Guide to Law Firm Process and Procedure

April 14, 2022|In Law Firm Productivity|By Dennis Dimka

The Complete Guide to Organizing Your Law Firm Processes & Procedures

Consider a day in the life of your law firm. You may immediately start to think about processes you perform such as consulting with new clients or court filing. These processes and procedures are the building blocks of your practice. And if you want to grow, they must be organized.

It’s common for many solo or small law firms to lack consistency in workflow. In many cases, there’s no rhyme or reason to any task. Moves are haphazardly made to ensure another checkmark gets added to the to-do list.

Unfortunately, as these law firms grow, they struggle to keep work moving. Their productivity suffers simply because there’s no consistency in their processes. They do things differently each day, which often leads to frustration for their team, a subpar client experience, and work falling through the cracks.

If this is you, there’s a simple solution. It’s time to implement and document processes and procedures for your firm. By putting the proper structure in place, you’ll have the proper framework to scale up sustainably while providing quality service to your clients and minimizing growing pains for your team.


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3 Benefits of Organizing Your Processes & Procedures

It can be exhausting to think about taking the time to organize your firm’s processes. Just hearing the term “process and procedure” may make you yawn. That’s why it’s often placed on the back burner behind the seemingly more important things.

Here’s the deal: It’s important to consider that documenting your procedures results in an asset that will support your growth into the future. In other words, it’s worth it.

1. Simplified Hiring, Training, and Management

First, hiring is simplified when you know what tasks must be completed and the order and frequency in which to complete them. Defining your processes allows you to better understand job duties and set appropriate expectations and benchmarks for performance.

When it comes to training, documented processes simplify learning and help new employees get up to speed in a shorter amount of time. As a result, you earn a quicker ROI on each new hire.

When there’s one source of truth for all processes and procedures, consistency ensues which boosts overall efficiency, even when your team is full of new hires still in training.

2. Increased Efficiency

What happens when you perform a task in the same way, every single day? That task soon becomes a habit. The same thing occurs within your law firm. When tasks are rinsed and repeated with documented instructions to follow, your team will learn processes quickly and become more efficient in how they complete them.

What does more efficiency mean for your firm? Efficiency increases your firm’s opportunity to take on more clients and bill more hours. Plus, it enables you to give more attention and time to building your firm instead of spending hours on inconsistent tasks.

Note: We know your law firm is your baby. But, you can’t handle every single process as you grow. You’ll need to get those procedures out of your head and down on paper for others to use. Otherwise, you’ll develop a funnel that ends with you. And as a busy attorney and firm owner, this is far from ideal.

3. Decreased Business Risk

Documented processes are critical to remaining compliant within your law firm. Many regulatory agencies such as HIPAA don’t have a clear list of do’s and don’ts. Having documented policies that are followed, enforced, and routinely reviewed and audited, however, is expected.

Documenting goes far beyond step-by-step instructions for simple processes. For example, it enables you to better manage critical information such as protected health information (PHI). Documentation helps you protect your business and your clients from risk. Plus, it will simplify the process of a HIPAA or other compliance audit should one occur.

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Getting Organized: Documenting Your Processes & Procedures

Understanding those benefits, you’re probably chomping at the bit, right? We know this is tough work and it will take some time. That’s why we’re here to support you by giving you step-by-step details on how to organize your processes and procedures the right way.

What You Should Document

Everything; you should document everything. This includes any process that is repeated throughout your firm. Whether you complete a certain process daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly, it should be documented. Let’s dive into some specific categories of information you should start with.

Note: There is no process or procedure too simple for documentation. Even those processes that include a few simple steps. The goal is consistency throughout your firm.

Employee Processes

We recommend starting with those processes that are specific to your employees, including recruiting, hiring, training, management, reviews, etc. After all, your team is the driving force behind your firm so it’s critical to get this right.

Here’s a sampling of things to consider when thinking about documenting your employee processes:

  • How do you create and post job ads?
  • How and where do you post open positions?
  • What is your interview process?
  • What are your hiring policies and standards?
  • What is your orientation and training process?
  • What is your management process and what are your expectations for managers?
  • How often do you conduct performance reviews and what steps are involved?
  • What are your HR processes, including payroll, mitigating employee concerns, etc.?

This is far from a complete list of procedures you should document. But, it should get the ball rolling. It might be best to consider the full lifecycle of an employee from the moment you discover you need to add to your team to the moment an employee leaves your firm. Then, document each step and define the processes involved.

