At my Raleigh, NC law firm, my employees used to joke that I had a system for everything – even for going to the bathroom.
Which wasn’t true. It was the only thing I did NOT have a system for, at least in the law firm.
But until I had systemized everything, I was drowning.
Why You Need Systems For Your Law Practice
We all have systems that we use, whether we realize it or not.
A system means a set, standard procedure – a checklist perhaps – that you follow as part of your day to keep your life moving.
My own systems start the moment I wake up – just like for most guys. As soon as I’m awake, off I go to the bathroom to care of the first business of the day. I don’t need to study a checklist for that – I do it on autopilot.
Some people have adapted this system slightly: If they can resist the “potty dance” for long enough, they’ll head into the kitchen first and switch on the coffee machine. Then they head to the bathroom.
But it’s still a system. That works.
You probably have a system for answering the phone. You probably say the same thing to callers when you answer to people you know, and something a little less friendly for calls with a blocked caller ID. You have two different but standardized scripts to follow.
Probably every law firm owner has those personal systems, like for the first business of the day, or how they greet people who call their cellphones. But what really gets me is that some law firm owners do NOT have those same rudimentary systems for their law practices.
Answering the Phone in Your Law Firm
You have a standard way you answer the phone for yourself. But have you standardized the way each and every employee answers the phone in your office?
Don’t you want everybody to say, “Good morning, Hardison and Cochran, how can I help you?” (Obviously, you want to replace the law firm name!)
Or do you want everybody to wing it? Do you want them to just decide for themselves what they should say?
So what’s wrong with somebody answering the phone with, “Law Office”. Or perhaps, “Whaddya want???”
When I frame it like that, don’t you want everybody in your practice to answer the same way? And with a smile on their faces and warmth in their voices?
Sure you do.
That’s why you create systems, procedures, scripting, training and manuals, so that everybody follows the same routine.
Systems for Everything
Of course, even as a very small law firm, early on, I had my own systems for things, whether it was how to compile a case-file, or how to handle a deposition, or how to file proceedings with the courthouse. You will have your own personal systems too.
But if you have employees, they’re either following your system – or they aren’t.
And if they’re each following their own system, then if you have 25 employees, you might have 25 different ways of performing the same task within your law firm. That’s crazy.
Do I have to explain why it makes sense that your employees follow a standardized procedure for court filings, or letters to clients – or anything for that matter? Surely you want consistency, right?
So hopefully, I’ve at least got you to understand why systems make your output consistent and standardized.
But having a system brings other benefits.
The Benefits of Systems
A system for performing a task – at least in my law practice – takes several forms, which I’ve already mentioned.
- A standard procedure – a checklist – to follow, in order, to complete the task
- Scripting – what to say and when
- Training – ensuring that employees understand how to follow the system exactly, without any error or doubt
With today’s technology, it’s easy putting together a system that’s truly effective in supporting your employees:
- You can easily take screenshots from software or websites that you use and include them in a procedure or operations manual.
- You can record screen-capture videos – and narrate them as you go – to demonstrate how to perform a task
- You can save your systems, procedures, scripts, training and manuals with computers – which not only allows instant access, it also allows you to edit and update without recreating everything from scratch (we’ve come a long way from typewriters, folks!)
[As of this month, our membership includes access to the perfect-fit systems solution. Our cloud-based platform enables every employee to contribute to, update, and learn from the systems relevant to their position. Find out more about our Personal Injury Touchstone System here.]
With a system in an operations manual, and standardized, prepared training materials that are ready to go, it’s easy to hire a new employee. Or replace an employee.
And that is so key if you want to succeed in business.
Let me tell you why.
Never Let ANYONE Mess with YOUR Business
It’s your business. You own it. You’re responsible for it. You’re in charge. Anything that happens in your business, whether you like it or not, is down to you entirely.
If you think you have a key employee who you cannot afford to let go, then you’re actually being held to ransom.
Let’s say, for example, that your paralegal is the only person in your practice who knows how to retrieve medical records for clients’ cases. If you fire them, your practice will grind to a halt. So you can’t afford to fire them.
An employee like that usually knows they have you over a barrel. They’re holding you – and your law firm – hostage.
But if you could easily replace them then that’s exactly what you would do to somebody you needed to fire.
With your systems, procedures, scripts, training and manuals, it’s easy to hire a replacement and put them in front of your system’s training material.
But what if it’s just a case of your paralegal going on vacation for two weeks. Does everything just stop? Or do you hire a temp, hand them the system, training materials and operations manual and tell them to just get on with it?
Having systems, procedures, scripting, training and operations manuals means that NOBODY can mess with your business. No employee can create a major headache in your law practice – because everybody becomes replaceable. Easily.
That means you don’t have to put up with any crap. If it’s in the system and they’re not following it, then they’d better not let the door hit them in the behind on the way out. Well, that’s if a formal reprimand and further training made zero difference.
Systems Create Accountability
Without a standardized system, how long does it take to request a client’s medical records?
Well, I bet if you asked each employee, they’d have a different answer.
But if my system says it should take a maximum of 60 minutes, then I would expect at least eight record requests to be processed in a day. The system makes that target achievable. In fact, the system should make it a certainty – unless the employee isn’t following the system properly, or just goofing off and wasting time.
With systems, you give yourself the opportunity of measuring the performance of employees – within those systems – against key metrics or performance indicators (KPIs).
So if you know your paralegal is not making eight record requests per day, then you can know immediately that you have to do something about it. That may be a formal reprimand, it could be some additional training or, in the worst-case scenario, you could fire that paralegal.
Of course, with your systems, procedures, scripting, training and manuals in place, getting your new replacement paralegal up to speed quickly will be easy.
The Other Side of Systems
Systems make your business run smoothly. They enable you to have confidence in the consistency of the end result.
But they do something else. They give YOU, as the business owner, the confidence of just knowing that your clients are being taken care of and that new clients are being signed up – all without YOU, the law firm owner, having to do it yourself.
And if you want to build a scalable, sustainable business, then you HAVE to build the infrastructure that enables other people, besides yourself, to do the work. In fact, to be successful, you have to practically cut yourself out of the day-to-day operations entirely.
Your law practice will only truly free you, both financially and time-wise, when your law firm functions perfectly without you being there. It’s entirely achievable. I achieved it. We’ve had PILMMA members give testimonials where they say, “My employees say the firm runs better when I’m not there.”
Your systems, procedures, scripting, training and manuals should enable your law office to function while you take a two-week vacation – and with everything absolutely running normally in your absence.
You CAN have that. You CAN build that.
You can even build it quickly if that’s what you want.
Do you want that?
If you do, check out our upcoming Management Mastery event.
## Update 1/23/19 – We published a follow-up to this article. See Law Firm Systems: Busting The Objections