Halloween Edition: Law Office Policies & Procedures
By Karla J. Eckardt, Practice Management Advisor, LegalFuel
The tapping, the visitor gently rapping at your door… it’s no raven. You’re being haunted by the ghosts of policies and procedures past! You regularly put off reviewing and updating critical office processes for fear of wasting time. Ironic, isn’t it? Seeing as so much time is wasted reinventing the wheel every time a simple task is undertaken. It’s October; All Hallows’ Eve is upon us. Time to dust the cobwebs off decaying files of yore and bring to life new policies and procedures or revamp existing ones.
Your firm’s policies and procedures manuals need not contain tomes of complex information. Depending on the nature of your practice, you can have simple checklist-style how-to’s that cover the various routine processes you handle on any given day. Start by differentiating between your internal and external policies. Internal policies include hiring and firing; establishing the importance of attorney-client confidentiality with staff; how to communicate with and manage clients; documented and administrative procedures or tasks (e.g., client intake, disengagement, termination, conflict checking, answering phones, handling correspondence, scheduling, docketing, bookkeeping, accounting, file retention protocols, cybersecurity protocols, etc.); dress code, business hours, work hours, holidays, timesheets, and payroll; internal file management/access; etc. External policies include firm costs vs. fees; billing practices; access to attorneys (i.e., making appointments, defining what constitutes an emergency, etc.); client rights and responsibilities; file/document availability and retention; etc.
While there is no one-size-fits-all law firm policies and procedures manual, LegalFuel’s Document Library page has over 100 sample documents that you can customize and incorporate as part of your firm’s policies and procedures. The forms include sample applications for employment (for associates and general staff); employee confidentiality agreement; e-mail policy; evaluations; timesheets; client engagement letters, fee agreements, disengagement and termination letters; file closing checklist; and many more. The Ethics Informational Packets, provided by The Florida Bar Ethics Department, are also a great resource. The Closed Files packet, for example, includes a Model File Retention Policy that you can adopt. The Legal Assistants and Nonlawyer Employees packet can serve as a useful resource when preparing policies geared towards nonlawyer staff.
I know it’s haunting daunting work; but small firms and solo practitioners are no strangers to law office administration. You are the Jacks and Jills of all trades. From HR and accounting to grounds and maintenance; you do it all. So, make it a little easier on yourself the next time you hire (or fire) staff, retain a new client, or close a file. Having step-by-step guidance for routine processes benefits you, your staff, and your clients.
Videos to Watch:
- The ABAs Law Technology Today section: 24 Critical Policies and Procedures Your Firm Needed Yesterday
- LegalFuel’s Free CLE: Automate and Simplify Your Law Practice