The Ultimate Law Firm Policies and Procedures Handbook for a Successful Practice
Last Updated on September 14, 2021 by Owen McGab Enaohwo
Tomorrow is the final hearing for a case you are working on. You have smoking-gun evidence to give your client the much-needed victory. This could be a breakthrough for your small firm.
You stop by your office at almost closing time to pick up the case file. But the file isn’t completed yet.
The employee working on it called in sick. There wasn’t much your other employees could do because they aren’t privy to much information about the case.
You are angry and confused at the same time. You roll up your sleeves and start working on the file yourself. You work late into the night. By morning, you don’t feel your best but you show up in court anyway.
Documenting your law firm’s policies and procedures with the right system could have saved you the trouble. How? You are about to find out in this in-depth resource about documenting, creating, reviewing, and updating law firm policies and procedures.
Law Firm Policies and Procedures Handbook – Content Index
With several years in school studying law and perhaps additional years practicing as a lawyer, establishing your own law firm feels right. But after setting up for business, you realize that practicing as a lawyer is a different ball game from running a firm.
According to a recent report by Thomson Reuters, 74% of small law firms spend too much time on administrative tasks at the detriment of their practice as lawyers.
You know the right things to do and how to do them. But for some reason, the people you work with can’t seem to get it. It’s one thing to have great ideas and another thing to communicate them to people.
Cut your employees some slack; they aren’t mind readers. How are they supposed to know what you have in mind if it isn’t spelled out in black and white?
Your ideas for running your firm can be categorized into policies and procedures. They help you to articulate the mission of your business and give your employees a blueprint for their work.
Let’s break it down further.
Polices are general principles that align an organization toward achieving its mission, goals, and objectives while procedures are detailed rules or steps for executing specific tasks.
Procedures are built on policies. In other words, procedures are how-to work instructions that help an organization achieve its policies.
For instance, an organization might have a policy that prioritizes customer satisfaction. To achieve this policy, it needs to have procedures for satisfying the needs of its customers—such procedures have to include a series of steps on “how to deal with an agitated customer” with the ultimate goal of satisfying them.
Let’s dig deeper to understand how policies and procedures play significant roles in an organization.
Every business operates within an industry and every industry in a civil society is regulated. The stakes are even higher in law practice.
As professionals whose livelihoods are dependent on the interpretation of the law, lawyers are guided by a code of conduct as they seek the best outcomes for their clients. The need to adhere to regulations in law practice can’t be overemphasized as lawyers could go the extra mile in seeking victory for their clients.
As a law firm owner or manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the lawyers in your firm abide by the stipulated rules of engagement. There’s no better way to do that than creating policies and procedures that uphold existing laws and regulations in your field.
By creating office policies and procedures that align with the law for reference, your lawyers will be well-guided on their jobs, thereby decreasing risks and legal liabilities for your firm.
A Gallup study found that only 2 in 10 employees strongly believe that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to give their best.
There’s no room for unseriousness or carelessness in the highly regulated and fast-paced law practice. Your employees have to be up and doing because dropping the ball could affect people’s lives and properties.
One great way to motivate employees to do their jobs efficiently is to create a conducive work environment and hold them accountable for their performances.
It’s easy for team members to claim to be ignorant or unaware about what they are supposed to do when there are no available resources to guide them.
Don’t make it easy for your employees to get away with bad behavior.
When you put policies and procedures in place, there will be no excuse for ignorance. Employees will think twice before dropping the ball because there will be consequences and the consequences will be justified.
Achieving organizational goals is more attainable when the entire team believes in the goals and is committed to them.
Policies and procedures help you to capture your business goals in words. When drafted accurately, they give your employees a clear sense of direction—helping them understand the “why” behind what they do.
When everyone on your team works with the same documents, there will be uniformity across the entire organization and that will enhance team spirit.
Eradicating errors completely at the workplace might not be feasible due to human nature but those errors can be reduced to the barest minimum when employees have a handbook to work with.
One little error in your practice could ruin everything you have worked for. You are better off keeping such mistakes at an insignificant level.
Employees have a high tendency to make errors when they rely on their knowledge especially when such knowledge isn’t tested and proven.
