What Happened to the Plan

Why did the plan fail?  This is often a question we hear in business, but it is not happening only in business.  I recently was part of a planned family event.  I mean, a planned event. Everything was thought out, or so we thought.  At the last minute, someone changed the plan without notifying the other members of this team.  This resulted in nine different events to be replanned and rescheduled.  Now, let me say upfront that it was more frustrating than it was a major problem.  When asked why they changed their mind, there was no good reason, and it could have stayed as-is.  When we mentioned the impact of this action, we got a confused look.  As we discovered the full effect, there seemed to be no awareness. Each of the nine events was minor, but a lot of time and energy was expended, correcting the course of events that could have been avoided.  The same thing happens in business.  If this happens a lot, the business process breaks down.

Over the years, I have seen several reasons as to why this happens.  Some people just do not like planning.  Not only dislike planning but can not do it and see no reason for it.  For these people, they would not recognize the nine things that did not happen above, and if told about them, would not see the relevance.  Their view was so focused that they never saw the big picture. That is the “being nice” side of this discussion. Some people just do not care, even if they understood the big picture. They want a specific task to do, and that is it.  This last group is best assigned task to do and are not team players or leaders. 

For the people that do not plan, some will become good team players if they know the details.  If they are told why and what about their assignment. One way to make that information available is to include them in the planning. That is also the “being nice” side of this story. Often, they either do not have the ability to see the big picture without a detailed explanation, or they just don’t care. Back in the ole days, we would call these people high-maintenance employees. It requires more energy and time to include them in the team. It is the responsibility of the leader to provide that information and to determine the benefits to the team.

Often the changes made are individually minor and easy to ignore.  It is the cumulative effect that becomes the problem.  Other than cost, there is an impact on the team.  Team members see this happening and gradually become a reactive only set of resources instead of a high-performance team. The adverse effect of this plan breakdown is poor process efficiency.  I have seen businesses where this is the norm.  They start with a great plan and a well-documented process but gradually bypass steps.  Over time the strategic plan becomes a dust-gathering forgotten document.  The rationale is, we always end up OK.  What they failed to recognize is that it cost more in time and money than it should have.  In a very competitive environment, you cannot afford to accept that deal.  This becomes a challenge for the team leader.

This discussion does not mean that there are never times when a break from the process is warranted. As my father would tell me, stuff happens.  What the team leader must do is recognize when this is becoming the norm. Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

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What about the impact of corona-virus

Most law firms face stiff challenges in today’s marketplace. Changing demographics, new technologies, aggressive competition and Coronavirus, demand that firms change the way they do business.  Often firms respond to these challenges by trying to do what they have done in the past. Those that thrive change to address reality.

Many small businesses, like law firms, are adding work-at-home positions, four-day workweeks, and online client contact. All of these changes affect the work culture and how you do business.  You may look at the big picture and decide that a smaller office space is needed to compensate for the remote users.  Technology may change to support remote users or online client contact.  Some expenses will be added and some deleted.

One of the fundamental business metrics is return-on-investment (ROI), sometimes referred to as profit margin.  In this new work-at-home world we find ourselves, we must consider more variables and expenses when we look at the business metrics. If you are doing strategic planning, SWOT analysis, or Needs assessments, you will see this complexity. Your team must define how to collect the data needed, how it will be analyzed, and what the goal is. I would consider what the ROI was in the past and focus on meeting that number and then plan to improve.  First, find your profit by subtracting total expenses from the revenue. If that is a negative number, you can stop there. To find the margin or ROI, divide the profit by the revenue.

Overhead is another popular metric used to group expenses that are necessary for the business but cannot be associated with the production of the products/services being offered.  You do not want the larger portion of the total expenses to be overhead. You can debate expenses like the cost of a case management system, but most count this as a production cost, not as overhead. The cost of legal staff (attorneys, paralegals, etc.) are part of production, but the cost of administrators or support staff are considered overhead. Other expenses, such as rent, utilities, business insurance, and supplies that do not become a part of any products or services, are overhead expenses.  You now have to consider where to track the remote office expenses. I would suggest that it is overhead and not production, just like building costs. Other expenses like the cost of medical records, accident reports, and depositions, are part of production.

