Last week I wrote about the importance of systems for a law practice to run smoothly, and to free the law firm owner, both financially and time-wise.
I thought I’d made a clear argument in favor of systemizing a law practice and although I didn’t have any lawyers disagree with me, there was a little push-back on Social Media.
So this week I thought I’d follow up and go into more detail about why systems are so important, beyond the three key points I focused on in the last article.
I have so many counter-arguments to make, at some point, I’ll just have to cut off this article. But I want to make this specific point before I get into the details:
It’s my law practice and I’ll run it how I see fit. And from over 30 years of experience, my choice is to implement systems, training and accountability, because I’ve seen what happens without it. And not just in my law firm. In hundreds of law firms. No Exceptions.
Anyone who hasn’t run a law practice and tells me that I’m misguided by implementing systems in the business – well, I’m sorry but they are speaking without experience. They aren’t familiar with what I know front-to-back. To put it very politely, they know not of what they speak. But everybody is entitled to their opinion, no matter how unqualified it might be.
With last week’s article, perhaps I didn’t paint a clear picture of just how much a law firm suffers until systems are put in place. It’s not just the owner that suffers; the employees and the clients suffer too.
But it really does start at the top, with the owner of the law firm.
It’s My Name On The Building
It’s my name on the building. But it’s also my name on every letterhead. It’s my name on every court filing. It’s my name on every letter or communication that goes to a client, to opposing counsel, to the insurance companies, to the loss assessors – and to the State Bar.
Whatever happens in my law practice, good or bad, I am the person responsible for it.
A paralegal can make a mistake on a client’s case file, but it will be me who has to answer for it to the State Bar.
So this isn’t just “some ego thing” about it being my name above the door. It’s my reputation. It’s my good name that’s at risk if something happens that shouldn’t.
So, should I jeopardize my business, my reputation and my livelihood – just because an employee wants to do something their way instead of my way?
Or, put another way, do you want me to not run my business? Should I just let my employees run the store, without my input?
Of course not!
But systems don’t mean that I just want to hire a bunch of robots or automatons.
I’ll get back to the law firm in a moment, but let me give you some more examples where systems exist for everyone’s benefit.
Look At Other Businesses
Every business you deal with that has a call center, will also have trained their employees to follow a standard script and set of procedures.
Just so that they can pat themselves on the back for employing robots?
Have you ever called a call center?
There’s a script and procedure, but that’s the outline of the routine they have to follow. Each employee is trained on “When this happens, this is how you respond.” Or, “When the customer says this, here’s how you reply.”
Why do they do that? To be pedantic? Does the owner have OCD?
It’s because they want you to experience a consistent level of service. A minimum standard.
Is demanding that every employee answer a call, in the same way, a bad thing?
So again, I’ll say flat out that I do NOT want my employees answering the phone with “Law Office”. Or “Whaddya want??”
I want them to answer with, “Good morning, Hardison and Cochran, how can I help you?”
It’s my business. That’s my decision and I’m entitled to it. That’s how I want my business to present itself.
I get to make that decision because I am the owner, I am the boss, and that’s the first impression I want to present to potential and existing clients.
It’s not Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s called having a standard.
I take things like that seriously. But if I don’t show my employees that I’m serious – and I have a system because I’m serious – then why should they consider it important?
It is important.
To you, the reader, I want to ask you a question right now. Do you want to deal with a business that allows their employees to make it up as they go along?
Do you want to have a great experience one time, and a lousy experience the next?
Do you want to go back to that business? Do you want to recommend them?
Do you wish they actually had a minimum standard about how they treated you – their customer?
Well, unless you don’t care about anything, of course you care. We vote with our wallets and pocket-books all the time.
So why should I abandon all that, just because I’m running a law practice?
How about fast food, like McDonald's?
It’s not a perfect analogy, but the system is what makes McDonald's work effectively and be a profitable enterprise.
They don’t want each individual employee to decide for themselves how long they should deep-fry the French fries, or how many blobs of ketchup go on a burger.
By having a standard and a system – along with standardized training – it means that it’s easy to hire a new line cook for the Golden Arches. It also means that wherever you are, your burger will be just the way you expect it.
That’s why you went to McDonald's in the first place.
And with the system, the manager knows exactly how long it takes to produce a burger and fries and how much that costs.
In theory, one McDonalds outlet could borrow employees from another outlet and put them immediately to work. Why? Because they know the same system.
I can achieve efficiency in my law practice with systems. I can use systems to hold employees accountable. So why wouldn’t I do that?
And what would I do without a system?
Systems In Construction, Plumbing, Car Manufacturing & Disney
If you own a construction business, don’t you want a wall built according to the design?
Why do you have blueprints? Aren’t they to lay out exactly how the construction should happen? So are you okay with your workers freestyling, instead of following the blueprints?
Or plumbing. If you own a plumbing company, don’t you want every employee to fit a new water heater the same way? If you have to go back and make some repairs, do you want to stand there, scratching your head, saying to yourself, “How on earth did Joe fit this?”
How about car manufacturing?
Do you think that Ford would still exist today if each worker on the production line did whatever they wanted, however they wanted?
Would you buy a Ford if that was the case?
As a car buyer, you expect your car to be just as reliable and well-put-together as the previous car that rolled off the production line. If quality varied, you wouldn’t buy that car.
