Working as a solo lawyer or opening a small law office offers a lot of freedom…and stress. After all, running a law office, even if you’re the only person working for it, means that you alone are responsible for the success of your business. And if you have support staff, even if they only work for you part time or as a contractor, can add more stress since they, at least partially, financially rely on the success of the office. It’s not always easy to manage the business side of a law practice. That’s why we’ve put together this list of what we consider some of the best law office management tips that solo lawyers and small law offices should consider using.
Before the law office management tips, though, let’s first briefly discuss the other reason why good law office management is so important. When you’re using the right tools and techniques, you are better protected from being accused of one of the three most common legal ethics violations which relate to diligence, competence, and conflicts of interest. Following best practices related to law office management lessens the risk of facing these allegations and may also create necessary documentation to prove your following the rules in your jurisdiction.
Consider Hiring Someone to Help You Manage Your Legal Practice
Ask yourself an important question: do you want to focus your time on the practice of law or would you rather be involved in business? If you’re more interested in providing legal services and you have little interest in the business aspects, consider hiring someone to help you manage your legal practice. This is more than just hiring a secretary, legal assistant, or paralegal (although you could get lucky and find support staff that is capable, and interested, in law office administration). It is looking for and hiring someone with an interest and the skill to handle the administrative side of your practice.
Of course, many lawyers start out by handling both sides of the equation. If you have the necessary skills, time, and interest to handle your own law office management, that’s great. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll likely need to delegate some or all of the management functions as you bring on new clients. At that point, your time and attention should be devoted to the legal services that only you can provide.
Create Policies and Procedures That Govern How Your Office Operates
One of the best law office management tips we can give you is to encourage you to create policies and procedures that govern how your office operates. A policies and procedures manual defines how your law office operates. It explains, in detail, how tasks are done. It’s a resource tool for you and for anyone you bring on to help you. Check the ethics rules in your area about specific tasks associated with running a law office, such as billing, marketing, and using social media for marketing and for research on active matters.
Remember, if your policies aren’t writing, they really don’t exist.
Rely on Technology For Help
There are lots of tools marketed toward lawyers for law office management. While that’s great, it’s important that you choose the tools that work best for your needs. You can look for all-in-one solutions that can be used for billing, providing updates to client, and secure document delivery. You can also choose technology based solely on your needs. Whatever you choose, make sure that it is made with the legal industry in mind. There are certain standards that must be met to keep you out of trouble with the bar.
Hiring? Choose the Right People
It’s tempting to hire the person who will take the least amount of money to do the job. Yet, that’s not necessarily the best strategy for law office management. You need to focus on hiring the right people who support the mission of your practice and who can get the job done. If you’re looking to save money, consider hiring someone part time or a remote worker who has experience working in a law office environment. You could also contact trade schools and the bar association in your area to find recent graduates of paralegal or legal assistant programs who may be very qualified to help you. They may be quite excited to gain the experience and more accepting of a lower salary or hourly wage.
Remember that your law office staff will interact with clients and potential clients. Choose people who will create a positive image in their minds. Your staff can make or break the success of your law office.
Adopt (and Use) an Organizational System
What does your desk look like right now? Do you know what deadlines and appointments you have coming up? It is imperative to adopt and use an organizational system that works well for you. You can choose an old-school paper system (which may require more time and maintenance and comes with the inherent risk of losing your physical calendar or notebook) or an electronic system that involves scanning and storing documents, using an online calendar, and setting up reminders. If you have a legal assistant, you could even delegate some of the scheduling and setting reminder tasks to that person.
Just Say No to Occasional Billing
Another common complaint filed with the bar has to do with billing surprises. Clients want accurate invoices, and they want to receive them on a regular basis. Our law office management tip for billing is this: create and use billing procedures that clearly explain to clients when they should expect their invoice, how the invoice will be sent to them, and what happens if they don’t pay on time. And internally? You and your staff should make time to complete time entry every day. With technology, this is an easy task.
Want More Law Office Management Tips?
Law office management is an on-going process. Best practices related to certain tasks may change depending on your practice area. If you’re looking for more law office management tips, check out your state bar association’s website or conduct an Internet search specifying your practice area along with the words “law office management tips.”