The other popular metric in this group is the burden rate.  The burden rate consists of costs associated with employees (or staff) over and above gross compensation. This includes health insurance, license fee, training, etc. (Basically, any costs associated with your employee that is not their salary or pay). When you hire an employee for your law firm, they will cost more than the hourly wage (or salary) you pay them. The additional cost of that employee is known as the burden. The burden cost is important to compute and understand because it includes a variety of significant costs that are part of overhead and are related to employment. So it is a way to further breakdown overhead expense.

Knowing the burden allows a firm administrator or manager to determine the real cost of hiring an employee. The problem we have with burden is deciding what part of overhead is a burden.  If you have to purchase a new license for your case management system, that is a burden.  How much of the cost of the building is burden?   To get a true burden, you should use only expenses directly related to an employee. Once you have the burden cost, you can create a percentage of overhead, a rate per hour average for all staff, or a dollar amount to be added to a salary.  Most small businesses use a burden rate based on total hours worked and apply that rate to the hours of the new employee.  Not a perfect measure, but it will give you a good idea of the total cost for an employee.

Our original question was, how does all of this change in this new environment? If you were able to cut building or office expenses, factor that in.  If you had to purchase equipment for a home office, spread that cost over the first year. Whatever variables you consider, I would keep it simple.  Select data elements that are easy to collect data for and are stable over time. Often the cost of a remote employee is not the same as an employee in the office.  How did your burden change? What was the impact on overhead?  Do you need some new categories in your chart of accounts in your financial system to collect data?  All of these questions should be addressed when doing strategic planning.

Besides the financial impacts, there may be a security impact. You may have workers looking at business data and systems at home. Consider what kind of support a remote user needs and factor in the sensitivity of the data being presented remotely.  You may have to make a change in the IT support you have as your remote users expand. These actions will create an expense.   Are you going to supply the laptops, internet lines, or other equipment? When are your employees considered to be “on the clock”?

I would suggest that it will be six months to a year for the new work environment to settle down.  You will learn as you go.   Along the way, design a data collection strategy and improve it as you build the new environment. Don’t wait until the business fails to start developing a new work culture.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com.

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Law Firms and Remote Staff

Most law firms face stiff challenges in today’s marketplace. Changing demographics, new technologies, aggressive competition and Coronavirus, demand that firms change the way they do business.  Often firms respond to these challenges by trying to do what they have done in the past. Those that thrive change to address reality.

Many small businesses, like law firms, are adding work-at-home positions, four-day workweeks, and online client contact. All of these changes affect the work culture and how you do business.  You may look at the big picture and decide that a smaller office space is needed to compensate for the remote users.  Technology may change to support remote users or online client contact.  Some expenses will be added and some deleted. 

One of the fundamental business metrics is return-on-investment (ROI), sometimes referred to as profit margin.  In this new work-at-home world we find ourselves, we must consider more variables and expenses when we look at the business metrics. If you are doing strategic planning, SWOT analysis, or Needs assessments, you will see this complexity. Your team must define how to collect the data needed, how it will be analyzed, and what the goal is. I would consider what the ROI was in the past and focus on meeting that number and then plan to improve.  First, find your profit by subtracting total expenses from the revenue. If that is a negative number, you can stop there. To find the margin or ROI, divide the profit by the revenue.   

Overhead is another popular metric used to group expenses that are necessary for the business but cannot be associated with the production of the products/services being offered.  You do not want the larger portion of the total expenses to be overhead. You can debate expenses like the cost of a case management system, but most count this as a production cost, not as overhead. The cost of legal staff (attorneys, paralegals, etc.) are part of production, but the cost of administrators or support staff are considered overhead. Other expenses, such as rent, utilities, business insurance, and supplies that do not become a part of any products or services, are overhead expenses.  You now have to consider where to track the remote office expenses. I would suggest that it is overhead and not production, just like building costs. Other expenses like the cost of medical records, accident reports, and depositions, are part of production. 

