Today we are continuing our countdown of the biggest law firm marketing mistakes that I frequently see from young lawyers with #4 – Failing to Document how you run your practice. A lot of you may be reading this and scratching your heads right now. That’s normal at this stage of the game.
Remembering back to my post from yesterday with mistake #5 – Not having clearly defined legal marketing goals, you will see why this mistake is so rampant. Let’s say for a moment that you have decided to start a law firm and that your goal is to have a three lawyer firm within 5 years. Do you know what you need to do to get there? For starters, you need systems – which is the topic of today’s post.
Have you ever been to another lawyer’s office or some other professional practice that is unorganized and cluttered? Were you treated the same way every time you interacted with that organization? When the receptionist answered the phone, did she takes notes on a post-it note? Chances are, this business did not have a concrete set of systems in place.
In it’s simplest form, a system is a set way of doing things so that you can achieve a predictable result, consistently, every single time. If you don’t have a system, you will achieve consistently unpredictable results every single time.
For your law practice, developing and implementing systems gives you the ability to “scale” or grow your law firm. Once you have systems in place, you can begin to replace yourself with an associate that can do your legal work. You can replace yourself with a receptionist that can answer the phones and schedule appointments. You can replace yourself with a paralegal that can do repetitive legal tasks. This is the power of the system.
Conversely, if you fail to implement systems in your practice it won’t be such a big deal at first. But soon, as your practice grows and you get more clients, it will become a major problem. Lots of attorneys are scared to hire staff because then they will have to “train them”. This becomes much easier with systems, because all you have to do is hand your new hire the systems manual and ask them to come to you with questions. If they have a question about something that is not in the manual, then you add it in.
How to implement systems
The best place for you to start reading about and learning about the importance of systems is in Michael Gerber’s best-seller, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. In this book, Gerber outlines what systems are, why they are important, and how you can start installing them into your practice. The best of example of the effective use of systems is the McDonalds franchise, which Gerber references in the book.
How have I implemented systems in my law practice?
The best way to implement systems in your law practice, and what I have found to be most effective, is to just start writing down what you do and how you do it, step-by-step. A traditional starting point is how you answer the phone. Write down exactly how you want the phone answered every single time. Create a form that can be used when a new prospect calls so that you always gather the same information from prospective clients.
Next, move on to how you handle the initial consultation. Do you have an email sent out confirming the appointment prior to the consultation? What does the conference room look like and how is it set up? Do you collect payment at the beginning of the meeting or at the end? How do you log payments into your accounting system? Do you even have an accounting system?
From there, you can start to develop systems for:
- How often do you meet with your staff to discuss your cases and what is discussed at those meetings?
- Creating a form file so that the correspondence that is sent out is uniform in every single case.
- Determining what legal tasks are repetitive and then document those tasks.
- Determining how billing is to be handled.
- Determining how frequently you will meet with clients, how information is gathered, and often you “touch” clients so that they do not get lost and deadlines do not get missed.
- Creating a calendaring system so that court dates are not missed.
- Hiring and firing employees in the firm.
These are all systems that you need to start developing into your practice. I’m not going to sugar-coat this, building systems into your practice is not, by any means, easy. It takes time and effort. But the most successful attorneys and law firms do this, consistently. Some even have systems for how they are going to develop new systems!
Essentially, everytime you start doing something that you want to delegate to another staff member, you must write down, step by step, what you do – as you do it. Do this in a word document, a google doc, or in a wiki page – it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you document what you do and how you do it so that someone else can pick up that document and do exactly what you did without you having to explain it to them over and over.
The end goal is to have a binder with all your systems in one place so that any of your employees can reference it at any time.
Have systems already built into your practice? Just have questions about how to implement this blog post? Interested in reviewing the systems that I use in my law practice? Just post to the comments section below and let me know about it. Thanks!