Born and raised in Southern Oregon, Kristen grew up on a farm where her mother owned and operated Siskiyou...
Christopher T. Anderson has authored numerous articles and speaks on a wide range of topics, including law firm management,...
There are systems to help you run every part of a small law firm, whether it’s billing, marketing, or hiring. But what are systems and how do you implement them in your practice? In this episode of The Un-Billable Hour, host Christopher Anderson talks to Kristen David about the importance of using systems and how they help law firm owners, staff, and even clients. They discuss crafting checklists, freeing up time, and how systems are sometimes resisted. They also share tips on how an owner can free up their time.
Kristen David is law firm management and marketing advisor for How To Manage a Small Law Firm.
The Un-Billable Hour
Systems Keep You Sane
Intro: Managing your law practice can be challenging. Marketing, time management, attracting clients, and all the things besides the cases that you need to do that aren’t billable. Welcome to this edition of The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast. This is where you will get the information you need from expert guests and host Christopher Anderson, here on Legal Talk Network.
Christopher Anderson: Welcome to The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast helping attorneys achieve more success. We are glad you can listen today on the Legal Talk Network.
Today’s episode is about systems and our title is “Systems Keep You Sane.” My guest is Kristen David from How To MANAGE a Small Law Firm.
I am your host, Christopher Anderson. I am an attorney with a singular passion for helping other lawyers be more successful with their law firm businesses. I work directly with lawyers across the country to help them achieve success as they define it.
In The Un-Billable Hour, I have a chance to speak to you as I do in presentations across the country and explore an area important to growing revenues, giving you back more of your time and/or improving your professional satisfaction in one of the key areas of your business.
I start with the fundamental premise that a law firm business exists primarily to provide for the financial, personal and professional needs of you, its owner.
I have a chance to introduce you to a new guest each month to talk about how to make that business work for you, instead of the other way around.
Before we get started, I do want to say a thank you to our sponsors, Answer1, Solo Practice University, and Scorpion.
Answer1 is a leading virtual receptionist and answering services provider for lawyers. You can find out more by giving them a call at 800-answer1, or online at HYPERLINK “http://www.answer1.com” www.answer1.com, and that one more time is HYPERLINK “http://www.answer1.com” www.answer1.com.
Solo Practice University is a great resource for solos, no matter how long you’ve been practicing. Make sure you check out HYPERLINK “http://www.solopracticeuniversity.com” solopracticeuniversity.com and learn how to run your practice better.
Scorpion crushes the standard for law firm online marketing with proven campaign strategies to get attorneys better cases from the Internet. Partner with Scorpion to get an award-winning website and ROI positive marketing programs today. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.scorpionlegal.com/podcast” scorpionlegal.com/podcast.
And again, today’s episode of The Un-Billable Hour is “Systems Keep You Sane”, and one of the topics indeed that I cover is systems. In any good business, systems run the business; people operate the systems. The systems are one of the most important tools to people, even if it’s just you in your law firm have to use to deliver your services to your clients. Computers, software, chairs, desks, a building, these are all tools your people and you, and maybe just you, use. Systems make all of this work make sense.
And my guest today is Kristen David. Now, Kristen leads the outside managing partners that direct 325 law firm owners across the country and growing their businesses.
More to the point, Kristen also teaches a course to lawyers called The Policies, Systems, and Procedures Equal Sanity and she only teaches this twice per year; Level 101 once a year and Level 201 once a year, and Kristen is obsessed with the value that systems add to law firm businesses.
So let’s get started with “Systems Keep You Sane”, and Kristen, welcome to The Un-Billable Hour.
Kristen David: Thank You Christopher, happy to be here.
Christopher Anderson: I am very happy to have you as my guest. So first of all, my introduction of you was really brief. I told everybody that you are a lead managing partner at How To MANAGE a Small Law Firm, what do the managing partners at How To MANAGE a Small Law Firm do for business owners?