Workflow Procedures

You’ll also want to document all of the processes that relate to doing the work inside of your business. These workflows consist of everything from client intake to taking depositions. Your documented procedures should include all of your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks.

To simplify this process, start by going through an average day in your practice. Outline all of your tasks and those that your team completes. Then, do the same thing for weekly tasks, monthly tasks, and so on.

Software For Lawyers

Remember, no procedure is too small to document. Even something as simple as processing incoming mail is different between firms. These simple procedures may also include more steps and touchpoints than you realize.

Don’t forget to consider workflows you may not use very often such as disaster (fire, hurricane, etc.) processes. And if the past couple of years has taught us anything, it’s a great idea to outline remote work procedures in the event they’re required.

Overarching Policies

Finally, we recommend documenting all of your law firm policies or your firm’s stance on how specific processes should be handled. Some of the most common policies include:

  • Client Communication Policy: This is the policy used to document how you communicate with your clients. For example, you may call first and then follow up with an email.
  • Confidentiality Policy: The Confidentiality Policy outlines the critical information you keep and how it’s kept. It also outlines the specific procedures for dealing with this information that your employees must follow.
  • Client Response Policy: In this policy, you’ll outline who can respond to clients and how to respond to client requests.
  • Acceptable Use Policy: An Acceptable Use policy outlines what’s acceptable and not acceptable for using technology within your firm.

You can only realistically hold employees accountable to policies when they’re documented and communicated with your team.

With these policies documented, you can then couple them with the specific processes that pertain to each. For example, you can house your client response policy with your client response process outline. This way, everything you and your team needs is in one place.

How to Document the Right Way

It’s one thing to jot down your processes, it’s another to document them. The point of documentation is to make it easy for you and your team to access the information needed to perform a task consistently and efficiently. To that point, there’s a right way to document.

The Law Firm Handbook

Your first step should be to develop a law firm handbook that houses all of your processes, procedures, and policies in one place. This handbook can then be shared with your team and used as a quick reference.

There are many ways to do this. First, you can do the traditional route and create a printable paper manual. If you are trying to go paperless (more on that below), however, you’ll want another solution.

For example, you can create an internal wiki that’s only accessible by your team. This is a great way to store all of your firm information. Or, you can store all of your documentation inside a document management system (DMS). We’ll dive into the benefits of a DMS a bit later.

Create Separate Documents for Each Process or Procedure

Each process or procedure should be documented separately. This ensures they’re easy to find, reference and update. It’s also helpful because different employees will need easy access to different documents. They shouldn’t have to thumb through pages and pages of policies to find the one they’re looking for.

Make Your Documents “Visually Digestible”

When I make or revise documentation for our team at Uptime Legal, I make sure each document is visually digestible.  This  means ensuring your procedures aren’t written like a big, boring book. Instead:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Break things down into specific sections.
  • Use color text boxes or other graphics to call out key items.
  • Use bullet points and numbers.
  • Use checklists as an abbreviated way to explain detailed procedures.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short.

Policies can be incredibly boring to write and read. Regardless, they’re important for your firm. Use some care when creating your documents so your employees don’t fall asleep at their desks.

Skip the Click-by-Click Instructions

Documents should be kept simple. This can be difficult when procedures are highly detailed such as those that require technology. The key is to stay as broad as possible. Don’t go through click-by-click instructions that may become outdated as your processes change. Yes, detail the specific steps, but there’s no need to talk about button clicks, as these often change when your software is updated (or changed entirely).

As a rule of thumb, document what steps should be taken, but necessarily how, as the “how” is more likely to change.  

Where to Store Your Documents

Now that you have all of these documents, what do you do with them? You could slap them in a binder and call it a day. Or, you can store them more efficiently.

We recommend storing your documentation inside a cloud-based storage tool or document management system (DMS). This ensures everyone on your team can quickly access the documents they need to do their jobs. It’s all stored in one place.

Save your documents by department or even by role with a separate place for firmwide policies. Saving in this way enables you to restrict access to what certain individuals don’t need access to. Plus, this method ensures everything is easy to find.