Documented policies and procedures must have been tested and proven to be effective before they are implemented. When they are followed down to the teeth, there will be no room for any errors. Even when employees make mistakes due to negligence, the impact will be minimal.
Being on the same level as the law firms among the Fortune 500 companies is the dream of every law firm owner. Achieving that height isn’t easy but you are a step closer to it if your firm is well-organized with effective policies and procedures.
Perhaps you might want to sell your firm in the future. You’ll be in the position to get a great deal if you have a good track record and your clients will be taken care of.
Having understood the significance of policies and procedures in your firm, it’s important to identify areas where they are needed. In the next chapter, we shall discuss how you can start creating them for your firm.
Creating policies and procedures isn’t the easiest task for most business owners, and that’s largely due to their mindset.
Policies and procedures manuals aren’t sacred documents; they are just like other documents in your firm with valuable information. Think of the manuals as a work instructions handbook.
As the owner or manager of your firm, you are in the right position to champion the creation of your policies and procedures. But you shouldn’t do it all by yourself. Seek the input of management-level staff for your policies and the input of all your employees for your procedures.
Perhaps you are wondering about the kind of policies and procedures to create; there are different categories to consider.
What are the daily tasks executed in your firm? Each task should have its own procedure for clarity. How does your team execute client projects? What paper documents do you create? How do you handle clients’ cases? The answers to these questions are procedures to consider creating.
Your daily operations can turn your firm into a busy bus station. Things could fall through the cracks, and the smallest tasks will take forever to be executed in the absence of business procedures.
Creating policies and procedures for client acquisition sets precedence for your relationship with clients. Instead of going about client acquisition in ways that may be unprofessional or inconsistent with your firm’s values and ethics, team members are guided on acceptable practices and standards to protect the reputation of your firm.
Client acquisition policies and procedures help you to treat all clients professionally without fear or favor. You offer your employees the tools they need to manage difficult clients from the onset to avoid future conflicts.
People systems refers to your interactions with your employees, contractors, vendors, and other service providers. These interactions include staffing, hiring, training, employee onboarding, employee offboarding, etc.
Your people systems are very significant because they determine the quality of your workforce. Anomalies in your dealings with people in your firm could hurt your organizational culture and overall output.
The longevity of your firm hinges on your financial systems. Your daily operations demand huge financial costs that aren’t sustainable on weak financial systems.
Cash inflow and outflow are key indicators of your financial systems. When cash outflow is higher than cash inflow, you become underfunded.
Small law firms often struggle with creating sustainable financial systems. They shortchange themselves by charging low rates just to stay in business and the circle continues.
Create effective policies for your finances and streamline your financial procedures such as billing, bookkeeping, accounting, etc. These financial policies can save you money as they cut inappropriate spending, employee waste, and bookkeeping errors.
There’s only so much you can do in creating your firm’s policies and procedures without productivity tools. It’s a digital age—there are several digital tools you can use to simplify the process. Read on to learn about the tools you can use to create your policies and procedures in the next chapter.
Having a pile of files on your desk is so outdated in today’s modern workplace. Creating your policies and procedures on paper is difficult to update, hard to share, not accessible, and makes it hard to collaborate. You need digital tools that allow you to keep your files without creating clutter.
The tools you use to document your policies and procedures are just as important—they can either simplify your operations or complicate them further.
Bottom line is, you need an effective workflow tool for your operational manual, and the reasons aren’t farfetched. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons and possible solutions.
Created policies and procedures may require the review and approval of key persons in your team to certify their efficiency for use.
An effective tool is designed to send notifications to the reviewing or approving team members to get their input. With this in place, there are no delays in waiting for reviews and approvals—your workflow keeps moving.
Creating policies and procedures for different areas and tasks in your organization will leave you with tons of documents. When employees need information in a particular document during work urgently, scrambling through a bulk of files or texts is a waste of time.
A standard policy and procedure software has a search feature that they can use to dive right into the specific file or information that they need.
Do you need the attention of specific team members on some policies and procedures? You can grant them access without getting other team members involved. Besides keeping certain information confidential, this feature helps you to maintain orderliness across your organization.