Kristen David: So, the managing partner in How To MANAGE a Small Law Firm helps solo and small law firm owners, learn how to balance the separate working parts of every business and help give the owner of the business, the opportunity to kind of look at the business from the 10,000-foot view and learn how to manage and keep the forward movement of the firm going on a day-to-day basis while growing the business or helping the business move forward from more of a big picture viewpoint. So the managing partner helps the owner, balance, and holds them accountable and keep them moving forward.
Christopher Anderson: So, as I said, and as you know, because we talked about this ahead of time, the topic of today’s radio show is “Systems”, and so before we get into how systems help it, I want to talk with you about like basically in every business, when I look at a business, and I’m looking to move the business forward, I’m looking to analyze the business, I always look at how does the business work for the three main constituents? How does it work for the owners? How does it work for the owners being the shareholders or the complete owners, how does it work for the employees, and importantly, very importantly how does it work for the customers?
So I’m going to ask you about systems regarding all three, but before I do that I think it’s important like — to describe what we mean by this word, because everybody hears it and everybody goes like, yeah, well, systems are great, I’d like to have some systems, but it’s nebulous, it’s not concrete. So, can you help the audience understand when we talk about systems, what are we talking about?
Kristen David: We’re talking about the overall processes to make certain things function and happen smoothly and efficiently in the law firms. Systems are generally made up of a handful of different policies and procedures that come together and form one big system. So sometimes there are marketing systems or there’s an intake system and there’s lots of little pieces that different staff members might do or sometimes it’s just the owner doing all those things, but it makes them all happen efficiently and smoothly so that the client has that amazing experience. So that the staff person or the owner knows what to do and how to make it happen, and this all together makes the firm run much smoother.
So, the systems are the culmination of policies, procedures, checklists, templates, examples, creating just the standard of how this thing is supposed to work smoothly.
Christopher Anderson: Cool. So, let’s like, just to really kind of drive the point home, let’s take this outside the world of law firms to something that’s just super-simple. So, like one of my first businesses was an airplane washing business. I washed airplanes in an exchange for flight hours. Let’s say I’m getting ready to wash an airplane, what would a system look like from your perspective if you’re talking to me about — if you’re going to ask me like, do you have the systems in place? What like — what would a policy and a procedure and the other things that you talked about mean in that context?
Kristen David: Well, first there’s the policy that’s setting the parameters or the guidelines of why is this helpful, and it’s going to help the reader or the person doing it understand why this is helpful. So, the policy in something like that is, it’s the goal of the firm to or goal of the business to quickly and efficiently wash airplanes while giving, making sure to have high standard and quality and make sure we don’t miss any part, so that the business does good and so that the employee or person washing doesn’t have to go back over the same things over-and-over.
So, that’s the overriding policy, then there’s the procedures. So, step one, pick a time and date that we’re scheduled to wash the airplane. Step two, get your supplies together, so you’ve got your washrags and buckets and soap and whatnot. Step three, this might be broken into multiple mini-steps like start with the left wings then go to the main body and fuselage, then go to the tail, come around the backside, wash the other wing, and finally end up at the front.
The next step would be whether you’re going to wash the windows with something different than what you wash the rest of the airplane with, and that is the checklist, that is the step-by-step of how to get that done, so that it’s done well and professional and done the same every single time.
Christopher Anderson: Right, and then I’ve even heard you talk about as part of the system and the policies and the procedures that you just talked about also having like a checklist and exemplars and templates and forms, like how would that play into this?
Kristen David: Of course, say you’re hiring a couple of different people to actually get out there and everybody wants their plane washed, so we give them a checklist. That way we as the company know that they are getting each of the steps completed, ensure that they’re washing down and carefully checking certain elements. It gives the client kind of that confidence that’s all being done correctly and it’s helping, it actually makes it more efficient for the staff member, the person doing it, because now they don’t have to waste mental energy reinventing a new process. They just kind of go down the checklist. Okay, start here, do this, do that. It makes it everyone have more confidence in the process.
And what we know from research is that when someone knows what they’re doing and they have confidence in how to do it and what the order in which they’re doing it, they’re going to become faster at it, and that’s really the key to a lot of this is that the more efficient they are, the more productive they can be, which makes the business more profitable. So it’s a great win-win for everyone.