The other popular metric in this group is the burden rate.  The burden rate consists of costs associated with employees (or staff) over and above gross compensation. This includes health insurance, license fee, training, etc. (Basically, any costs associated with your employee that is nottheir salary or pay). When you hire an employee for your law firm, they will cost more than the hourly wage (or salary) you pay them. The additional cost of that employee is known as the burden. The burden cost is important to compute and understand because it includes a variety of significant costs that are part of overhead and are related to employment. So it is a way to further breakdown overhead expense.

Knowing the burden allows a firm administrator or manager to determine the real cost of hiring an employee. The problem we have with burden is deciding what part of overhead is a burden.  If you have to purchase a new license for your case management system, that is a burden.  How much of the cost of the building is burden?   To get a true burden, you should use only expenses directly related to an employee. Once you have the burden cost, you can create a percentage of overhead, a rate per hour average for all staff, or a dollar amount to be added to a salary.  Most small businesses use a burden rate based on total hours worked and apply that rate to the hours of the new employee.  Not a perfect measure, but it will give you a good idea of the total cost for an employee.

Our original question was, how does all of this change in this new environment? If you were able to cut building or office expenses, factor that in.  If you had to purchase equipment for a home office, spread that cost over the first year. Whatever variables you consider, I would keep it simple.  Select data elements that are easy to collect data for and are stable over time. Often the cost of a remote employee is not the same as an employee in the office.  How did your burden change? What was the impact on overhead?  Do you need some new categories in your chart of accounts in your financial system to collect data?  All of these questions should be addressed when doing strategic planning.

Besides the financial impacts, there may be a security impact. You may have workers looking at business data and systems at home. Consider what kind of support a remote user needs and factor in the sensitivity of the data being presented remotely.  You may have to make a change in the IT support you have as your remote users expand. These actions will create an expense.   Are you going to supply the laptops, internet lines, or other equipment? When are your employees considered to be “on the clock”?

I would suggest that it will be six months to a year for the new work environment to settle down.  You will learn as you go.   Along the way, design a data collection strategy and improve it as you build the new environment. Don’t wait until the business fails to start developing a new work culture. 

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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Try an Online Meeting

For the majority of remote teams, communication is the key to success. Each member of the team must know what the others are working on. This is something that can be easily lost when the entire team is working remotely. Remote teams simply cannot function with inadequate communication between its members. Short daily meetings over Skype or Zoom is a great way to do this. The truth is, it doesn’t matter which remote tool you decide to use; just as long as your team has a good line of communication, your remote workers won’t feel isolated from one another. The key is that all members of the team have access to it and can use it. 

Zoom sets up easily, and team members seem to adapt quickly. There are a few things to keep in mind with any of these tools.  You need a web camera and a microphone, which is standard on most laptops but need to be added to workstations.  Next, remember that you have an active camera and microphone once the meeting starts. Some security considerations must be thought through because you are extending a business discussion into a home or location outside of your control.

The lack of company culture can plague any remote team. Sure, it’s easier for the boss to pop in to chat with a team that works in the same office, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t do the same with a remote team. Set up a daily Zoom meeting that is more like a coffee break than a formal meeting. Other tools allow you to chat, exchange messages or E-mail, or just talk. You don’t need to get fancy, just be available. Here are a few ideas to create highly motivated and productive teams:

  • Prioritize regular check-ins so team members feel you are paying attention to them.
  • Instead of the phone, use Zoom; activate your camera during the call and encourage others to as well, so your team does not lose their sense of community.
  • Virtual meetings may not create the same interpersonal connection of a face to face meeting. That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun. Who wouldn’t appreciate the chance to take their mind off of current events? Try to laugh before jumping into business, advice from ProHabits.com/thrive.

I have found that one of the key ingredients to work culture is regular events and a schedule.  We all start in the morning with our daily meetings and have a coffee break after lunch.  You can do the same with a remote meeting.

Again, it isn’t rocket science. Case managers and Firm Administrators should be working hard to ensure that each member of their team has a clear idea of their expected working hours, all deadlines, what it is that the team is working towards, and even the policy on taking sick days. Establish a routine and have team members check in often. Not keeping track of what’s being done, who is doing what, and who isn’t doing what they are supposed to, is something that can destroy any team.