Employees are meant to use your policies and procedures manuals. But they might choose not to use them for whatever reason and do things however they want to your firm’s detriment.
A great tool shows you how your employees are engaging with your manuals. Every visit is recorded with the number of files that they opened.
A series of versions may exist for certain procedures with each version serving its purpose.
A standard tool allows you to identify and maintain a particular version when needed. That way, you avoid a situation where team members are using different versions when they are supposed to be using the same one.
Today’s policies and procedures could be outdated tomorrow. You need to update your manuals regularly to be abreast with the best practices.
Updating your documents on free basic tools is daunting due to their limited features. In most cases, updating a document means doing a complete overall and starting from scratch. But with advanced tools, there are several features you can use to make updates. You can make changes to specific areas of a document without starting from scratch. You can also notify team members automatically whenever an update is made to be aware of the new changes.
Are you in doubt that your employees understand your policies and procedures? You can test their knowledge by issuing them a quiz via your workflow tool.
Select the areas you want to test them on, draft your questions and create your quiz using the designated feature. Grant them access to the quiz document and watch their performance.
There are free tools that you can use to create your operations manuals. Many organizations started with free tools but recognized the need to upgrade when they couldn’t perform the functions discussed above. Some of these tools include:
Google Docs allows you to create files that are sharable and accessible remotely. Each document is live and open to team members with different levels of engagement.
Team members can collaborate on writing tasks as they can edit documents simultaneously, keeping the workflow ongoing.
Uploaded policies and procedures can be accessed at any time and from any location. You can also restrict roles so some people can edit while others can only view.
Wiki Tools allow you to create various policies and procedures that are open to team members with authorized access.
Similar to Google Docs, team members can access documents remotely and collaborate in creating documents.
Policies and procedures aren’t limited to texts. A video is a powerful tool for learning. Showing team members what to do with visuals is more effective than written texts. Zoom is helpful in this regard as you can use it to create videos, explaining your policies and procedures.
The above tools are helpful, no doubt, but there’s a limit to what you can achieve with them.
A cluster of texts in a document doesn’t make the best policies and procedures manual. The structure and accessibility of the documents determine whether they will be used or not.
Many organizations attest to their employees abandoning their policies and procedures manuals shortly after they were created in basic systems because they weren’t the easiest to use.
As mentioned earlier, an effective tool for your law firm policies and procedures allows you to update your manuals seamlessly. Obsolete information is of no use to anyone. In the next chapter, we shed more light on updating your policies and procedures.
Creating your policies and procedures manual is a step in the right direction but that’s not the end of it. Some policies and procedures in your firm may no longer be relevant. Ignoring the need to update them leaves you with several threats, including:
- Sanctions by regulatory bodies as outdated policies and procedures are non-compliant with laws and regulations.
- Exposure to risks as old policies and procedures are harmful to your business and employees.
- Low quality of products and/or services as outdated policies and procedures are ineffective for producing high quality.
- Loss of customers as old policies and procedures are inadequate for customer satisfaction.
- Loss of business opportunities to the competition as outdated policies and procedures aren’t effective to compete favorably.
Experiencing any of the above could send your law firm into oblivion especially given the fierce competition in your industry.
Perhaps you are wondering how to know when to update your policies and procedures to avoid any damages to your business. Let’s take a look at some helpful scenarios.
Government policies and regulations change regularly. While frequent changes can be tiring, it’s in your best interest that your firm is always in the good books of the law.
You might be knowledgeable about the law but picking a fight with the government or regulatory bodies isn’t a wise idea—there’s a high chance you’ll lose.
Keep your ears to the ground to know when changes are made to policies in your field. Be quick to update your policies in line with the changes. Don’t wait until the next scheduled meeting to discuss it especially if it’s far away.
Unlike regulatory changes, organizational changes are within your jurisdiction. Nonetheless, they are just as important.
Changes in the structure or trajectory of your firm might require new policies and procedures.
For instance, if you are having a merger with another law firm, it won’t be business as usual. Such a big move requires some changes in your policies and procedures.
Update your policies and procedures quickly in line with your organizational changes to avoid setbacks.
