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How to document workflows in law practice

By April 29, 2024May 2nd, 2024Law Firm Operations, systems

You must systematize your practice if you want to avoid major problems and streamline workflows.

Too many solo and small firm lawyers operate their practices haphazardly (including their use of technology).

Being unsystematic and haphazard leads to serious problems such as:

  • Disorganization
  • Ineffective delegation
  • Miscommunication
  • Wasted time
  • Poor quality work
  • Unhappy clients

Lawyers struggle to overcome these problems for a number of reasons, but mostly because they lack systems for doing work, making decisions, and delegating work to others.

Create Systems

Many workflows are repetitive. This is true in any kind of business, and it’s certainly true for the practice of law.

No matter what kind of work you do, or what kind of people you help, the work you do will involve a lot of repetitive steps that can be examined, improved and made easier to delegate.

Sometimes the work will involve something that comes up rarely but is important to be dealt with effectively.

For example, what should be communicated to a person who calls your firm asking for legal help with a matter you don’t do and don’t want to do?

Do you have a script for the receptionist to use, or are you just hoping they’ll say the right thing?

It’s probably best to have a defined procedure for how to handle all types of inbound calls.

Document workflows using SOPs

Documenting workflows is easy, but too many lawyers overthink and overcomplicate the process.

The easy way to create an SOP write a simple checklist of action steps and decision steps. After you write it out on paper, transfer it to a digital file (e.g. Word).

An Example

A lawyer in my Inner Circle group wanted a script to handle calls from people who called asking for help with matters their firm didn’t do.

The lawyer also wanted to address the situation where a caller refused to accept that the firm wouldn’t be able to handle their matter.

I asked ChatGPT to create an SOP based on the information the lawyer wrote in his post to my group. Here’s what he asked:

“I need a script for staff to reference when they receive a call from someone looking for legal assistance that your firm clearly does not provide. I am in a small town corporate/litigation defense firm. In my firm we call random calls we receive from the public “any attorney calls.” These often deal with problems with vehicles, landlord-tenant disputes, bankruptcy calls, etc. that we do not handle. Many times, the callers are insistent on leaving a message asking for “any attorney” to call them back. We would spend an hour each day calling all these people back, and I don’t want to create a false impression with the callers that they have created an attorney-client relationship by leaving their number.”

I pasted that into ChatGPT with this preamble:

“Can you help me answer this lawyer’s question?”

Here’s what ChatGPT wrote:

Certainly! Creating a script for staff to reference when handling calls for legal services that your firm does not offer is a practical way to manage expectations and maintain professionalism without committing resources unnecessarily. Here’s a script tailored for a small-town corporate/litigation defense firm like the one described:

Firm Reception Script for Non-Service Calls

1. Greeting and Initial Inquiry
– “Good [morning/afternoon], [Firm Name], how can I assist you today?”

2. Identifying the Service Needed
– After the caller explains their issue, if it’s clear the firm does not handle that type of case:
– “Thank you for sharing the details. To ensure I can guide you correctly, it sounds like your concern involves [summarize the issue briefly, e.g., a vehicle problem, a landlord-tenant dispute]. Is that correct?”

3. Polite Declination and Guidance
– “I see. At [Firm Name], we specialize in corporate and litigation defense. Unfortunately, we do not handle cases related to [caller’s issue]. However, I can recommend contacting [local bar association’s referral service or a general lawyer referral service number]. They may be able to assist you in finding an attorney who specializes in [caller’s issue].”

4. Handling Persistent Callers
– If the caller insists on leaving a message for any attorney:
– “I understand it’s important for you to discuss this with a professional. However, as we do not specialize in [caller’s issue], we wouldn’t be the best representatives for your needs. To make sure you get the help you need, I recommend reaching out directly to [alternative referral option mentioned earlier].”

5. Final Closure
– “Is there anything else I can assist you with today?”
– “Thank you for calling [Firm Name]. Have a great day.”

This script is designed to be clear and respectful, quickly guiding the caller to the appropriate resources without giving any impression that your firm might handle their case. This approach helps manage the firm’s time efficiently while ensuring callers are directed to the right place for their legal needs.

Pretty good, right? That’s why you should try using ChatGPT to help you create momentum when documenting SOPs or brainstorming systems for your practice.

Refining the SOP

After quick brainstorming, you can tweak the SOP to more closely match what you want. Then you can upload the SOP to an online repository like SweetProcess (the one I use and recommend).

Over time, the SOP will be improved as it’s used in practice. And that’s another huge benefit.

Key Takeaway

You will incrementally improve every aspect of your practice when you document how you want work to be done, and then optimize that documentation.

Additional Information

Here are more articles related to SOPs and systems.

  • A 5-Step Process to Document Workflows
  • How to Document a Procedure (SOP).
  • Tech Effectiveness Assessment & SOPs
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