You should be aware of how much work your remote team is getting done, and at what rate? Luckily, there is a simple way to make sure you don’t end up in this situation, and it’s also an easy fix if you do find yourself in it: monitor and evaluate your remote employees using the same KPIs you would when dealing with in-house workers.  There is an assumption that you have agreed to performance metrics.  Most law firms use a case management system to track cases and can use that same tool to keep track of work done.  The remote teams we have set up, keep track of everything they do in case notes, task checklist, and case milestones.  A few reports that are run each day or week will develop a trend which will show who the top workers are.

The amount of work being done can be too much or not enough.  Most managers are focused on getting the work done and who did the most, but you can also find a team member that does too much.  That is the person that is always online and working. They tend to burn out over time and, in some cases, can destroy the morale of the team.  Back to culture, set some expectations.  Those expectations should include breaks, family time, and time off. Everyone likes to know the rules of the game, and they all want an even playing field. It is OK to have a special project, but the norm should be the same as it would be in the office.  Tell everyone what the rules and expectations are and establish a routine.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

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The KPI Question

I recently discussed KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), where I was asked why I needed to see the vision and the mission statements for the law firm.  The answer I provided was; the key performance indicators are based on the goals of the business, which are defined by the vision and the mission found in the strategic plan.  That got a blank stare, so I tried the more official-sounding explanation. A Key Performance Indicator is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively the firm is achieving key business objectives. That didn’t exactly go over any better, and I was asked, what is an indicator? Before I drown in this analysis, let’s use the KISS principle.  When I use the term KPI, I think of measurements of performance.  Let me also say I have seen where every single measure is called a KPI. That makes no sense to me as not all indicators or measurements are key – some must be more important than others.

Let’s start at the beginning.  The vision statement defines what success looks like. It should contain all the key elements you want to be successful.  You could start with a simple statement saying the firm is a successful law practice.   What does that mean?  So you change it a little to be, the firm is a profitable personal injury law firm that is known for great client service.  

Now you just defined two potential measurements; being profitable and having great client service.  OK, so far.  If you decide these are key to your business, you just defined two KPIs. Now you develop a mission statement to realize the vision.  The mission could be to provide personal injury legal services.  Not very exciting, so you work on it some.  The mission is to provide legal services for personal injury clients in North and South Carolina.  You quickly find out that a lot of law firms do that, so you try and differentiate your firm.  The mission becomes; we provide timely and compassionate personal injury legal services with the best settlements in the Carolinas.  You have just defined several more potential KPIs. All of this was done before we completed the strategic plan or decided on any processes.

You complete the strategic plan and define some tools, processes, and procedures to meet your goals.  Each of those will have a few KPIs. The point of this discussion is, you will develop a unique set of KPIs based on your strategic plan. Using KPIs is a good way to look at the success of a business.  There is also a balanced scorecard approach. The balanced scorecard asks that you translate the mission statement into specific measures that reflect success. The balanced scorecard looks at the firm from four perspectives – financial, client, internal, and growth.  Within the strategic plan, you would develop measurements relative to each of these perspectives — potentially more KPIs.

One last observation, we all have a different idea of what the measurement focus should be. You can probably guess that I look at the strategic plan as the starting point to define the business.  Someone else may be focused on marketing and another on job performance. I have even seen a focus on process effectiveness.  All of these ideas are correct as far as they go, which makes my recommendation to consider all of them.  I would say that too many measurements may result in analysis paralysis.  I would aim for no more than 5 to 10 Key performance indicators.  The rest of your list of measurements are metrics to be used for early warning of problems, performance evaluations, process effectiveness, or prediction of outcomes.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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What is the story on KPIs

I recently had a discussion about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), where I was asked why I needed to see the vision and the mission statements for the law firm.  The answer I provided was; the key performance indicators are based on the goals of the business, which are defined by the vision and the mission found in the strategic plan.  That got a blank stare, so I tried the more official-sounding explanation. A Key Performance Indicator is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively the firm is achieving key business objectives. That didn’t exactly go over any better, and I was asked, what is an indicator? Before I drown in this analysis, let’s use the KISS principle.  When I use the term KPI, I think of measurements of performance.  Let me also say I have seen where every single measure is called a KPI. That makes no sense to me as not all indicators or measurements are key – some must be more important than others.

