3 Baby Steps to Organize Your Systems and Procedures [Guest Post]

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We thank Aaron Street from the Lawyerist.com team for this guest post.

Your firm is moving fast and you’re doing a lot of…well, everything. This means your documentation and processes need to be crystal clear and airtight. But in many firms, these vital procedures live in their attorney’s heads, or they get reinvented with each new case.

What chaos. And unnecessary chaos, too. The key to harmonizing that discord is to have clear, documented systems and procedures that everyone follows, consistently. And these systems should be digital, easy to update, and quick to find.

Let’s dig in.

Start with a single document.

Open a Google Doc, start typing:

  • What’s the most important core repeated categories of work in your firm?
  • Once you’ve got that down, pick one and outline the broad-overview steps you do to follow that work.
  • Next, set aside small amounts of time on a regular basis to add details like checklists, screenshots, or templates to outline the systems. Calendar this time. Don’t bank on “fitting it in.”

Give yourself a win: You’ve just documented a process!

Tips:

  • Take small bites. Don’t start with a 300-page intricate manual. You’ll never get it done.
  • Begin documenting any new process as soon as you’ve done it more than once. This can be informal – just a blank doc and a few bullet points.
  • And about those bullet points: Start with broad ideas, then fill in details later.

Research best documentation tools

Once you’ve made a couple of documents and feel comfortable with the process, you’re going to be hooked. So it’s time to start looking into what tools work best.

A couple of ideas:

  • Physical manuals. You want to be paperless, but to start, you need to just get it done. It’s OK to print out your documents and stick in a (well-organized, easy to find!) binder
  • Shared files. Google Docs is great for this. A shared online drive that everyone can access and edit is the quickest way to get your team on board.
  • Wiki tools. These are private, password-protected sites that offer collaborative, interconnected pages, just like Wikipedia. (But private to your firm.)

Whatever you choose, make sure it works with your current workflow. Don’t try to match your workflow to the tool. Fit it into how you’re working, right now.

Test, test, test, and never stop testing

If you create your processes and then throw them in a corner and never look at them again, congratulations! You have a bunch of pointless paperwork instead of a system. To avoid this, you must perform regular audits to make sure your processes make sense.

What to think about it:

  • Schedule. At Lawyerist, we audit our operations manual as a team every two weeks because our business moves quickly. You may only need to audit monthly or quarterly. Regardless, throw the audit on the calendar for a recurring date and invite your team.
  • Plan for off-season audits. Whether there are staff changes or you’ve just adopted new software, plan to update your processes during these transitions.
  • Have colleagues periodically test. Pick a colleague who wouldn’t normally use the process and have them test your instructions. Are the steps clear? Do they know where to find everything? Is anything confusing or muddled?

Ready to start? Open a blank document on your computer right now and set your timer for 20 minutes. Start writing down everything you do in your firm that someone else would need to know were you to get stranded on a desert island without a signal. Once you’ve started, you’ll never want to go back to the old, cluttered way.


Aaron Street is the co-founder and CEO of Lawyerist.com. He is the co-host of the weekly Lawyerist Podcast and is the co-author of Lawyerist’s new book The Small Firm Roadmap.
For the past 10 years, Aaron has been leading Lawyerist’s business growth and strategy. His career passion is building a thriving culture- and impact-driven companies. In addition to his work at Lawyerist, Aaron is an angel investor and advisor in a variety of start-ups.