Practicing law is an art. Running a law firm is a business. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, when properly combined they add up to a stellar practice. Business basics come first. This means laying a groundwork of best practices so that your lawyer artistry can flourish.
The Business of Practicing Law
Some lawyers love the business side of the profession. Others hate it. What about you? Recognizing where you fall on the spectrum is step one.
Alta Pro Practice Pointers
- If you’re not business-minded, delegate. Find someone reliable in the office to track critical dates, conduct conflicts checks and keep the work flowing. Leverage case management and time billing software. Ask your assistant to keep you updated on important changes to the law.
- Develop procedures and processes. In the short term, this will take a little time. In the long term, it will save you lots of money. And it will lower your risk of malpractice. The American Bar Association is a good place to find systems. For example, this teleconference on Best Client Intake Practices costs less than $20 and is free if you’re an ABA member.
- Design your own policies. Don’t be go out and buy a general-purpose procedural manual only when you’re being audited. Come up with procedures that you design to suit your practice – and that you will actually use. Keep it simple. The goal is to provide structure, consistency and baseline standards for serving clients and avoiding malpractice.
- Cover the basics. Best practices should be applied to:
- Marketing and advertising efforts
- Screening new clients
- Evaluating new matters
- Gauging the desirability of new representation
- Checking for conflicts of interest
- Leverage the power of checklists. They are an easy and effective way to avoid mistakes. Develop different checklists for different categories of cases. Review them periodically and revise as needed.
- Communicate with clients. At a minimum, best practices call for:
- Sending file opening letters that clearly explain the scope of representation, the legal issues involved, the billing terms and the engagement agreement.
- Providing regular file status updates.
- Copying clients on correspondence and important materials.
- Documenting the file on important decisions like settlement authority, financial matters and case strategy.
- Sending file closing letters that explain the firm’s policy on file retention and storage.
- Stay up-to-date on the law. The Internet makes it easy to keep current on substantive law and local rules that impact your practice. Spread that knowledge around the office.
- Implement quality controls. The best systems in the world are ineffective if they’re not used. File audits and performance reviews help maintain consistency.
The Bottom Line: Best practices don’t happen by chance. They are the result of research, implementation and regular usage.