Christopher Anderson: Cool. So let’s now take this into the world of law firms. I should have mentioned I didn’t at the top, and I don’t think you did either. Kristen is an attorney. Kristen has built her own law firm, sold her own law firm, and still works with law firms, and so Kristen has got a lot of experience, both in the development and running of a law firm, as well as the helping of other lawyers. And in fact, Kristen, would you just say a couple words about what one of the main areas of your practice was that got you into a lot of other law firms while you were still practicing?
Kristen David: So, I spent over 15 years as a legal malpractice defense attorney in the State of Oregon, still licensed in Oregon, but I did indeed sell my law firm, and the way I was able to see what was going on in so many law firms is in Oregon, we actually with — the defense attorney would go into the law firm often and help fix problems or see if there was a way to solve or resolve the matter before it went to litigation, and that gave me the opportunity to go in and see some very organized offices, some very disorganized offices. And what we found is that the blown Statute of Limitations didn’t just happen on that day or yesterday, it happened a year or two prior because there was no calendaring systems in place.
Christopher Anderson: Right.
Kristen David: So there was very much the causes lead to affect scenario, and so I saw a ton of this, and then helps fix it in a lot of scenarios but it’s always easier to be proactive and set up these systems early than to wait till malpractice happens and be fixing it after the fact. So, very much an advocate for getting this built early.
Christopher Anderson: So, you’re saying that like most malpractice claims that you came across, most instances where there was a legitimate issue came from some sort of systems failure or lack of systems?
Kristen David: Absolutely. Calendaring the big one, even things like conflicts checking, things like opening files, not making sure that we get the retainer-signed agreements and the funds in and not following those checklists, and making sure we’re being a good advocate for the client, but making sure it’s set up correctly. That first couple of steps is crucial to putting that path on the right direction to avoid malpractice down the road.
Christopher Anderson: All right. You know what, I think people are now listening, because this is everybody’s fear and this is what we’re trying as lawyers to be more professional to be able to avoid. So, let’s dive right in now.
So again, I said I was going to approach this from the perspective of the law firm, law firm owner, then from the staff, and then from the client. So, the first question is, how do systems help owners, how do systems help law firms? I think you’ve kind of spoken to that, but let’s just drill in like how do concretely, how do systems help owners?
Kristen David: So, here’s the thing, for law firm owners, yes, we’re scared of malpractice cases, we’re scared of messing up. But the other part, at the other end is, we want to have a good smooth-running firm. We want to be profitable. We want to make more money. I’m often found saying policies plus procedures equal systems and sanity, because you are going to put the hard work in the beginning and that’s what makes it run so smoothly.
And when the owner hires staff and gets constant questions from the staff, it becomes a bottleneck and for firms to run more efficient, we have to have that clarity so that the staff know what it is they are supposed to do.
And again, it goes back to that dialogue of when a law firm runs more efficiently and smoother, that allows everyone on the team, from the owner down to every staff member to be more productive, and when a firm is more productive, it’s more profitable. So it’s great because we are actually aligning everyone’s interest, but the law firm especially benefits from putting these systems in place.
Christopher Anderson: Okay. So I mean I can certainly see this, like I see this — and again, this isn’t just law firms, right, but you see this all the time. You get a business, you start to hire your first employees and then people say, I don’t want to hire anymore employees and my life sucks, all I do is answer questions. And what I think I hear you are saying is that, A, it doesn’t have to be that way, and even if it is that way, it’s like it’s better not to answer the questions because you are not always consistent, right?
Kristen David: Correct. I mean as law firm owners I can say this because no judgment zone, I made all these mistakes too as a law firm owner. Sometimes we tell the staff to do it one way and literally two or three days later we say something different and the staff have to be able to come back and say, no wait, we all agreed this is the way we are going to do it. Otherwise when you are constantly changing the direction or the methods, it’s frustrating for everyone. We just waste a lot of time.
So the great news is, is that owners can with just simple fixes and putting it down on paper and having everyone agree, we reduce so much of that constant questions and back and forth and let everyone start working more efficiently.
