Practice Management Advisory Service

Productivity Ideas for Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

  1. Objectively evaluate all areas of your office that clients see and occupy. Ask yourself if you would hire a professional that worked in a like space. Get someone you trust to give you a second opinion. If the consensus is that your office and work area send a bad message, clean it up and make it appealing to clients. Consider everything that can be seen, heard, touched and smelled.
  2. If you have multiple parties and are having trouble getting everyone contacted by phone to set an event, try Google.docs as a solution. Let’s say you have three or four depositions to set and three or four busy lawyers involved in the case whom you must contact and schedule. Go to http://docs.google.com and create a new document or spreadsheet with the name of the witnesses and possible dates for the depositions. Using the lawyers’ e-mail addresses, circulate the document or spreadsheet for each lawyer to indicate availability. It eliminates the phone calls and speeds the process. You will first need to open a Google account at https://www.google.com/accounts and take the tour to get an explanation how this helpful process works. It’s simple and effective.
  3. When you are meeting with a new client and you have been officially retained, start work immediately on the case in the presence of the client, even if it something small. Let the client see you begin the case or project by directing a staff member to open the file or prepare a letter. If you still dictate, dictate a letter or memo in the presence of the client. Enter the client’s contact information into your contacts list or database. Convey the message that you are immediately at work for this new client.
  4. Find a person you trust and have this person call your office as a potential client and also come into your office as a potential client and evaluate how he or she is greeted, how the office looks, and the overall impression that is made by your staff and the physical surroundings. Is your sign old, faded and in need of painting? Are the magazines dated? Does your waiting area turn people off? Does the person who answers your phone and greets persons coming to your office seem genuinely interested or distracted and hurried? Get an objective evaluation of your office function and take corrective actions.
  5. If you want to make a great impression, keep a client happy and get a good reputation for being accessible and a good communicator, call a client before he or she calls you. On a weekly basis, set aside fifteen to thirty minutes and call a client with whom you have not spoken for a while and just check in and see how he or she is. Maybe it’s a case where you are waiting on a ruling and the judge is taking a long time. Maybe it’s a case where you are waiting on a trial date or some other event. The work is done, and you may not have contact with this client again for months. Give this client a call, tell him or her you were thinking about him or her, give a brief update, assure that all is well and move on to the next call. You will stand out against the common rap on lawyers that says we are inaccessible.
  6. Build a positive reputation in your community by being known as a committed volunteer. For example, if you litigate and are in and out of the courthouse on a regular basis, get trained as a guardian ad litem and get appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child or an adult. It can be demanding, time consuming work, but it is rewarding in ways you will never expect. Judges and court staff will have a new respect for you, you will meet many people and make many relationships, the good you will do will be uplifting, and someone who really needs your help will be benefited.
  7. Remember that sending an e-mail or fax does not guarantee that it has been received. Train your staff to read the fax transmission notice to confirm that transmission was successful. Have a system in place for your assistant to follow-up by phone, especially where the mail or fax communication is time sensitive.
  8. Regularly check your e-mail spam filter to be see if important email was snagged by the spam filter.
  9. Make use of the drag and drop feature in Outlook to drag an e-mail to the calendar to schedule a new event or to contacts to create a new contact.
  10. If a primary purpose of your website is to market your legal services, know where your website is positioned in Google, Yahoo, MSN and any other search engine when a potential client using common search terms is trying to find a lawyer like you. If you do not show up high on page one of Google and the other search engines, optimize your website for the search engines. To learn more about search engine optimization visit these articles on Wikipedia and Google.
  11. Use Google Analytics to evaluate your website and its interactive ability with potential clients: see, http://www.google.com/analytics/
  12. Opportunities to collaborate with clients abound today.  It is possible to work on files and projects directly with your client, to upload documents and make case developments readily available. This facilitates good communication. Less time is spent on the phone and in meetings and less money is spent on delivery charges. Investigate Adobe Connect, Basecamp, Prolaw’s built-in extranet, MS SharePoint, Zoho or GoogleDocs.
  13. Laptop computers are easily stolen. Consider the consequences if yours was stolen and you had confidential client information in many files. Encrypt your laptop. Windows XP Professional and Vista have encryption features. It is also possible to buy an encryption utility at www.securikey.com or www.pgp.com  For a Mac, click here.
  14. Get an evaluation of the productivity of your office by contacting Dan Mills, Manager of the Practice Management Advisory Service at the District of Columbia Bar. Call 202-626-1312 or e-mail Dan at dmills@dcbar.org
  15. Learn more about running a law office. Sign up for Basic Training at the District of Columbia Bar.
  16. Virtual or executive office services can be an efficient way to establish and run an office. The following are issues to consider and questions to ask the office manager if you are considering a lease agreement:
A. How am I charged for services – on an a´la carte basis or is there a package of services available?  
     
B. How does the service’s charge for incoming and out going fax compare with using an e-fax service that is mine and separate from the virtual office? (www.faxcompare.com)
     
C. Can the service e-mail me incoming faxes as an image file?
     
D. Besides the services that I buy, what additional services are available and at what charges?
     
E. If the service publishes names of tenants, such as on a tenant board in the building lobby, can I get my name there and at what cost?
     
F. How will my phone calls be handled? Can I take my calls but refer them to the service as needed? Can I give instructions on how a particular caller is to be handled? If the service takes a call, can it be sent to my cell or my voice mail? Can I get a .wav file emailed to me of my voice mail messages? At what cost?
     
G. If the service provides my phone and fax numbers, can I take them with me if I end the lease? If so, at what cost?
     
H. What options are there for me to obtain my mail? What is the fastest, most secure method and what will it cost? If you FedEx my mail to me using my FedEx account, how will you protect my account information to be sure it is not used for another tenant?
     
I. If someone walks into the service without an appointment and asks for me, how is that person handled? Will I be called? Does this generate a charge on my account?
     
J. What is the average stay of a tenant at the virtual office?
     
K. Can I see clients off normal hours and on weekends? If so, how do I get access to space and how will I be charged?
     
L. What policies, procedures and security are in place to protect the confidentiality of client information?
     
M. If I use fax, copying or scanning services, is the data read by the machine saved or in any way accessible to anyone else, or is it deleted immediately?
     
N. Is a schedule of open office/conference room space available on-line and can scheduling be done on-line? How are cancellations handled?
     
O. I operate a paperless office. Will the virtual office interact with me in a way that supports my paperless system?
     
P. Is a written notice of intent to cancel the lease required? If so, what are the terms.
     
Q. If I terminate the lease, how is mail handled and am I charged for that?
     
R. If someone walks in and asks for me after I have terminated services, how is that handled?

This article is provided as a service to members of the District of Columbia Bar by the Practice Management Advisory Service. It is not intended as a substitute to independent research and planning, but as a resource to assist you in your efforts to start and manage your own law practice. This article has not been endorsed or adopted by the Bar's Board of Governors. It is advisory only and is not binding on any office or person charged with responsibility for attorney discipline. The reader should also consult directly the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct. The references to commercial products, services, or companies in this article are not intended as endorsements. The article may not be copied or reproduced in any manner without the consent of the District of Columbia Bar.