Policies & Procedures
Policies & Procedures
Article by: Chrissy M. Neufer, Paralegal Steinbacher, Goodall & Yurchak
Do you find yourself spending more time on administrative tasks than billable legal work? If so, you’re not alone. According to a recent report by Thomas Reuters, 74% of small law firms spend too much time on administrative tasks at the detriment of their practice as lawyers.
It’s no secret in this line of work that the workload exceeds the hours in a workday. Because of this, it’s important to implement systems to help you work smarter, not harder. One of the most important things you can do for your firm is to create written policies and procedures.
Policies and procedures are the foundation of your law firm. They help to set expectations for your staff, keep things consistent between departments and staff members, and maintain organization for the firm. Perhaps more importantly, they can help to free you up from doing the things you don’t like to do and allow you to spend time doing the things you enjoy doing within your firm.
Policies are the “big picture” of how you want your firm to run. They are the general principles that steer your organization toward achieving its goals, missions, and objectives. If you don’t already have a policy manual in place for your firm, this is where you want to start. A policy manual outlines your company’s rules and regulations and communicates your expectations for codes of conduct and acceptable work behavior. It also serves as a reference for your employees and helps your firm stay in compliance with your state’s requirements for written procedures.
Procedures are the more specific step-by-step instructions on how to do something. These are important because they invoke uniformity and compliance among your current staff and are vital in training new employees. Procedures differ from policies because they are ever evolving.
At our office, we have many firm-wide procedures in place, which are applicable to all staff, and many department-specific procedures, which are applicable to each department. The firm-wide procedures span from how to request a payment from the operating account to how to request time off to how to properly answer the phone. The department-specific procedures span from how to open and close a file to what to do if a client doesn’t show up for an initial consultation to how to prepare an inheritance tax return for filing. There is no task too big or too small to have a procedure.
The thought of creating written procedures may be daunting to you, and it can be somewhat time consuming in the beginning, so it’s helpful to engage the assistance of staff members who have been with your firm for a long time and know the ropes.
Also, having solid procedures in place is not a substitute for properly training your staff; instead, they should be used in conjunction with each other. When your employees are properly trained and have the proper resources, it allows them to work more independently, which frees you up from having to answer so many questions and/or do the work yourself.