Let’s start at the beginning.  The vision statement defines what success looks like. It should contain all the key elements you want to be successful.  You could start with a simple statement saying the firm is a successful law practice.   What does that mean?  So you change it a little to be, the firm is a profitable personal injury law firm that is known for great client service.  

Now you just defined two potential measurements; being profitable and having great client service.  OK, so far.  If you decide these are key to your business, you just defined two KPIs. Now you develop a mission statement to realize the vision.  The mission could be to provide personal injury legal services.  Not very exciting, so you work on it some.  The mission is to provide legal services for personal injury clients in North and South Carolina.  You quickly find out that a lot of law firms do that, so you try and differentiate your firm.  The mission becomes; we provide timely and compassionate personal injury legal services with the best settlements in the Carolinas.  You have just defined several more potential KPIs. All of this was done before we completed the strategic plan or decided on any processes.

You complete the strategic plan and define some tools, processes, and procedures to meet your goals.  Each of those will have a few KPIs. The point of this discussion is, you will develop a unique set of KPIs based on your strategic plan. Using KPIs is a good way to look at the success of a business.  There is also a balanced scorecard approach. The balanced scorecard asks that you translate the mission statement into specific measures that reflect success. The balanced scorecard looks at the firm from four perspectives – financial, client, internal, and growth.  Within the strategic plan, you would develop measurements relative to each of these perspectives — potentially more KPIs.

One last observation, we all have a different idea of what the measurement focus should be. You can probably guess that I look at the strategic plan as the starting point to define the business.  Someone else may be focused on marketing and another on job performance. I have even seen a focus on process effectiveness.  All of these ideas are correct as far as they go, which makes my recommendation to consider all of them.  I would say that too many measurements may result in analysis paralysis.  I would aim for no more than 5 to 10 Key performance indicators.  The rest of your list of measurements are metrics to be used for early warning of problems, performance evaluations, process effectiveness, or prediction of outcomes.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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What is in a Title

I was recently asked what the difference between a manager, administrator, and coordinator is.  I have seen these roles change and get redefined over the twenty years we have been working with law firms.  The office manager is focused on resources like skills, money, and facilities.  A firm administrator would be focused on systems (processes, procedures, and tools). The office coordinator would be focused on a task like front desk, scheduling, or supplies. These are general definitions we have developed over the years, and often, these roles are merged. Recently we have noticed a reluctance to assign one person to each of these roles.  There is a fear that this would give too much control to one person.  Often this is a trust issue with the owner.  When this happens, we see the task that each role is assigned is farmed out with some being assigned outside of the firm.

The most common title we see in firms these days is the Firm Administrator.  Often, when we see that role, we see the task of oversight assigned to another staff member or an outside vendor. The way I look at it, it is like doing a reconcile on your checkbook; Assign that to someone other than the person doing the checkbook entries.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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A Successful Law Firm

WHAT MAKES A GREAT LAW FIRM

BY

CHERYL LEONE AND DAVE FAVOR

The path to a successful law firm starts at the top. The number one secret of a successful law firm is the realization that this is a business. Successful owners of small law businesses recognize that their first duty is to provide the leadership and direction for the firm. A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. In a business setting, this would mean directing workers and colleagues with a strategy to meet the company’s needs. This gets all tied into the strategic plan which is the foundation for the law firm. Great law firms without exception have as its foundation the following

  • Values to determine the core of decision making
    • Vision to set out the journey the firm must take to achieve success
    • Strategy as to how the firm will realize its vision
    • High-Performance Work Culture which includes:
  • Desirable Work Traits required to work within the firm
  • Defined job Descriptions with clear expectations
  • Training to meet the expectations
  • Defined High-performance teams
  • The tools to enable success

This foundation is called the strategic plan. There is a lot of detail in a strategic plan, besides the vision, and one of the key points is:

  • You must practice the theory that everything you do is for the betterment of your client. You must keep this thought instilled in all your lawyers and staffs’ memory banks to have a successful law firm and to have continued growth.

Often the strategic plan is the easy part.  Once the plan is in place, the pressure of reality often hits. Once you start getting successful, you begin believing your own press. This is when things can go bad.  At this point, if you fail to keep a strategic plan in place with an implementation plan, things begin to slip through the cracks.

