Creating an operations manual for your law practice


Early in my career I rented space from an attorney who had a very lucrative high volume personal injury practice.

He had half a dozen employees, including one attorney, and everything ran very smoothly. The office was busy but quiet. Everything was orderly. They never seemed to miss deadlines or suffer a major crisis.

One reason why the office was so successful was that the attorney had prepared an operations manual. Every aspect of the practice was documented. Every employee knew what they were supposed to do.

He created the manual, I was told, so that if someone quit or went on maternity leave or got sick, the new hire or temp would be able to quickly get up to speed.

The manual explained how to open a new file, how to close a file, and everything in between. There were forms and checklists for every stage of the case, and fill-in-the-blank form letters, too. The calendaring procedure was spelled out in detail.

As a result, nothing fell through the cracks. The cases got worked and settled or tried. Things moved quickly. Mistakes were rare.

I never saw the actual manual but hearing about it inspired me to create my own. I started by making extra copies of every letter I wrote and putting them in a separate file. I created checklists for repetitive tasks. I asked other attorneys I knew for copies of their forms and form letters and re-wrote them to suit my style and work flow.

I was also able to build a sizable practice with a relatively small staff, in part, because of my manual.

One of the benefits of going through this process is that it forces you to think about everything you do, allowing you to find ways to do them better. You find holes in your procedures, places where mistakes can happen, and you can patch them. You find wasteful tasks and can eliminate them. You see opportunities for doing things faster.

You also find ways to improve client relations. For example, you may discover gaps in communicating progress to clients about their case, or find ways to make their experience less stressful. Repeat business and referrals will increase because you always send welcome letters and thank you letters and remember clients’ birthdays.

The bottom line is that creating an operations manual for your law practice will save time, save money, help you avoid errors (and malpractice claims), and make your practice run more smoothly and more profitably.

If you don’t have an operations manual for your practice, I encourage you to start one. If you have staff, enlist their aid. If you do have a manual, make a note to review it periodically, so you can update it with changes in the law, new forms, and new ideas.

You’ll thank me later.

For more on creating an operations manual, see The Attorney Marketing Formula


If your five year old was managing your law practice


It’s been a long time since I had a five year old in house but not so long that I can’t remember what kids are like. Hey, I can even remember what I was like.

So, what if kids ran the world? More to the point, what if your five year old was managing your law practice? What changes might they make? What would they tell you to do?

1. Have fun. Find ways to put some fun into what you do. Because if you don’t, you’ll burn out. Or get sick. Or ruin your marriage.

That might mean you need to delegate more tasks. Eliminate others. And loosen up. Find some light in the darkness. Find something to smile about and laugh about every day. Put some play into your day. Because if your practice isn’t fun, at least some of the time, you probably need to do something else.

2. Learn stuff. Kids love to learn. It’s keeps them young. If you’ve stopped learning, you need to rekindle your innate thirst for knowledge and learn something. Legal stuff doesn’t count.

Read and listen to things outside your normal areas of interest. You can use those nuggets in your blog posts, articles, speeches, and conversations.

Schedule weekly learning time and study marketing, writing, speaking, leadership, management, and productivity. Read history. Read profiles about business leaders and creative people. Go to museums and art galleries.

3. Tell me a story. Kids love to read stories and have you read them stories. You do, too. You just forgot. So, read some fiction now and then. All facts make Jack a dull boy.

And tell stories to your clients and prospects. Stories are the best way to show people what you do and how you can help them. They are interesting because they have people in them and because something happens to them. Put stories about clients and cases in your marketing materials.

Visuals can tell stories, too. Put photos on your website. Use charts and diagrams to deliver information (but only if they are simple and interesting).

Oh yeah, make sure you have some coloring books and crayons in the office so your client’s kids have something to do.

4. Could I have a dollar? Kids like to have their own money to spend so we pay them for chores or give them an allowance. If they ran your practice, they wouldn’t understand it if you did work but didn’t get paid. Get rid of clients who don’t pay. Ask people who owe you money to pay you (but don’t cry or throw your toys if they don’t).

5. Nap time. Stop running all day. Take breaks. Get some rest. Have a snack. And make sure you get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

If your five year old were managing your law practice, your law practice would be pretty cool place.


3 simple questions for managing your law practice


Managing your law practice is anything but simple. There are a lot of moving parts. People, problems, deadlines. It’s easy to get lost.

If you find yourself busy but not achieving your goals, if you find yourself doing but not getting things done, I want to offer you a way to gain clarity and get back on track.

All you have to do is ask yourself 3 simple questions.

The first question is. . .

1. What do I want?

More clients? Better clients? Bigger cases?

Lower overhead? Less stress? Shorter hours?

Do you want to build a big practice or do you want to work towards retirement? Do you want to eliminate a problem or achieve a milestone?

Whatever it is, write it down, and be specific. You need to know what you want before you can work on getting it.

Let’s say the answer is “I want to get an average of two referrals every week.”

Nice. Now you know what you want. Now, answer the next question.

2. Why don’t I have it?

Why aren’t you getting an average of two referrals every week right now?

Are there any obstacles? Problems? Defects? Something you should do but aren’t? Something you are doing but aren’t doing enough? Something you are doing but aren’t doing well enough?

Be honest. There could be many reasons for not getting the referrals:

  • You don’t have enough referral sources
  • You don’t have enough former clients to provide enough referrals
  • Your existing and former clients don’t know enough people who need your services
  • Your clients don’t know you want their referrals; (you’re not asking for referrals or asking often enough)
  • Your fees are higher than other attorneys and you haven’t made it clear why you are worth more
  • Your fees are lower than other attorneys and people think there is a reason (i.e., you don’t have the experience, don’t get the results) and get scared off
  • You’re intimidating or have a reputation for being unapproachable
  • You haven’t made it easy for people to refer (i.e., told them what to do, what to say, etc.)
  • There aren’t enough cases or clients in your market
  • You don’t have a website (so referrals can’t “check you out”)
  • Your website isn’t good enough so when referrals check you out, they get scared off
  • Your competition gets the lion’s share of referrals because they [know someone, spend big money on advertising, etc. . .]

There are lots of reasons why you might not be getting the referrals you want. Write down everything you can think of. Ask your staff. Ask your colleagues.

You may not like some of the reasons, especially the ones that reveal your personal shortcomings. Those are probably the ones you need to pay the most attention to.

Okay, one more question to answer.

3. What can I do about it?

Once you know why you don’t have what you want, it’s time to focus on solutions.

What can you do to remove obstacles? Fix problems? Make improvements?

Write a “can do” list–a list of what you can do.

If you’re not getting enough referrals because you don’t have enough referral sources, that’s something you can work on. Write it down. You can get more referral sources.

On the other hand, if you’re not getting enough referrals because you don’t have enough former clients to make those referrals, you can’t do anything about that right now. That’s not something you “can do”.

There may be items on your “can do” list that you choose not to do. That’s okay. Write them down anyway because you may decide to do them later or they might give you ideas for other solutions.

For example, if your market isn’t big enough to supply you with the referrals you want, you can move, open a second office in another town, or take on another practice area. All things you can do, but you might choose not to do any.

However, although you might not want to open a second office right now, or ever, writing it down as a “can do” might prompt you to find an attorney in another town and establish mutual “of counsel” arrangements. Now you can promote your “other office” to your clients and contacts and start getting referrals in that other town.

A “can do” list shows you what’s possible. Instead of dwelling on problems, you will focus on solutions and be on your way to getting what you want.

Does your website need work? I can help. Let me show you how to Make the Phone Ring.