Christopher Anderson: Which can then free up the owner because the owner thinks they are hiring people to free them up to get more work done, but eventually what you really want to be doing is hiring people that can operate systems, so you can focus on the business and growing the business, and you can’t do that if you are constantly answering people’s questions, that is a conclusion I would take from what you are saying.
Kristen David: Absolutely. You are absolutely dead-on.
Christopher Anderson: Cool. So owners can benefit by having workers, employees, lawyers, paralegals who know what to do and how to do it in this firm, this is how we do things in this firm, I get it, that frees the owner up and that’s good for the owner.
So let’s now turn to that second constituency; the employees, the staff, the associates, the paralegals, how do systems help them? I mean so they are at work whether they have systems or not, how are their lives better for having the systems in place?
Kristen David: So I think it’s important to recognize that law firms — law school didn’t teach us anything about how to run a business, and unfortunately, many lawyers don’t really have the skills on how to hire and on board and train staff, and they often use the kind of hire and hope strategy. Hire and hope the heck the new employee knows what they are doing.
And that’s nice and a lot of times you do hire staff that have some inkling, but everybody does things a little differently. So you might hire a secretary and they are doing it one way and then you hire a paralegal and they do it a different way, and then you come out of your office and you might now tell them to do it a third way, right, and so staff gets to that point where they are really uncertain about whether they are doing it the right way.
And so when we create those written policies and procedures and systems and people start having the confidence they are doing it the right way, they get faster doing things over and over and over again and they are more productive and it makes them have a happier end of the day when they feel productive and they have gotten a lot accomplished.
Christopher Anderson: So staff feel more productive, feel more confident about what they are doing and I can already see how that is going to help the clients.
So what I am going to do, we are talking with Kristen David and we are talking about how systems improve the life of the law firm owner and we have just finished talking about how systems also help improve the life of the staff, and overall why systems are really, really important and give sanity to the ownership and the running of a successful law firm business.
We are going to take a break here for a moment and when we come back, we are going to talk about how systems help clients and we are going to talk about some examples of systems and a couple of other things here with Kristen David of How To MANAGE a Small Law Firm. We will be back in just a moment.
Advertiser: Feel like your marketing efforts aren’t getting you the high value cases your firm deserves, for over 15 years Scorpion has helped thousands of law firms just like yours attract new cases and grow their practices. As a Google Premier Partner and winner of Google’s Platform Innovator Award, Scorpion has the right resources and technology to aggressively market your law firm and generate better cases from the Internet. For more information, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.scorpionlegal.com/podcast” scorpionlegal.com/podcast today.
Ready to create and build your own solo or small firm practice, need a nuts and bolts education on the 360-degree experience of starting a business, there is only one online destination dedicated to helping you achieve your goals, Solo Practice University, the only online educational and professional networking community dedicated to lawyers and law students who want to go into practice for themselves, more than 1,000 classes, 58 faculty and mentors. What are you waiting for? Check out HYPERLINK “http://www.solopracticeuniversity.com/”solopracticeuniversity.com today.
Christopher Anderson: And we are back with Kristen David of How To MANAGE a Small Law Firm. We are talking about systems equals sanity, and we have been spending the first part of this just talking about what systems are, when we talk about having systems in a law firm that people run the systems and the systems run the business.
And then we have gotten into how systems really help improve the life of the owner and how systems improve the life of the staff, the employees, the paralegals, the attorneys, the associates in the business. And I said when we come back we are going to talk about how it helps the client.
So Kristen, that’s what I would like you to talk to the audience about next is, if the systems are helping the owners and the systems are helping the employees, from the clients’ perspective, how does a law firm having good systems make the clients’ lives better?
Kristen David: So the clients benefit in this in many, many, many ways, but the biggest part is that they get their questions answered faster and they get their case moving forward, because everyone in the law firm knows what’s going on and knows how to move the case forward.
So let’s give an example. For instance, if a law firm is not very well organized and a client calls in and the secretary takes down the message and it might just be a simple question about an upcoming hearing or do they need to bring something with them to a deposition prep or something like that and now the client is being told, okay, we will call you back, we have got to check with the attorney, and that might take a day or two and there’s this big delay.