Waiting for something to go wrong before updating your policies and procedures isn’t a good idea but unforeseen events happen from time to time.
In the event of an accident or policy violation, make reviewing your policies and procedures manuals a part of your conflict resolution strategy. Check your manuals to find out if the information contained in them may have contributed to the crisis. If you have evidence that it did, revise the policy or procedure to avoid a repetition of the incident.
Your attention should always be on your policies and procedures because they can make or break your firm.
If every policy or procedure in your organization was efficient, your firm would be running on autopilot. You can make that happen by addressing some important questions.
If the answer is no, there is a problem. Policies and procedures are meant to be implemented how you want them to be implemented. If your team members have difficulty applying them as intended, something is amiss and you have to go back to the drawing board.
It’s easy to tell when your policies and procedures don’t have the desired effect in your firm, and that’s a red flag.
Evaluate your manuals to identify the missing links. Are your policies and procedures complex and difficult to understand? Are your employees even using them? Or do they have difficulty accessing the manuals?
The importance of having relevant policies and procedures can’t be overemphasized. If your manuals don’t align with the current realities of your business, there is no point.
Implementing effective workflow software to create and manage your policies and procedures can be a gamechanger. For many firm owners, the challenge is in finding the right software. What if we showed you the perfect fit? Check it out in the next chapter.
Combining the responsibilities of a lawyer with the managerial duties of running a firm is no easy feat. You need all the help you can get to simplify the job.
You can get the much-needed help by implementing an effective software to manage your firm’s policies and procedures, and SweetProcess is the right plug.
SweetProcess simplifies the most complex processes in an organization and automates repetitive tasks, leaving you with ample time to focus on the more engaging duties on your hands as a lawyer.
Suitable for law firms, the system has a track record of being adopted by several firms like yours and the results are nothing but great. One such company is the US-based law firm Brooks Law Group. The firm was able to improve its employees’ efficiency and operations by streamlining its business processes using SweetProcess.
SweetProcess offers several features that you can use to create and manage the policies and procedures in your law firm.
The how-to of every procedure needs to be readily available to team members so they can be great at their jobs. When procedures aren’t documented, employees rely on their knowledge, and the outcomes could be disastrous. If they aren’t making mistakes, their performance may be nothing to write home about.
SweetProcess makes documenting your business processes easy with handy documentation features. Besides text, you can also use images, videos, charts, graphs, etc. to make your procedures actionable.
You can also choose from a range of templates to customize your procedures to your taste.
Canadian-based law firm Resolute Legal had a first-hand experience of how SweetProcess can position a law firm for success. Burned out from not streamlining its operations, it implemented SweetProcess, and that was a watershed moment for the company.
Maintaining ethical practices and regulatory standards in your law firm begins with creating effective policies. Your policies should be relevant, current, comprehensive, accessible, and shareable.
The best organizational policies are relatable. SweetProcess allows you to carry your team members along in the implementation of your policies. Unlike seeing the policy manual as a sacred document on a pedestal, team members are part of the policy creation process and have access to it.
If anyone on your team is unclear about a policy, they can simply look it up on the system instead of making guesses.
Employee training is a continuous activity in the workplace. The more grounded your workers are in their job skill set, the higher your chances of success.
Onboarding is a tradition for new hires. Besides possessing the general skills and qualifications needed for the job, they need to be trained on the specific tasks that they will be performing in your firm.
The training for new employees could linger for weeks and months with a lot of time and resources invested—this can be tiring for you and the employees in question.
SweetProcess comes to the rescue as it simplifies the training process. You can be done with it in a matter of hours or days, depending on the volume.
Having documented the procedures for every task that employees perform, you simply share the links to the documents with new employees. They can go through each document on their own, taking it all in without pressure.
You can also test new employees’ knowledge of the procedures you shared with them by giving them a quiz right on the system. The founder of ShipCalm, an e-commerce logistics company, reveals that this feature serves as proof to its customers who want to be assured that the workers handling their jobs are competent.
With cases involving human lives and properties on your hands as a lawyer, time is of the essence. Everyone on your team has to be up and doing.
