of what they can handle, rather than taking it all on yourself. Evaluate the time spent on certain tasks by yourself or your staff so that as the work comes in, you can properly measure how much you can fit in or pass on and that it’s assigned to the right person at the appropriate rate. It’s also going to help with docketing and billing.
Check out Part 2 in the series, when we discuss productivity blockers in the areas of law firm technology and support staff, and marketing efforts.