Versus, if we already have this documented, anytime clients come in for depo prep, here’s what they should bring. Don’t bring anybody else. There’s a clear protocol and the staff are clear on what to tell them. The staff can then be helpful right there at that first phone call can answer the questions.
Often clients will call back over and over again just trying to get a hold of a paralegal or an associate and if the staff have good processes for how to schedule appointments, they know when the attorneys are going to have free time to return calls rather than having to say, oh, let me check with the attorney and I will call you back. The client doesn’t want to hear that. They want to know they are moving forward. They are getting help.
So when we build these systems correctly the client just has such a better experience working with the firm, they feel like they are moving forward with their legal problems, they feel like everyone is attentive and understands their case and what’s going on, so it’s just a much better experience for clients.
Christopher Anderson: I saw it coming, right, when we were talking before about how it’s better with the staff, it’s sort of implicit in what you are saying, but if the staff is confident and the staff is enjoying their job more and the staff feels like they know what they are supposed to do and know where they are supposed to be, I think they are also bringing a better version of themselves to the clients. Would that be a natural occurrence from this?
Kristen David: Absolutely. It’s like when a receptionist answers the phone with a smile on her face or his face, and you hear that in the voice and you already just immediately have a better feeling about that. And so yes, when the staff are more confident, that invokes confidence in that client, who feels — they become a raving fan, they feel like they are always being taken care of, that their legal team has their back.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah. I think I was just like completely enlightened by what you just said, I think the confidence transfer. You just said like when the staff is confident, it translates that confidence to the clients and that’s got to be huge for repeat business, for just overall impressions of the law firm and willingness of clients to recommend the law firm further.
Kristen David: Absolutely. And this is where what most lawyers and law firm owners and any business owner that has systems in place, they realize so many of these benefit the staff and the law firm owner or the business owner, but they are really marketing tools, because when you create raving fans, you have got all these clients out there saying great things about you and that can be just absolutely tremendous low-cost, highly effective marketing.
In fact, building out marketing systems, we think of day-to-day like telephone answering and taking messages and calendaring or scheduling appointments as being the basic policies and procedures, but what’s really fun is when you get into some of the things like marketing systems that help the law firm really touch more people and help more people. That’s where it gets really fun.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah. It was kind of funny, I was kind of amused, I should let the audience know, like I did not warn Kristen, I was going to ask her to invent systems for airplane washing, and she did a great job. And it was kind of funny though when she said like yeah, actually get your supplies together, like your bucket and your sponge because — well, actually yeah, that’s exactly how you do it, so she nailed that.
So the thing I was going to get to is like, because we have just told everybody why like, in the broad sense, why systems policies, systems procedures, checklist, templates, et cetera are really important to deliver great results in a law firm, and we have talked through why they help the owner have a better life, why they help clients have a better life, why they help the employees have a better life.
But we have it and you just brought one up, marketing. We haven’t really talked about like some examples. Like everybody is like, okay, let me go get some systems, where do I go, where is the system store, and let’s get some examples. You said marketing, so let’s start there. What would a marketing system look like? How can marketing be a system?
Kristen David: Well, there are lots and lots of different marketing systems and policies and procedures that can help you make more money, that is just in every which direction, but let me just throw out a couple of examples.
In today’s day and age, a lot of law firms want to get a newsletter out. So a great way to set this up, rather than make it all be on the law firm owner’s plate, sometimes we use the calendar to help give us some steps to get that end product, i.e. the newsletter out the door.
So step one is we set up reoccurring calendar dates every month to get the newsletter built. And that might be, step two, calendar the following dates on it. And it’s like the first Friday of the month work on content. The second Friday of the month put it all together into a newsletter template. The third Friday of the month do final review, and then finally, mail it out with whichever program you are using on the Tuesday of the final Tuesday of the month or something like that.
