Aspects of Practice Management

Making it all work

Aspects of Practice Management

♫ (Making it work) takes a little longer
(Making it work) takes a little time... ♫

— Music and lyrics by Doug Bennett, recorded by Doug and the Slugs.

What does it mean for a practice to be run efficiently, ethically, and effectively? Practice Management is not just running a law practice to make money; it has legal, ethical, and professional obligations that break down into four categories: Management, Marketing, Technology, and Finance. Let’s explore each in turn:

Management:

  • Do you use a client intake form that collects and records all essential conflicts and limitations periods checks?
  • Do you maintain a master calendar (and backup) of all limitation periods?
  • Are all important dates (court appearances, meetings, deadlines) incorporated into the master calendar system and reviewed daily?
  • Do you ask how the client wishes to communicate and provide instructions?
  • Do you ask and record what is the client’s acceptable engagement outcome?
  • Do you introduce your staff and establish how and when they will contact the client and how the client is to contact them?
  • If you provide limited scope representation, have you clearly set out the scope of your service(s) in writing?
  • Do you ensure that no papers, files or computers are visible to non-firm members in the office?
  • Does a firm employee escort all non-firm members inside the firm?
  • Do you have a firm policy when emails and telephone calls shall be returned?
  • Are all communications reduced to writing (or electronic record) in the client’s file?
  • Do you have a system that prompts all lawyers in the firm to review and sign off every file every X days?
  • Do you have a file closing, retention, stripping, and disposal policy? Do you inform the client how long you retain files after a file is closed?
  • Do you have an office policy and procedures manual that is reviewed and updated annually?
  • Do you have an annual performance review of all staff?
  • Do you have a policy regarding the handling of rude, disrespectful, discriminatory or harassing clients, staff or others?
  • Do you delegate and provide positive and constructive feedback?
  • Do you have a policy regarding the review of anyone’s workload in the event of an illness, sickness, or injury?
  • Do you have policies and systems in place ensuring the timely completion of all work within timelines and expectations?
  • Do you have a policy in place that requires all staff to take a health break at least X minutes a day?
  • Do you encourage all staff and lawyers to establish a career plan?

Marketing:

  • Does your firm have a social media presence?
  • Do you have a policy that outlines the proper use of social media establishing acceptable firm posting guidelines?
  • Do you review the current ethics regarding proper legal marketing?
  • Do you have appropriate disclaimers on all marketing materials, web pages, blogs, and published articles?
  • Do you have a marketing budget (time and $) ensuring that lawyers are undertaking regular marketing efforts?
  • Do you have a clear and consistent branding statement?
  • Do you review your marketing plan annually?
  • Do you have a policy requiring all lawyers to contact clients every X days?
  • Do you review client bills to ensure that they clearly set forth the results you have achieved before a bill is finalized?
  • At the end of a matter, do you ask the client for an evaluation?
  • Do you ask for referrals?
  • Do all staff regularly attend relevant CLE seminars?

Technology:

  • Have you established acceptable use policies for all firm IT systems as well as confidentiality agreements regarding all firm and client information? Has each employee read and signed these?
  • Have you established a time lock system when someone does not use their computer system?
  • Do you require secure passwords or have you set up other methods (i.e., security key) to prevent unauthorized entry into your systems?
  • Have you a zero-knowledge (fully encrypted, end-to-end, where only you have the decryption key) cloud-based, off-site backup system that is ransomware and malware hardened such as sync.com?
  • Have you considered moving to a firm portal to avoid using email for sensitive communications?
  • Do you have a standardized document management system for all documents?
  • Do lawyers and staff work from clean desktops (i.e., no file piles)?
  • Do you have an IT and firm disaster and recovery plan?
  • Do you have software and systems in place to allow lawyers to work from home confidentially (i.e., a VPN — virtual private network)?
  • Do you have appropriate policies and procedures in place to protect the firm IT systems from computer viruses, malware, ransomware, spam, and phishing attacks?
  • Do you regularly update all computer operating systems, anti-virus and malware protection software and systems?
  • Do you capture all communications and record them into the client file (emails, texts, phone conversations, letters…)?

Finance:

  • At the initial meeting, do you discuss your fee and billing arrangements?
  • Do you use both “engagement” as well as a “no engagement” letters and ensure that one or the other is sent after each initial meeting?
  • Do you ensure that your client(s) sign a written fee agreement and when possible, lodge a trust retainer?
  • Have you ensured that all client funds are handled in accordance with all rules on the ethical treatment of trust funds?
  • Have you ensured that all funds handled by the firm are governed by policies and systems that prevent fraud and/or misappropriation?
  • Does your financial accounting system provide you with all necessary feedback that allows you to meet all firm obligations on time?
  • Do you have a firm budget that tracks all firm income and expenses against projections?
  • If you handle cash, do you have proper policies and procedures in place?
  • Do you have a system that regularly notifies partners of all important firm financial metrics in a timely fashion?
  • Do you have systems in place that record billable time (even if the lawyer is not billing by time) to determine the effectiveness of all timekeepers?
  • Are all draft bills reviewed by the firm billing committee prior to be rendered?
  • Do you use an integrated time keeping, billing, accounting, and client management system?
  • Are all bank accounts reconciled within five days of the end of the month and balances reviewed with the responsible lawyer as well as by the managing partner?
  • Are clients required to replenish trust retainers on ongoing matters?
  • Are clients provided with trust fund reconciliations on a monthly basis?

These are some of the many aspects of running a good practice. Making it all work takes a bit of time.