The Guidance & Ethics Committee has prepared a useful set of office management tips.
1. Office Space
Try to ensure that everything in your office is arranged for optimum efficiency and safety. Follow the basics of office design to meet the power, lighting, and ventilation requirements of your office to make it a safer, better space to work for those that work there, and a more welcoming space for visitors. Your office should be accessible and ensure that no sensitive or confidential information can be viewed by anyone apart from those who are authorised to see it.
2. Staff Training
Employees are critical to your firm’s success. All staff should be trained to carry out the tasks that are assigned to them. Provide opportunities for employees to grow. Check out the Society's Diploma Centre and Law Society Finuas Skillnet for courses that employees may be interested in doing. Create a positive working environment and always lead by example.
3. Internal Communication
Effective engagement and communication with employees promotes employee retention and improves the overall performance of the firm:
- Create a communication friendly office.
- Set an example by being pleasant and open in both verbal and body language.
- Encourage employees to eat away from their desks during lunch break so they have a chance to communicate with one another and build relationships with their colleagues.
- Conduct periodic one-to-one meetings with employees to have a catch up.
- Don’t over communicate as no one wants more emails in their inbox - try to confine “housekeeping” issues to a weekly bulletin or round up, either in the form of an email or a brief staff meeting.
- Make sure your colleagues know how to get in touch with you, whether it’s via email or phone when you are out of the office.
4. External Communication
Effective communication with clients promotes client retention and fosters client loyalty:
- Have an office policy on how employees interact with clients and give guidance on timelines for returning/replying to communication received from clients.
- Pay attention to tone of voice – remember that it’s often not what you say, but how you say it. Be clear, concise and use plain English – keep legal jargon to a minimum.
- Ideally, generate a “house style” so that your firm’s image is consistent across letters, emails, agreements and any other documents emanating from your firm.
- Keep a written attendance of all verbal communication with clients to document what was said.
5. Regulatory compliance
Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”): know your legal obligations to carry out Business Risk Assessments; how to assess money laundering/terrorist financing risks; and adopt AML policies, controls and procedures in your office. The Law Society has prepared a guidance note for solicitors to meet their statutory obligations.
Section 150 notices: Under sections 149 - 161 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 solicitors are obliged to make and keep clients aware of their legal costs by providing written notices.
Know and familiarise yourself with the rules governing solicitors in provision of legal services and the Reporting Accountant's Report & Regulations.
6. Time Management
Good time management leads to better efficiency:
- Try to divide your day in blocks of work – working on files, client meetings, returning calls.
- Carry out internal conflict checks once instructions are received.
- Use your case management system to time record each file you are working on at any given time. This will help with productivity and show you how long you spend working on a specific matter and will help with profitability assessment.
- Schedule time for the jobs you keep putting off. It’s easy to put off things that you don’t like doing, such as filing or closing files. Set aside a morning once a week and stick to it. Force yourself to stick to the same time each week to catch up on the tasks that you keep putting off.
7. Financial Management
Have a financial plan in place to manage your firm’s finances. Plan ahead to pay taxes on time and to allow for any unexpected expenditure. See 10 steps to better billing for tips to help improve your cash flow. It is imperative that there is a suitable person or persons tasked with ensuring that all bookkeeping matters (including regular bank reconciliations) and filing of returns and payments are carried out in accordance with the rules set out under legislation and that you have full visibility on your firm’s accounts.
Every office should have a management software system in place. There are several providers in the market so shop around and get demonstrations and find what suits your office best. Delegating and outsourcing can improve your firm’s office management and free you to focus on winning new clients, thereby improving your income and cash flow. Create template documents and checklists that are easy to use. Invest in online learning resources such as templates and access to case law and books. Implement a cyber security policy. Use social media to highlight the work of your firm but be careful not to overuse.
Carry out a review of your current workflows and identify opportunities to improve your workflow. A business owner should know how each process in every part of their business operates. Critically assess how you have been operating so far and what you can do better. After each transaction, ask yourself what you could change to make things run more smoothly and more time efficient.
10. Workload and practice areas
Know your limits. Remember that your business is that of a Solicitor, and you should confine your practice to providing advice that you are qualified and insured to provide. Clients should be advised to seek advice elsewhere if they seek advice on matters outside the firm’s practice areas. Don’t be afraid to say you do not have expertise in a particular area. Many clients will respect you for being confident enough to refer them elsewhere for particular work. This may in turn enable you to build a referral network of colleagues that will be advantageous to all within that network.
For more information, workbooks and other resources on helping you run your business, visit the Small Practice Business Hub.
This article originally appeared in the July 2020 Member eZine. For more information, and to subscribe, visit eNewsletters.