Process Documentation for Law Firms: Setting Yourself Up for Growth

Growth is good. Growth is exciting. Growth is…a lot of work. The new caseloads that are pouring in need to be managed somehow. You need processes and procedures in place to intake clients, bring in new staff, stay on top of administrative procedures, and track deadlines. 

It may seem like a lot of work, but a solid set of process guidelines does more than facilitate growth; they boost your firm’s efficiency, reduce redundancies, provide shared expectations for both employees and clients, and even mitigate potential business risks.

Where to start

Make a list of everything that is done around your firm. Even if it seems inconsequential, even if it’s only done occasionally, add it to the list. Get input from your partners and employees – they may spot tasks that would otherwise be overlooked. 

One technique for capturing the whole picture of your firm’s activities is process mapping. Any process can be mapped, but a good place to start is with the client experience. Consider the entire journey and all the possible points of contact from when a client is brought in or an employee is onboarded. 

What does that look like?

For example, during the intake of a new client, a customer journey might include the following:

  • Client reception – phone, in person, or email
  • Meeting and consultation setting and preparation
  • New client intake and information gathering
  • Client file setup
  • Billing procedures
  • Court filing procedures
  • Document handling: scanning, digitizing, filing, and lawyer notification
  • Ongoing client communication 
  • Case closing procedures 

Once you’ve documented all of these procedures, you need to make sure that they’re indefinitely repeatable. Identify pain points in the process to streamline and smooth out problems. 

Tip: As you’re reviewing processes, keep an eye out for those that can be automated. Automation gives you the opportunity to both streamline and ensure consistency – a win-win!

Other areas to review for documentation

Staff policies

Institutional knowledge is valuable, but it often gets lost in the shuffle of staff. Avoid this pitfall by making sure that staff and business policies are thoroughly documented. This may include, but isn’t limited to:

  • Confidentiality policy
  • Technology policy
  • Social media policy 
  • Responding to client requests policy

These types of policies provide guidance for your business culture. All staff should have easy access to them from the time they’re onboarded.

Workflow processes

This may sound general, but when you look at workflow processes, you need to look at *any* activity at your firm that repeats. This, as you can imagine, is quite a lot. Categories to consider include:

  • Office management
  • Billing and accounting
  • Client intake and case closure
  • Matter management

Human Resources practices

Whether you have a dedicated Human Resources team or not, you need staffing documented. 

How are employees hired? Trained? Reviewed? How are employee problems managed? Creating documentation around these kinds of questions builds a shared set of expectations between employers and employees. 

But even the more mundane stuff should be documented. Here are some examples:

  • Job ads and posting practices
  • Interview processes and hiring policing 
  • Orientation and onboarding processes 
  • Expectations for managers
  • Performance review guidelines
  • Escalation of issues
  • Organizational hierarchy

Process improvement

Excellence is a moving target. What works perfectly for your firm one year might be disastrous the next. You never know, so set timelines for regular process review. Once a year is sufficient, but you should also be updating process documentation as you go, too.

As you’re reviewing your processes, make sure you’ve identified the goals behind each process. Questions you should ask yourself might include:

  • What is your goal? 
  • How can you get there?
  • Is a certain step necessary? 
  • How can you maintain your focus on your goals?

Once you’ve reviewed and determined what updates need to be bad, make the changes in a timely manner – and thoroughly! Update and replace all digital and print copies of documentation and brief staff of changes. 

And at the risk of too much quality control testing, you should allow for a transition period as new processes are integrated. Observe how staff and clients respond and adjust accordingly if needed. Sometimes it takes a few iterations of a process before you find the right fit. 

Set timelines

This kind of project doesn’t come together overnight, but if you draw it out indefinitely, you’re not going to see any gains. Set firm timelines for the project. Breaking the projects down into manageable pieces can help immensely with making progress. 

This kind of project is best tackled as a team, so enlist your partners to take on this work. Assign each team member sections of documentation to create and evaluate and corresponding deadlines.

Process documentation requires a time commitment, but the result is a firm where everyone is on the same page, training is made easier and there are consistencies in work output. 

 

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