That is all high-level thinking, so let’s look at the details. My guess is that this is what you really wanted to know when you asked your question. A law firm is made up of skills (staff), policies, tools, and resources (buildings, money, etc.). A law firm is like an orchestra that sounds good when everyone is on the same page and playing the same tune.  Gone are the days that all you needed was a skill. In today’s competitive environment, you must be a team player.  To become that, you must have the right skills for your job, understand how you fit into the strategic plan, and learn to be a team player.

That is a monumental task.  We start with the strategic plan that documents everything, move to the process documentation that tells us what needs to be done, and then procedures that tell us how to do it.  To get everyone marching to the same tune, we do training.

Leadership is critical in the firm, and there are many levels of leadership from the owner to the attorneys, case managers, and administrative support.  Good firms, no Great firms, have a robust chain of command and everyone knows who the go-to person is.  Without that, there is chaos.

We see leaders who struggle with making decisions. People in the firm want a decision, and they don’t care if it’s the right one or the wrong one. Well, we do, of course, but the important point is the staff wants to know what to do and they don’t want to wait 4 or 5 days for a decision. The key is they just want to know what they need to do next. And if you’re going to be a leader, then you’ve got to make decisions. We understand that bigger decisions do take a little bit of time. But in the day-to-day running of your law firm, you must be decisive.

That is only part of the decision-making process. You have to support the processes, procedures, and policies that have been approved for the firm.  That suggests that to be a leader, you must understand and agree with the vision, values, and strategic plan for the firm.  It is hard to be an orchestra leader if you do not have the music. If your decision is not in agreement with the documented process, consider improving the process. There is no reason to continually violate the process, to use templates that always need correction, or repeat mistakes.  If the process is correct there may be a training issue, if not fix the process. The point is a leader completes the loop. 

Again the owner of the firm sets the vision and the direction and with management creates a strategic plan.  The firm creates an implementation plan that will work and follows it.  It can’t be a convenience thing but a way of life.

Many organizations, like the ABA, would say that the most important tool in our business is software and electronics. That would suggest that one of the key skills the staff of the firm must have is knowledge of the technology. For the Solomon Law Group it would be a variety of tools;

  • Litify
  • MS/Office (Word, Excel, and Office 365)
  • Box

Now we are all on the same page, are trained, and we are eager to go.  The number one rule is: you’ve got to add value to the client’s case. To do that, you must have or acquire the skills needed to use the tools and processes provided.  A successful firm needs a capable and competent workforce that can attend to the financial tasks, technology support, and other professional services you offer. The skills needed will vary depending on the job assignment.

Attorneys should be committed to providing exemplary legal services.  They have the added burden of understanding the law pertaining to the case types we handle. A law firm is a service business, so all staff members must be able to communicate with clients and each other.  The accountability for case accuracy rests with the attorney, and the case managers are accountable to deliver the work needed. 

Anyone in a leadership position (attorney, case manager, etc.) should have the mindset that the law office is a business. Every staff member that wants to be part of the leadership has a duty to market the law firm and be involved in their communities (school districts, youth sports, churches, and PTA).  That brings us back to the strategic plan.

What is it that this business wants to accomplish?  We have heard a lot of different answers to this question. The top two answers are; make money and serve clients.  We can accept both of those answers. The absolute wrong answer is: I don’t know.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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What’s the Process

Most people that I have met do not read process documents. If you give someone a documented procedure, they may read it once and file it away.   Now that is not to say you should not document your processes, you absolutely should.  The documentation of your process allows for incremental improvements in your business process, provides for performance metrics, and provides for training. A good process ensures the right things get done by the right people at the right time. Documenting policies, processes and procedures is a normal progression from strategic planning.

I have seen organizations with a shelf full of processes and procedures.  Each process makes sense, has been approved, and has a rational reason for existing.  Most law firms that I have worked with consider themselves a skill-based workforce.  In this culture you should allow your staff to think for themselves and trust they will do the right thing.  That statement assumes that your staff have read or been trained in your processes. The smart organization will know how to blend process and skill. 