Tips for Documenting Your Processes & Procedures

This process will take some time and you shouldn’t expect to get there overnight. Instead, be patient and keep working at it. Here are some tips that might help as you develop and maintain your documentation:

  • Allow your team to help with documentation: Your team is in the trenches day in and day out. As you document your processes, get them involved. Ask them to outline what they do each day. This might help you ensure nothing gets missed.
  • Review your documented processes often: Processes change, especially for firms in growth mode. You’ll want to review your documentation often to ensure everything is accurate. We recommend doing this at least every quarter.
  • Ensure everyone has access to your documentation: New hires should be given access to your policies and procedures immediately. And make sure to share all new documentation created with existing team members as well.
  • Record changes to processes immediately: Any time a process changes, document it immediately. This is key for keeping things consistent throughout your firm.

The Paperless Law Firm: Taking Your Processes & Procedures to the Next Level

Want to take your documentation to the next level? You might want to consider going paperless. Unfortunately, paper can lead to inefficiencies within your firm. It takes serious time to search through policy documents when all you need to know is how to perform one simple task. And paper documents are difficult to maintain over time.

Now, as you prepare to organize your law firm, is the perfect time to do away with paper for good.

The Benefits of Going Paperless

Going paperless offers your firm a ton of benefits. To start, it improves organization. You can store documents in one place and maintain storage consistency within your team. Going paperless also enables your team to quickly find what they’re looking for and improves law firm collaboration.

The paperless law firm is also more secure. Real documents are susceptible to theft and beyond. A paperless system protects them through tech features such as encryption. These features keep your documents on lockdown and ensure they’re only visible to your team.

At the end of the day, going paperless simply boosts your productivity and efficiency. And this boost leads to other benefits such as increased firm growth and an enhanced client experience. It’s worth it.

Tools You’ll Need for a Paperless Law Firm

If you’re interested in going paperless, there are some tools you’ll need to make it happen, including hardware and software.

Paperless Hardware

Paper doesn’t stop coming in even if you go paperless. You’ll need some hardware tools to help you manage and maintain documents such as client-provided information and contracts. These tools include:

  • Scanners: Your scanners will be used to scan all documents into your computer system. You can choose to have one large scanner for your entire office or personal scanners for each employee.
  • Mobile scanners: Working on the go will require mobile scanning abilities. These scanners come in the form of mobile apps you can download right to your device. Some examples include Microsoft Office Lens and CamScanner.
  • Other tools: You might also consider other hardware such as tablets for mobile use and extra computer monitors to make reading documents easier.

Paperless Software

To go paperless, you should avoid using an on-premise file server. Instead, you should opt for cloud-based tools. Your G:\ drive requires constant and costly maintenance and upgrades. Plus, it isn’t accessible from anywhere but your office. Modern law firms need to be able to access documentation from anywhere.

You’ll also need more than basic cloud storage. Instead, we recommend purchasing a document management system (DMS) that’s built for law firms. You’ll also need electronic signature tools for filling out documents and OCR software for scanning image-based files into your system.

The Document Management System: What & How

We’ve mentioned the document management system or DMS several times throughout this guide already. And for good reason. If you want a simplified way to store and access all of your critical firm documents, you need a DMS. It’s the best way to effectively manage processes and procedures.

What Is a Document Management System?

A DMS stores all of your legal documents and emails, including your processes and procedures in one place. It also provides a comprehensive set of tools to organize and manage those documents.

Using a DMS, you can find the procedure you’re looking for using robust search tools. You can also quickly share documents with others, set permissions for specific documents, manage document versions, and more.

How to Implement a DMS Within Your Law Firm

If you wish to implement a DMS within your law firm, there are a few critical steps you should take:

  1. Find the right DMS for your firm: You’ll want to choose a law-centric DMS that is specifically built with law firms in mind. These solutions do so much more than storing your procedures. For example, they can organize your legal files by matter automatically. It’s also best to choose a DMS vendor that’s available to help you with the document migration process.
  2. Migrate your documents to your DMS: By now, you should have your processes and procedures clearly defined on paper or in documents saved to your computer. If you need to, scan your paper documents and add them to your DMS. We recommend saving the file using a name that makes it clear what’s inside. You can use a date and a description, for example. Something like “2022.04-Client Communication Policy.”
  3. Train your team on using the DMS: The next step is to ensure everyone on your team understands how to use the DMS to find their documents. Plan and perform firmwide training, showing your team where to find all process and procedure documentation as well as other files.

Document Management Systems are often thought about for storing client and matter documents.  However, the right DMS product can also serve as the central repository for documenting your law firm’s process and procedure.  

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