So now we have got these calendared. We have a good system. The next step is getting other people on your team and that can sometimes include outside vendors to help you do each of those steps. And so now that we have got a good routine and we have got people who know who shall do what by when; maybe it’s the associate shall contribute some content by the first Friday of the month. Maybe it’s the receptionist or paralegal who shall submit common questions from clients. So that everybody is contributing and now it’s not all on the owner who thinks, oh, I have to get the newsletter out. When everyone contributes and there’s clarity, now we are more consistently getting the thing built and out the door.
So when you get those systems in place, newsletters are a great marketing method, that’s cheap, easy, and now it doesn’t always require the owner to do all the steps. So that’s a great easy one we do with a lot of attorneys that are small and are building up and have a low marketing budget, because that’s a great way to streamline all the efforts. Does that make sense?
Christopher Anderson: Yeah. I mean it’s like I am so thinking about this because like for me in my business, when I had my law firm, newsletters were kind of — the system for newsletters was kind of like, oh shoot, newsletter needs to go out tomorrow morning and everybody has left. I guess I know what I am doing until midnight.
Kristen David: Yup. And that’s one of the things where when we have got the clear procedure and it’s been calendared, all those little mini steps that are going to help us move forward, everyone sees those deadlines on the office calendar, everyone can contribute and it doesn’t feel like it’s this last-minute rush or this huge burden who — it’s often the owner who thinks, I need to get this done.
So, again, engaging others around you and giving them that clarity of how can they help. Staff want to help. They want to see the firm succeed, so we give them some opportunities to contribute. It’s a great way to get everyone moving forward.
Christopher Anderson: Is there a system for getting the bills out, like how could that be a system?
Kristen David: Absolutely. Every other Friday, in cases like in family law and criminal and such, maybe we send the bill every other Friday. Everybody gets time in by noon, we mail the bills out and then we get it going. Or maybe it’s just telling the bookkeeper how and when to do the pre-bills, when the owner is going to commit to getting in responses, and from there we then get the bills out timely and effectively rather than the bills sitting in some owner’s briefcase for four days, waiting to be edited. When you have a clear pattern and process, everyone is more diligent about following it.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah. And I think you said at the top too like, let’s talk about both the marketing and the billing real quick, but so it’s like you said every system starts with a policy, so like the policy would be our bills go out on the 25th every month or whatever, right?
Kristen David: It is, but you have also got to explain, give the guidelines. It’s the policy of the firm to routinely get our billings out so that our clients are able to see the progress and pay us, so that the firm can pay everyone’s payroll and overhead and the firm doesn’t go under. You have got to get the reader understand and connect the dots, why is this important to their livelihood to getting this all working correctly.
Christopher Anderson: Cool. So yeah, so the policy brings in why this is important to you.
Kristen David: Absolutely.
Christopher Anderson: That’s fantastic. Okay. So as we come towards this show, I always want to go longer, but so as we come towards the end of the show here, what are just some examples, some policies and procedures that would help free up an owner’s time, like can you think of just a couple of things, a couple of tidbits to throw out there of things that would free up an owner’s time?
Kristen David: Yes. Number one is defining the word emergency and not only to your staff, but also to your clients, because people always want to interrupt you, oh, I have got this emergency. Well honestly, there’s not many things that demand that you be interrupted right that moment. So defining what is an emergency versus what is urgent, what is important.
So again, you help the staff know how to triage, like if a client calls in or somebody, another attorney, find out what in your firm really is an emergency or urgent versus just routine, and then teach them when to interrupt and when to wait until you have a free moment to share it with you.
So yes, there are lots of procedures and policies to free up an owner’s time so that you are not constantly getting interrupted so you can be productive and get some good work done as well. So that’s one that can be applicable to everybody in the firm and the client.
Christopher Anderson: Okay, cool. So we are talking with Kristen David about bringing systems to work inside a law firm business, to help the owners, the clients, and the employees have better lives and do better work. We are just talking about some great policy and procedures that help free up an owner’s time.
When we come back from the break we are going to finish up by talking to Kristen about how to get the team enrolled into bringing policy, systems, and procedures into the law firm and what to do when you as an owner are just not really good at documenting stuff. So we will be talking about that with Kristen David as soon as we come back.
