Policies, procedures, rules, and guidelines make up the foundation of the legal profession. Yet, it can be challenging to create a system of policies and procedures for a new or growing law firm. As your law firm gains traction, it’s even more important to support that growth with documented guidelines.
While the documentation may seem tedious at first, it can be rewarding to put your ideas on paper and create your firm’s operational framework from scratch. The benefits you and your firm will experience include:
- Establishing consistency, including performance objectives and guidelines for your staff.
- Reducing or mitigating mistakes and risk factors, such as malpractice suits and high employee disengagement levels.
- Increasing productivity and efficiency.
- Improving employee performance.
- Discovering ways to make the client experience better.
Of course, benefits like improved performance from employees and improved client experiences are nice, but how do you achieve those benchmarks? What policies and procedures should every law firm have in place? Luckily, I’ve come up with a list of essential procedures you can use to keep your firm on track.
Think about the culture you want to create for your firm and employees. General policies are not tied to specific procedures, but provide direction on employee conduct. These types of policies can include standards for client communication, acceptable uses of technology, and maintaining client confidentiality.
You can also include guidance on anti-harassment policies, privacy, and security. Many general policies are documented in an employee handbook, accessible through an intranet site. Including an introduction in an employee handbook is a good way to summarize your firm’s culture, mission statement, and strategic objectives.
Let your general policies communicate what your firm stands for, why your staff should be proud members of the team, and where your firm is headed!
Human Resources and Employment Policies
What federal, state, and local employment laws apply to your firm and its staff? What performance and conduct expectations do you want to put into place? What are some best practices you and your firm can follow when making decisions related to recruitment, promotions, and retention?
Establishing interview and performance review guidelines, onboarding procedures, and responsibilities for each position creates a sense of structure and reduces ambiguity. Setting expectations helps your employees in several ways. First, it lets them know how they and their roles fit within your firm’s overall purpose. Second, it gives them a foundation for what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not.
While some “gray area” situations can still come up, when employees know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you as an employer, they’re more likely to form positive perceptions and be engaged. Higher employee engagement levels often lead to better client experiences, which is what you want to grow your business!
Procedures for Internal Workflows
Designing workflows start with identifying which internal roles are interdependent and how those roles need to collaborate. For instance, you can break down tasks related to case research, client communication, and creating case briefs. Who is responsible for each task and how should tasks be handed off to others with different responsibilities?
Documenting internal workflows sets your firm up for success by creating efficiency, establishing consistency and training guidelines. Other helpful tools you can use when creating workflows are situation matrixes and charts that indicate timelines for various processes. A situation matrix is great for illustrating who is responsible for which tasks in certain situations, such as a crisis or an emergency.
Procedures for Delivering Client Services
How do you want to handle requests from the public, current and potential clients? What would be the best way to communicate with clients? Do you want your staff to follow scripts in sensitive situations or when telling a client your firm will not be able to represent his or her case? What procedures do you prefer to follow when dealing with client identification, billing, and client documents?
All of these can be important when dealing with increased or demanding workloads. Improvising in the moment can create confusion and an inconsistent experience for clients and employees. While new situations will come up and lead to new procedures or the revision of existing ones, an existing foundation can become a rock and allow your firm to respond positively and proactively. That’s what your clients need and expect, and that’s why they chose your firm to represent their cases.
Want more information on how to create effective policies and procedures for your firm?
Listen to “Outsourcing and Onboarding Strategies: How to Create Sustainable, Profitable, and Happy Workplaces” from my podcast “Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor.”