So why should my law firm clients expect service quality to vary, purely based on which employee was dealing with them?
Am I supposed to just accept that? Why? Because it's a law firm, not a car company?
I’m the owner of the business. And one of the reasons I chose to go into business for myself was precisely so that I could dictate that minimum standard, because I know it’s what our clients actually want.
How about Disney World?
Have you thought about what a trip to Disney World would be like if the employees were allowed to do whatever they wanted? The reason people rave about their trips to Disney World is precisely because the employees are following a system. You know what to expect - and they know what, and exactly how, to deliver it.
And for the managers, they know what to expect and inspect. If “Mickey Mouse” is supposed to greet guests a certain way, then they know if he’s going off the reservation.
If you don’t have any benchmarks or KPIs, then what are you doing? Because you’re basically saying to your employees, “We have a target of 10 cases filed with the courthouse today. But if you don’t get any done, that’s OK.”
Do you know how long a business like that will last? Not long, I promise you.
If you haven't got a standard, then you can't measure anything by it. You'll never know if you're succeeding or failing.
Do you want your employees to choose failure for your law firm because you didn't demand better? Because you didn't have a standard? Because you didn't lay out your expectations for your staff?
Must I go on?
My Employees Are Not Automatons Or Robots
Just because I lay out how a task should be completed and how long that should take, it doesn’t mean I’m hiring robots or automatons, nor does it mean I want automatons or robots.
A system can only get better through constant revision and feedback. I always welcomed my employees to provide feedback on how we can improve our systems and procedures.
I wanted their initiative and out-of-the-box thinking. I positively encouraged it.
But that doesn’t mean I want them to try stuff out for themselves, just because they thought it would be better. That’s asking for anarchy.
The Whole World Has Rules And Laws – Why Not My Law Practice?
We all know that we drive on a green light and stop on a red light. Pedestrians know the same rules. Why do they exist? To ensure the smooth flow of traffic, and to stop people from being killed.
The rules make sense. They’re there for everybody’s benefit.
They are common guidelines that everybody understands and generally follows.
Is it crazy? Of course not.
If I had an employee do something counter to my systems and procedures, I am the person who could lose their livelihood. I’m the one who will have to appear before the State Bar.
Or a client could lose their case, just because I wasn’t ensuring that every single employee was doing the best job possible and matching the standards that I’ve set for them.
But I shouldn’t bother with systems, procedures, scripting, training and manuals – because I run a law firm? Seriously?
No, I Don’t Use A Stopwatch
The headline of last week’s article was, “The Perfect Law Firm Has A System For Bathroom Visits?” One comment in response to that suggested that I have OCD and sit there with a stopwatch, timing how long my employees spend in the bathroom.
If you’d read last week’s article, you’d know that I don’t do that. I said that going to the bathroom was the one thing I did NOT have a system for.
But there’s an important point here.
If I have one employee that spends an hour a day in the bathroom, when everybody else spends a maximum 15 minutes a day in the bathroom, then that one employee is a problem.
First, they’re getting almost an extra hour of time off, compared to everybody else in the business.
Second, if I allow them to get away with that, then I’m telling everybody in my firm that I have different rules for different employees. That approach is absolutely guaranteed to lower morale in the office.
If one person has a different set of rules, compared to everybody else doing the same job, then resentment will build up towards both that one employee and towards me as the boss who allows it.
And if I can get 100% productivity out of every other employee doing the same job, why should I accept 80% or 90% productivity from just one employee doing the exact same job?
I’m running a business, not a charity.
So everybody has to follow the same rules.
On Social Media on Monday, we posted a quote from Bill Belichick following the Patriots win on Sunday. Love him or loathe him, Belichick knows how to get things done. There is no compromise.
Think about a football game. As a team, the players have “plays” and respond to the opposing team wth "contingencies". They have set routines – systems – that they practice, over and over and over.
But the players aren’t robots. They have to use their logic and initiative to decide how to respond with the right contingency, according to how the other team is playing.
The team, working as a team, figure out and communicate to each other which contingency they'll respond with.
That's when the system and the training - all the practice - kicks in. They respond exactly how they practiced it, but they tweak it to the prevailing conditions.
The Patriots could only have won by knowing and practicing their plays and contingencies – their systems – in advance.
Are you telling me that I should take my own law practice less seriously than a football game?
[I think that systems are so important for the success of your law practice, that I decided to add an important systems tool to our PILMMA Gold Membership for 2019. It's called the Personal Injury Touchstone System - and it can revolutionise your practice when you implement it fully.It's just one small part of the benefits of a PILMMA membership. Click here for more information.]
Honestly, I could go on writing for another hour with arguments about why a law firm benefits from having systems, procedures and scripting in place.
I could write at great length about the pain and misery that I’ve seen so many law firm owners experience because they refused to systemize their practices. I could write about my own miserable early days, before I'd systemized my law firm.
I have never seen a law firm suffer from implementing what I’ve laid out in these couple of articles.
But of course, if you disagree with me, I welcome your feedback in the comments below.
If I’ve convinced you of the importance of having systems in your law practice – and I hope that I have – then perhaps you also want to get serious about implementing the right systems in your law practice.
If you think it's time to take control of your law practice and free yourself by putting appropriate systems and management in place, then our Management Mastery Workshop might be the perfect solution for you.