Advertiser: Is your firm experiencing missed calls, empty voicemail boxes and potential clients you will never hear from again, enter Answer1, Virtual Receptionists. They are more than just an answering service. Answer1 is available 24×7. They can even schedule appointments, respond to emails, integrate with Clio, and much more. Answer1 helps make sure your clients have the experience they deserve. Give them a call at 1-800-answer1 or visit them at HYPERLINK “http://www.answer1.com/podcast” answer1.com/podcast for a special offer.
Christopher Anderson: We are back with Kristen David here on The Un-Billable Hour, talking about bringing systems to make your law firm business run better. We just finished up talking about a couple of policies and procedures to help free up an owner’s time; the big one there was defining the word emergency.
Kristen, what I wanted to finish up with was talking about the resistance points. I think there’s like two key points of resistance that I can imagine for putting systems into a business that I am running and so I am going to imagine that it happens for a lot of folks.
The first resistance point I want to talk to you about is the team and then the second one is the owner, him or herself. And so let’s start with a team, so like I have seen a lot of different resistance from teams about bringing in systems like why are you trying to automate me, why are you trying to get rid of me, like what are some of the resistance you see and how do people get over it?
Kristen David: We see this a lot and you definitely want to roll out policies and procedures in a planned method and get the team to understand how it benefits them, because no one likes to have somebody walk in and shove a bunch of new procedures down their throat. And people sometimes get kind of prickly when it’s like oh, am I not doing it good enough before, like you have had to change it. I mean they get very defensive.
And so one of the first things we have to do as owners is talk to the team and help them understand the benefits to them and get their feedback, solicit their comments and their suggestions on how to make it better, because anytime you can get the staff to make some changes or some suggestions or edits, now you have got their buy in, they have already put a little skin in the game, but it starts first with helping them understand why are these so beneficial for them.
First of all, we never know what life is going to throw at us and sometimes the unexpected happens and staff members, owners, we all sometimes have to step away for, sometimes a day, sometimes a couple of days, and we want to be able to make sure everyone on the team isn’t having to stress about what’s going on in the firm and that they can just step away, and maybe if a member is ill or there was some kind of an emergency they have to deal with, we want them to know that somebody else in the firm can handle it and do the great job they do and it’s the same with when they go on vacations.
The second example we often use with staff is we want you to go on vacation and we want someone else to kind of get the work done and we want them to do the same great level of work that you do. That way when they come back, they don’t have piles and piles of work to do or they don’t have to go back and fix the problems that somebody else created because they didn’t do it right.
So, when we get the procedure written, it’s not because we’re trying to fire that staff member, it’s because we know that inevitably there’s going to be a day when they have to step away and we want to make sure we do it as good as they do it.
So, we have to explain that to staff and get their buy-in and then have them help with some of the drafting, and that way they really truly, they comply with it, they get it, and it works a lot smoother.
Christopher Anderson: Cool. That makes a lot of sense. So, let’s go to the other piece of resistance, probably the critical one, being the owner. I’ll just speak from like my own personal perspective. I’m terrible at this, like I can’t document anything. I will not sit down at a computer or with a notepad and document how I do things.
I’ve used a couple of strategies to get past that, but what are you like rather than what I’ve done like, what do you recommend? How do you help owners who aren’t good at methodically sitting down and just thinking through this? What do you do for them?
Kristen David: So, it is tedious, I mean, I was a law firm owner and there were days when I didn’t want to build this, but I was so glad that I did. It takes a lot of work but they are worth it. When I actually sold my law firm, my policies and procedures were a huge negotiating point to the price, because it’s what made the firm turnkey. So they’re truly valuable to the law firm owner but they take time.
So what we recommend is, number one, just get started, and you do that by scheduling a little bit of time on your calendar, maybe just 60-minute block. And what people find is when they sit down and just get started, they actually kind of get into it. It’s that mental block ahead of time of resisting wanting to work on it, but once they actually sit down, it usually starts to come out of what they want, and maybe it’s just the answering the telephone policy or the amount of detail they want their staff to put in the calendar notes, so that they have all the information they need.