Keeping your workflow running goes beyond delegating tasks to team members. You need to keep track of their activities to ensure that all hands are on deck.
With SweetProcess, you can see how your employees are engaging with their tasks. You can view the history of every task to know how every team member involved in the task has engaged with it. With this information, you know those who are stalling the job and call their attention to it.
The collaborative features of the system allow multiple employees to work on tasks simultaneously. This is very helpful, especially when you have to meet tight deadlines.
Tribal knowledge is a deep-seated problem in many organizations—it can even be more dangerous in a law firm. When lawyers who are privy to some vital information aren’t around, nothing can be done. The delay caused by their absence could have serious consequences on your firm and clients.
Tribal knowledge was a big concern for the team at Zen Media, a public relations firm. There wasn’t much that they could do in the absence of team members who performed key roles. But all that changed when they created a knowledge base in SweetProcess.
SweetProcess offers you cloud-based storage where you can store every policy and procedure in your firm. Employees have all the information they need at their fingertips. Rather than waiting on their more experienced colleagues for answers on how to do things, team members can log into the system to get the information that they need.
A knowledge base is a great resource for your firm as you won’t be dependent on anyone, not even your most experienced employees.
Not yet sold out on SweetProcess? That’s okay. You can check out SweetProcess by signing up for a 14-day free trial. You don’t need a credit card for it and if you aren’t convinced by the end, you can walk away, just like that.
Being well informed will surely help you in acquiring an effective tool for your policies and procedures. In the next and last chapter, you’ll learn the key factors to consider in choosing the right system.
Every dime spent on a purchase counts—finding out that an item purchased is below expectations leads to buyer’s remorse. There is only so much you can do to avoid such a situation, but due diligence helps to minimize disappointments.
The market is flooded with workflow tools, and each of them promises to be the best. Setting out without a set of requirements in mind will leave you confused. No two workflow tools are the same, but the good ones share some similarities.
Here are some factors to consider in choosing the right software for the policies and procedures in your law firm:
Industry experience is one of the first things you need to keep in mind when choosing a tool.
A system might be great but a misfit for your firm because it isn’t designed for legal businesses.
There is confidence in knowing that other law firms have used or are using the software and they see positive results. You can rest assured that, if used correctly, you can achieve positive results too.
While it’s great to know that the software is suitable for legal businesses, you need to consider its flexibility too. You may run your firm differently from other firms. Hence, you should be able to customize your operations accordingly—you can only do that if the software is flexible and allows customization.
Check for customization features in the software. Does it allow you to make changes to existing templates? If the answer is no, the extent to which you can use it is limited.
The rising rate of cyberattacks is a concern for every business online. As much as you want to enhance your business operations, you don’t want to be exposed to cyber risks. You need to be sure of the security of your data stored in a workflow tool so you don’t become a victim of a cyberattack.
Examine the security of the software before you sign up. Does it have advanced security features to resist attacks? Can you back up your files?
The right tool for your policies and procedures simplifies the creation, management, usage, sharing, accessibility of your manual.
First, there is the setup and configuration. Do you need advanced IT knowledge to set up the system? That’s not a good sign. You and your team members should be able to set up and use the system with basic IT knowledge.
Accessibility is a major concern in today’s mobile workspace. You and your team should be able to work from anywhere. Unless the tool offers remote access, doing that won’t be possible.
No matter how great a workflow tool is, it may not meet all your business needs. You may need to integrate it with other tools to get maximum results.
Using multiple systems in different locations causes delay and friction. You should be able to integrate it with other tools that you need for your business and get the most of all the tools.
Pricing shouldn’t be your main focus in choosing a software solution for your firm. You should be more concerned with the value that the software offers. However, its pricing should be proportional to its value.
One tool might be less expensive than the other because it offers lower value. If your focus is on the pricing, you might end up with the wrong tool.
Law practice is like a jungle: it’s a survival of the fittest. The more experienced firms dominate the scene, taking all the big cases to the detriment of the less experienced ones.
You have to create your own opportunities by streamlining your business operations for success with effective policies and procedures. Take that bold step by signing up for a 14-day free trial of SweetProcess and downloading our free Checklist for Creating Law Firm Policies and Procedures.