April 2013 Bar Bulletin
 
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April 2013 Bar Bulletin

Mastering the Principles of Effective Practice Management

By Michelle Bomberger

 

I don't know any lawyers who entered law school to become great practice management professionals and I know few who enjoy that part of their practice. However, most lawyers have come to recognize that practice management is a critical aspect of a firm's growth and success.

"Practice management" is a very broad term that describes the "business" side of a law firm, including operations, finance and marketing. Since our "practices" are really businesses, we must pay attention to the business factors that allow us to make a living from the practice of law. Much of the practice management discussions focus on activities specific to law offices, but there are a number of universal business elements that are often ignored by lawyers.

Formality of Process

In our law practices, we do the same essential activities each day. However, much of the information about how things are done is stored in our minds and not documented for others to use. Having well-documented processes allows you to replicate activities in a consistent manner, recognize gaps in and improve the way things are done, and decrease the potential for liability.

This last item may be the most valuable and least obvious benefit of documenting processes in your business. When things are done the same way each time, the likelihood of a step being missed decreases. When steps are missed in a process, liability increases. For example, if a deadline is not documented in a calendaring system, potential liability arises. A formal process decreases the likelihood of steps being missed.

Processes also set clients' expectations. When a client is accustomed to a process and something changes unexpectedly, a client's expectations are not met and potential liability arises. For example, if you always send payment reminders to clients and you skip a month, it is highly likely that a client will complain that they didn't get the usual reminder. You can limit this liability exposure with solid, documented processes that are consistently applied.

Your key processes are an integral part of both day-to-day operations and succession planning as they will allow someone to come in and make sense of your business if you are unavailable. Think about the key processes in your practice and what someone would need to know to run your business if you are unavailable. Write these down and communicate them to those who need to know.

Cash Management


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