5 Checklists to add efficiency to your practice

Originally published in Attorney at Work

checkmark-fbProcesses are the means by which we get things done and checklists are a great tool for helping you get these processes completed. Within your business, there are many things which you do repeatedly. The purpose of documenting what you do is to make sure it gets done correctly, improve upon it and do it more efficiently. That’s why pilots, surgeons, and astronauts use them extensively. For solos, creating these simple checklists helps you stay on top of what needs to get done without worrying that you forgot something important.

When you set-up a new client file, file a bankruptcy, or end a case, you do so using processes, which are most likely in your head and may not be well documented. So let’s get some of these processes out of your head and on paper (or use one of the handy checklist apps)!

Conflict-Checking

To help avoid a potential malpractice claim. To effectively analyze conflicts, you need to have in place a conflict-checking procedure. The ethics rules in some jurisdictions require law firms to maintain a conflict checking system and to have a policy in place.

For solos, I think setting up a simple Conflict Checking Checklist and documenting you used it is a sufficient process to have in place. Even in very small or solo firms, you should not rely on your memory to determine whether you have a conflict. Detecting a conflict after the representation has started may harm the client and your reputation. Plus, it creates extra work – like having to refund that retainer payment you already deposited.

Below is a sample checklist created using Evernote. Of course, you could choose to add more details, such as the location of the files to be searched, will you search open as well as closed files, and what will be searched: emails, the document server, and/or the contact database.

Checklist for conflict checking 2015 

New Client File Setup

A process, hopefully, you perform on a very regular basis. Quite frankly, it is very administrative and can be time-consuming. So grab your pencil and start writing down, step-by-step, how you step up a new client file. Then flush it out, re-write it and lastly, commit it to paper by creating the checklist. This way you’ll be ready to delegate this administrative task as soon as you can afford to do so.

Receiving a Retainer

Every lawyer knows mismanaging a trust account (IOLTA) can have terrible consequences. So creating a checklist to ensure you are properly depositing a retainer is a good idea. And in this article “Would You Pass a Trust Account Audit”,  I review in more detail the trust accounting process. For this checklist, let’s make sure you are processing that initial receipt of retainer correctly.

 Checklist for conflict checking

Month-end Accounting

To keep your eyes on the business side of your practice. This process will include some of the below steps:

  • Make sure all monthly expenses and payments received have been recorded
  • Reconcile your operating and trust accounts
  • Sign-off on reconciled reports (especially trust if you have delegated this task to someone else)
  • Review key financial and performance metrics
  • Monthly and YTD Profit and Loss reports (did you make money?)
  • Past Due invoices
  • IOLTA Balances by Client
  • Number of new clients/matters this month
  • Update cash flow analysis spreadsheet
  • Give yourself a raise!

Closing a Matter

For keeping in compliance with client documents retention rules. Another frequently occurring task – you complete a case. Then what? They are rules you need to follow and things you’ll want to do when closing a matter. Such as:

  • Advising client the case is complete and any next steps on their part
  • Retaining client documents for the required time period
  • Returning original documents to the client
  • Asking for referrals and repeat business (ask your client to leave a review on one of your online profile sites)
  • Reminding the client they still owe you money

Bonus: Advantages of creating these checklists are:

  • They become a risk management tool and you now have the start of a risk management policy manual (which malpractice insurers love)
  • You will save time
  • It will lead to better ways of getting things done
  • You are building the foundation for growing your practice
  • You’ll sleep better knowing these things are consistently done right

 

 

 

 

Focus on managing processes, not managing time

October, 2014 By: Peggy Gruenke | Law Firm Practice Management Specialist | Gold Level Clio Certified

Recently, I participated in an interview with the folks from The Form Tool on “How can the Legal Industry Improve Efficiency?” The discussion took me down the path of looking closer at the concept of time management verse productivity.

I think there has been a shift away from the phrase “time management” to a focus on productivity and processes. If you look at time as something to be managed, it can become a productivity constraint. You are always looking for the next new way to file and label things to help you get it all done. The truth is you can’t get it all done. You are a limited resource. There will always be more to do, more tasks to add to your list. And as a lawyer, building a business, you hope that the tasks never run out because that would be a bad sign.

Get more strategic and intentional

Being able to recognize you can’t get it all done can be very empowering because it demands you become more strategic and intentional about what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. The focus shifts from managing your time towards examining the “why” and “how” things will get done.

  • Why are you doing the task: is it something only you can do and will it add value?
  • How will you do it: do you have an efficient process in place?

This shift forces you to look at your to-do-list with the intention of prioritizing and taking action. Out of the desire to get more done, your actions will lead to developing and creating efficient processes.

As you identify activities that have the highest value and are the best use of your time and then build good processes, you will be more productive not because you managed your time better, but because you chose better and acted with purpose.

Your ability, everyday, to determine and act upon your most important tasks and get them done quickly, because you have have good processes in place, will have more of an impact on your productivity and success than trying to manage your time.

Peggy Gruenke | Clio Certified Consultant | Law Practice Management