So, it’s just — getting started is the biggest part. The second technique is often getting someone on your staff or even another person is not on your staff, maybe just tamped to come in for an hour just to sit and work with you. Sometimes you can explain, for instance, opening a file, you can explain the process to someone else and audio record it and then have it transcribed. Now we have a transcribed version of how to open a file, maybe you also have a videotape.
So there’s a lot of techniques to help get that down, but even then we see that attorneys just — some of us are just not meant to do it on our own, we need to just get into a room and just get it done. And that’s what we do with some of the workshops we do is, for some owners we can finish in four days, what it takes 12 to 18 months to build out. And some people like doing it on their own and some just need that extra help.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah. Yeah, so you’re basically saying like just get started. I was going to throw in like one other thing too, is like if you’re really having a hard time, have someone else do the recording, like just sit there and teach someone and say, type down everything I tell you. That’s been one thing that’s worked for me, and then you’re saying that’s for some folks, it just is really helpful and you lead like if it’s like three or four-day intensives to get them through a whole bunch of this stuff all at once that you lead, is that right?
Kristen David: Yes. And some attorneys just know that they mean well and they start off wanting to get it done and sometimes these policies and procedures just go to the low priority level and they come and I do a four-day 101 workshop where we go through all the day-to-day operational policies and procedures. Those things that are so simple but they can streamline the whole firm and help get staff up to speed quickly when you hire new staff.
So, yes, we work on intake, we work on the answering the telephone, we work on getting the bills out every month. Those are the day-to-day operations and the attorneys that do it they just — we get done in that first workshop over 60 policies and procedures in four days. It’s a lot of work but it’s so rewarding to get so much accomplished in such a short period of time.
Christopher Anderson: That’s really remarkable. All right, folks, this is Kristen David of How To MANAGE a Small Law Firm. We have been talking about systems equals sanity or “Systems Keep You Sane”, it’s been the title of the podcast here today and Kristen has been talking about how systems benefit the owners, the staff and the clients, and some examples of systems like just really a couple — actually she just mentioned, there’s over 60 that she can teach in just the first 101 section but all these systems that can each and every one of them add value to your law firm, and quite honestly, add quality to your life.
This wraps up this edition of The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Business Advisory Podcast. And our guest again has been Kristen David.
Kristen, in case people want to know more about systems or about how to get to one of these intensives, how can they contact you?
Kristen David: Well, they can definitely go to the HYPERLINK “http://www.howtomanageasmalllawfirm.com” howtomanageasmalllawfirm.com webpage and take a look at some of our offerings. I am going to be doing some other different — from time-to-time I do some webinars and other things on policies and procedures, helping people really just get a flavor for what we cover in those big workshops and really dig in and start building them right away.
But, LinkedIn, you can find me @kristendavid as well as on Twitter. I often can be found talking about businesses successful, happy lawyers, and business owners.
Christopher Anderson: And what’s your Twitter handle?
Kristen David: Twitter handle is @kdavid12.
Christopher Anderson: Excellent. All right and you gave your LinkedIn is just Kristen David?
Kristen David: Uh-huh.
Christopher Anderson: Excellent. All right, thank you once again, Kristen David.
And this is Christopher Anderson, and I look forward to seeing you next month with another great guest as we learn more about topics that help us build the law firm business that works for you.
Remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com or on iTunes. Thanks for joining us and we will see you again soon.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
Thanks for listening to The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast. Join us again for the next edition, right here with Legal Talk Network.
Best practices regarding your marketing, time management, and all the things outside of your client responsibilities.
De Novo Review’s lawyer staffing experts discuss growing practice areas amid Covid-19 and increased demand for support during periodic surges.
Legal AI entrepreneur Tom Martin shares how automation adoption by lawyers is accelerating out of necessity and because their clients demand it.
While the pandemic paralyzed many leaders, Michael Mogill offers tips for adopting a growth mindset that will lead you on a path to success....
Eric Farber offers strategies for developing a healthy culture in your law firm.
Tom Lambotte discusses the key tenets of his Optimize Method framework for lawyers.
David Neagle shares tips for developing a mindset that can help bring businesses through difficult economic circumstances.