If the business is skill based a good question would be; why do you need any process documentation?  The documentation sets the standard you expect.  If done correctly the process represents the best way to accomplish the task. The documenting of processes will standardize operations making it easier to predict the outcome.

Look for repetitive tasks to document and put under process control. Today there are so many tools out there to automate everything, like case management.  A well-designed process and the right business tool will make it possible for people to participate without the need to understand the bigger process picture, they just need to do the tasks assigned to them, and the process will identify who has to do what, and when. Many case management systems take advantage of documented processes and automate.

For example, let’s say that you wanted to send out a card when a client exits a phase of the case resolution process. You study the process, identify the best place to test for that condition, identify who should do it, and update the process.  Once the process is initiated you can hire someone to send out cards without putting the burden on your legal staff. Let everyone know the process has changed and start tracking the change.  You may find that people need training on the change, the process requires an update to accommodate the change or that everything is perfect. 

A lot is going on behind the scene within any business.  Processes, tools, skills, and training often need to be updated.  Don’t ignore all that is going on.  Have someone outside of the production environment that can administer that activity. People are always going to make mistakes; the thing to do is to recognize and accept that and design your processes with that in mind. Technology, culture and the market all change.  Be ready to recognize the changes and to react to them.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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It’s The Process

My first thought when looking at a new business is, we should not point out what is wrong; we should focus on what works and suggest improvements based on experience.  There will be some rough spots along the way, but no significant breakdowns.  We may have to enforce the use of some tools, policies, or processes along the way. Many years ago, one of my mentors told me that it is seldom the person and almost always the process that caused the problems.  He had a three-fail theory, which is the only time I ever heard him use a negative term.  Anyway, the approach was, document the process, execute the process, correct the process, and then enforce the process.  His enforcement idea was if you fail, the process is examined, and if that is OK, you go back into training.  He would do that step twice.  If you fail the third time and the process is still sound, then you may not be suited for the job.

He had another interesting theory – if you receive the same complaint more than twice and have never changed the process, look again because you probably missed something. There is a common element that jumps out at me when I think about this; it is the process.

So, you have documented your process; you have done training, now you are executing the process.  If there is a failure, look at the process and perhaps send people back to training.  You don’t scrap the process, quit, or have meltdowns. 

What I often see is a clash between business systems.  Most business management systems expect a systematic and somewhat rigid business process.  The business owner usually expects an interrupt-driven business system with a high-level forgiving process.  If we want to provide a solution in this real-world environment, we must figure out how these systems work together. 

If I track the process for a short time, I usually discover two areas of concern: the process is not well documented, and the expectations are mixed. It is expectations that are causing frustration. I’m not saying that you can’t have expectations, just that they have to be realistic. I’m not even saying that you have to lower your expectations, only be aware of how they can affect your day. Every time that an expectation bumps into reality, we have an event. If you remember your self-mastery exercise, you should know what an event kicks off. I believe expectations are subjective, biased, and can differ from person to person. Another note I found in my file was this; don’t put expectations on people, events, and outcomes unless you’re prepared to live with them. Some may expect people to follow the process, and the people, in turn, may expect you to leave them alone. But in both cases, people assume the other person knows this automatically, without ever having a conversation about it. This can only lead to tension. The best approach would be to base expectations on reality and, second, communicate expectations to anyone that needs to be involved in making it happen.  My best guess is that lack of communication is the source of the problem.

The concerns with expectations are enhanced if the process is not understood.  That can be because the process is not documented, it is not enforced, or the process does not match reality. The level of detail in a process, or the need for procedures, is based on the skill level of the user.  In a law firm you usually have a mixture of skill levels from attorneys to process workers.  Make sure that the output of the process represents what you need.  With that verified, document the process so that multiple skill levels can use and understand it. Now communicate the process to everyone that will use it and include your expectations on the degree it is followed and the output.

Have you ever heard what gets measured gets done? The same is true for expectations. That which is expected is what usually happens. The frustration starts when we realize that there are competing expectations.  If you expect that people will not follow the process, you will find evidence of that. If you expect that they will follow the process and you have communicated that expectation, you will find evidence that the process is being followed. Now we have to get into management and leadership.  That is a topic for another day.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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