We’re continuing your push to a better law office. We’ve already increased business and have taken steps to improve efficiency which keeps your costs down. Efficiency saves you money for two reasons. First, doing more, with less, means hiring fewer people for larger case loads. Second, handling more cases with less staff/paper means you won’t have to rent as large of an office. Today we’ll begin making a fundamental change for most law offices – lawyers won’t have to devote their days to putting out fires anymore.
The typical day in a law office looks the same Monday-Friday. You come into work with an idea of what you’re going to get done. But then you’re lucky if any of these goals are reached as some type of issue arises that has to be dealt with immediately. This leads to less getting done and you have to hire more people just to keep your office moving along. Here’s a news flash – if these “fires” don’t get started in the first place then you don’t get distracted by putting them out. This means you and your associates/staff get more done without having to hire more people. Let’s make your office run more smoothly.
Attorneys can stop spending hours putting out fires by investing minutes to prevent them
We’ve already taken steps to prevent unscheduled distractions. We discussed why attorneys need to conduct a comprehensive weekly audit of their calendars and provided tips for lawyers to have better email management. These steps prevent distractions (a.k.a. “fires”) from occurring by dealing with issues during pre-arranged times rather than when you’re in the middle of something. Another big step in eliminating distractions, ensuring some issues don’t “pop-up” at all. Do this by getting cases off on the right foot.
Have you ever heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out?” Allowing cases to enter your firm’s workflow in a disorganized state only creates later distractions. This can be prevented by completing certain tasks when new cases enter the office. I performed some consulting for a solo attorney the other day who was struggling for time and was considering hiring staff to help. We took a look at her work flow and, instead, developed a list of tasks to complete when a new case comes in. She’s now decided to put off hiring someone.
We had a “case-opening” procedure for all new cases that came in at my law office. I developed this list early in my practice. I used it when I was a solo working in my living room and it was used when I had 3 associates and was generating seven figures in revenue. Whether you work alone, or if you have paralegals/staff, do the following every time a new case comes in:
- Enter all relevant contact information into your contact manager. This includes the client, identified witnesses, etc. On day 7 we discussed how using the right software ensures you only enter the client’s information one time and don’t have to input it in multiple applications. If you’re using inefficient software then 1) shame on you and 2) make sure the client is entered in those programs as well.
- Add the client to your active case list. And, yes, you should be keeping a list of this and removing clients when their case closes.
- If the client was referred to your office, send a thank you letter to the referral source.
- Email the client a copy of the fee agreement. It doesn’t matter if you handed it to them at the consultation. Email gives you proof for your file that it was given to the client in case there’s ever a dispute.
- Request the file of any prior attorney and get a substitution of counsel if needed.
- Make sure any relevant dates (including court dates already scheduled) are put on your calendar.
- Draft an email to the client confirming what information/documents you need from them and calendar a date for someone to follow up with the client because we all know they’ll forget.
Again, these tasks need to be performed as soon as possible and before any additional work is done on the case.
I can’t tell you how many times I handled cases where something went wrong for opposing counsel and it was clear that there was one, if not multiple things, on this list that the other attorney hadn’t done. In other words, the opposing counsel had to put out the types of fires that didn’t arise in my office.
Attorneys have gotten so used to days being consumed by crisis management, rather than pro-active work, that many think that’s “just the way it is.” As a result, much of the day is spent looking like this guy:
It doesn’t have to be that way. The steps above take very little time and investing those minutes will save you hours through reduced distractions and having to deal with things at the last minute. This leads to you having to hire fewer people and having less stress.
Day 17 action items for attorneys wishing to improve efficiency and reduce overhead
Lawyers are so concerned with growing their revenue that they often don’t realize that their overhead is far more bloated that it needs to be. By investing a few minutes to properly opening cases you’ll save hours in headaches and this is one step (more are coming in this series along with the one’s we’ve already taken) will help you work efficiently and keep your costs down. Today’s items are simple:
- Implement the “case opening” policies listed above along with any others you feel are necessary.
- Ensure that when a new case comes in these items are completed quickly and that there’s little (preferably none) work performed on the case until they are done.
Tomorrow we’ll take another step in improving efficiency and reducing fires by preventing them in the first place.