Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Procedures

Apr 24, 2019


Law Firm Training Tools – Documentation of Processes and Procedures in Firm Procedural Manuals

Question: 

I am the sole owner of a six attorney personal injury firm in San Francisco with five support staff. My father started the firm twenty-five years ago and has since retired from practice. I took over the practice five years ago. At the time I took over the practice we had just my dad, myself, a couple legal assistants, and no technology. Since then I have done a lot to grow the practice including adding attorneys and staff as well as implementing technology. My biggest problem is training new attorneys and staff. We have no written documentation as to how we do things so training has to be done orally by myself or others every time a new attorney or staff member joins the firm. Can you offer any suggestions?

Response: 

Sounds like you don’t have a written employee handbook or procedures manuals. These are essential tools that every law firm regardless of size should have. These tools dramatically reduce time that has to be spent by others to on-board new employees and can facilitate bringing on lower cost employees with less experience such as recent law graduates or paralegal graduates.

The employee handbook outlines the firm’s employment policies and contains sections such as:

An operation or procedures manual is the firm’s how-to-do-it guide. It defines the purpose of work, specifies the steps that need to be taken while doing the work, and summarizes the standards associates with both the process and the result. Your operation or procedures manual specifies this is how we do it here. Every process in the firm should be documented in your manual – from marketing – to accounting –  to IT – to legal case work. Sections in your manual might include:

Procedures manuals are often a list of steps in outline form. The American Bar Association has a book – The Law Office Policy and Procedures Manual that may help you get started. 

In my earlier life I spent nine years in the United States Air Force Judge Advocate Generals (JAG) office and there I learned the importance of policy and procedures manuals and I carried this into both law firms where I worked prior to starting my consulting practice thirty-four years ago.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

 

 

 

 

Oct 19, 2016


Law Firm Governance – Executive Committee – Non-Equity Member and Procedures

Question:

Our firm is a fourteen attorney firm in Orlando, Florida. We have Two equity members, five non-equity members, and seven associates. We are currently managed by the managing member. In order to be more inclusive we are thinking about eliminating the managing member position and moving to a three member executive committee with one of the three members being a non-equity member. I would appreciate your thoughts?

Response:

I have several client law firms that have taken this approach. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Draft a charter (position descriptions) for the equity membership and the executive committee outlining the specific responsibility and authority for each.
  2. If the firm has a firm administrator draft a job description for that position outlining his/her responsibilities and authority.
  3. Since there are only two equity members there will be no election for those members on the executive committee until such time in the future when there are more equity members. At that time the two equity members should stand for election by the equity membership for staggered three year terms.
  4. Have the non-equity members elect a representative non-equity member annually for a one-year term on the executive committee. 
  5. Suggest that each member have one vote including the non-equity member. The goal of the executive committee should be to manage by consensus but when they can't a vote should be taken.
  6. Have the non-equity member sign a non-disclosure agreement and advise him/her as to the content that can be shared with the non-equity members and content that cannot be shared.
  7. Elect a chair of the executive committee.
  8. Have regularly scheduled meetings.
  9. Use agendas and prepare minutes or notes after each meeting.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Jun 03, 2014


Law Firm Policies and Procedures

Question:

I am a solo practitioner in Central Illinois. As my staff seems to expand, I feel a need to become more formal.  I have a question about nondisclosure agreements with staff?  Also office procedures or rules?   Also in hiring I am finding less and less candidates that lack any experience in a legal setting. The Illinois State Bar Association Law Practice Management Section may want to consider a half day program that is internet based to acquaint staff who have office experience but no legal experience with some of the basic issues including nomenclature, confidentiality, basic legal drafting, etc.

Response:

Our committee has not addressed this of late – we may have years ago and if we did there might be an article in the dark past in the Bottom Newsletter which is the newsletter of the Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics. 

Most of my law firm clients are addressing the topic usually in their office policy handbook as opposed to a separate document. You might want to begin to put together both an office policy (employee handbook) as well as a "how to procedural manual" as well.

Suggest that the office policy (employee handbook), in addition to other topics, cover policies on:

Have a sign-off page in the Policy (Employee Handbook) and have each employee acknowledge that they have read said policies and file a copy in each employee's personnel file.

ABA has a book on Office Policies and Procedures that can be purchased that you might find helpful: 

http://shop.americanbar.org/eBus/Store/ProductDetails.aspx?productId=218026

Thanks for the suggestion regarding the CLE. I am the CLE coordinator for our committee – so I will bring up the topic and see what the group thinks.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

 

 

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