To efficiently and effectively run a small or solo practice (or any size practice for that matter), here are five policies and procedures you should have in place (and follow)!
1. Intake Procedures
You should have some intake procedure in place but the more detailed the better. These policies and procedures should include: what information do you gather before an initial consultation (remember, you should be doing your conflicts checks before meeting with a potential client), who is responsible for running the conflicts check, how long do you schedule initial consultations for, what follow up do you have after the initial consultation, do you use engagement and non-engagement letters?
Having these procedures in place will ensure you are complying with your ethical duties, allow you to come across organized and professional and provide a more efficient intake process.
2. Criteria for Taking a Case
Do you have policies in place to determine when you will take a case. This might be as simple as your conflicts check. Hopefully, it’s a little more detailed and you have some way of gauging whether a case is within your skill and experience level, whether you have the time in your workload to take on a new case and along with that, some way of estimating how many hours will go into a certain case.
3. Client Communication Procedures
Who is going to be communicating with clients primarily? Will you be the point of contact or will it be your paralegal? How often do you intend to touch base with your client (monthly, bi-weekly, etc.)? How will you touch base with your clients: email, letter, phone call? What procedure do you have in place to communicate this policy to your clients?
Having a policy in place should help reduce complaints from clients that you don’t communicate with them on a regular basis. It’s extremely important to let your clients know about your policy and procedure on communication so that everyone is on the same page and understands the expectations.
Along with this, you should put a policy in place on how quickly you will respond to clients when they contact you. Do you return phone calls and emails within 24 hours? 48 hours? If you are in a multi-day trial, do you have a way of letting clients know you are out of the office and will return their call/email by a certain day? Similarly, do you have a method for emergencies that come up with clients while you are out of the office? This may be a secretary that knows how to contact you or a fellow attorney who can handle emergencies on your behalf. Make sure you cover your bases before you get into a situation where you cannot respond to a client in a timely manner for one reason or another.
How do you keep track of important dates and deadlines? This policy should be one of the first you put in place as you may know, missing deadlines is one of the top bar complaints made by clients. Who is responsible for double-checking your calendar (make sure you have someone that does this!); if you are a solo practitioner, put a back-up system in place like using multiple calendars. For example, I use four calendars: two hard-copy paper calendars—one stays on my desk and one goes to court with me, an outlook calendar on my computer and a calendar on my phone. That may seem excessive but think about it: if you are using outlook only and your computer crashes, how do you know what was scheduled the rest of the week? Same idea with your phone. What if you forget your paper calendar at the office (or maybe even at home)? Using multiple types of calendars helps create a back-up and check system even though you don’t have a physical person to provide that safety net.
5. Out-take Procedures
When you complete work for a client, how do you let the client know that you have finished the obligation on your end? This may sound simple and maybe even a little silly but you need to inform the client that in your mind, you have completed the representation. This is again about setting expectations. This allows for open communication to ensure you are both on the same page. If you provide a closing letter, it will provide the client to say, “Hey, I forgot I wanted you to do this additional item as well.” This prevents misunderstandings between the client and attorney.
Another good practice to have in place is follow up with former clients. If you are in estate planning, how do you track your clients to ensure you follow up with them if the law changes? How do you make sure your clients think of you the next time they need a lawyer? Putting these procedures in place allows you to have repeat clients and keep your clients happy and ensure their goals are constantly being met.
These procedures may take some time and work to put in place but it is worth the effort. You will likely constantly adjust the policies and procedures as you learn what works for you and your firm. Remember, having these procedures and policies isn’t enough; make sure you follow them (perhaps, have a procedure to ensure you follow your procedures?).