Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) form the foundation for every successful business. These established processes prevent errors, promote efficiency, and provide employees with clear direction about where to go and how to get there.
Your solo law firm should be no exception. Your practice is also a business and SOPS are essential to making it successful and lasting. Without standard processes, your firm may suffer from the consequences of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and inefficiencies.
I know that creating policies and procedures may seem extremely time consuming, but it is absolutely worth it in the end. Not only will you have SOPs for current and future staff members, you will also have procedures in place should you later decide to expand your solo practice or pass it along to the next generation. SOPs minimize risk, while also allowing you to proactively prepare for the future.
The following are seven SOPs you can use to automate your solo law firm and boost productivity within your legal practice:
It can be extremely time-consuming to set up a new file, especially if you choose to reinvent the wheel every single time. Sit down and write out each step of this task. Think of it as creating a checklist that you or support staff can follow each time a new file is opened. Think about such details as:
- What forms need to be included in the file
- Inclusion of the engagement agreement
- What data is needed from the client
- Contact information for parties involved with the case
- Conflict checks to be done
- Initial calendaring of scheduled dates
By taking the time to document the procedures for opening a file, you can easily delegate this task, whether you are contracting with a temporary admin or bringing on another attorney.
I don’t have to tell you how important it is to manage your trust accounts correctly. Form the initial acceptance of the retainer to closing out the account, mismanagement of these sensitive accounts can have serious consequences. By creating an SOP, you can essentially give yourself a back-up plan to promote proper management at all times.
Just like with the file opening process, why not develop a checklist that you can utilize for each trust account client. Think about the proper methods for:
- Depositing funds
- Reconciling the account
- Paying your fees from the account
- Making any other necessary withdrawals from the account
- Closing the trust account
This is an SOP that will not only save you time and boost productivity but could also save your firm from the costs of trust account mismanagement.
Invoicing is the instrument for getting your law firm paid, but many lawyers find this process time consuming and cumbersome. And as a solo practitioner, you may feel the pain of invoicing even more so than your larger counterparts. By creating an invoicing SOP, you can identify what invoicing process best works for your firm and duplicate it every single time you sit down to create invoices.
TimeSolv legal time tracking and billing software can be extremely useful in creating this process. They know that every minute you spend creating invoices is one less minute spent on billable tasks. They have developed a process to get your bills out faster. From flexible templates to LEDES billing and automatic tax calculations, you can create an SOP that promotes billing productivity.
Monthly reporting is an important part of successfully running and growing legal practice. You need to check the health of your firm on a regular basis so you can make necessary adjustments. A monthly reporting SOP will provide you with a reminder to regularly run the reports you need for your firm’s success.
With capabilities to run 31 different reports in 10 formats, TimeSolv offers the tools you need to complete monthly reporting. Include the software in your SOP, so you can efficiently stay on top of your firm’s performance with loads of valuable information right at your fingertips.
Closing a file
The procedures for closing out a file are just as important as the processes for opening them. Failing to properly close a file can leave you and your clients with unresolved questions and issues. This SOP can also include a checklist for inclusion in each client file. Your list may include tasks like:
- Returning original documents to the client
- Sending clients notification of matter closing
- Advising clients of any next steps they need to take
- Asking clients to complete satisfaction surveys
- Asking for referrals
- Sending final invoices
- Noting the amount of time required to store the file
By creating a checklist for file closings, you can promote compliance in the process and take one less worry off of your plate.
Cybersecurity is a major concern for solo law practices. You have extremely valuable data to protect, so you need to put processes into place to promote security procedures. Your greatest tool in the war against cyber attacks is you (and your staff if you have any). The steps you take each and every day can mean the difference between a safe law firm environment and an atmosphere that invites cyberattacks. Here are some considerations for your cybersecurity SOPs:
- Strong passwords
- Changing passwords on a regular basis
- Scheduled computer and software updates
- Use of cloud-based services, like TimeSolv
- Securing physical areas of the office
- Deleting suspicious emails
As an attorney, you have a duty to keep client data secure. Cybersecurity SOPs can help you effectively meet this responsibility.
A little time spent now to create SOPs can save you a lot of time and trouble later. Don’t let the fact that you’re a solo practitioner keep you from running your law firm like a business – and successful businesses utilize SOPs.
About Erika Winston:
Erika Winston is a freelance writer with a passion for law. Through her business, Personal Touch Edits, she helps legal professionals deliver effective written messages. Erika is a regular contributor to TimeSolv and a variety of other publications.