Last week, Chris Penn gave us his 11 Little Secrets to staying happy, healthy, productive and sane. A bunch of bloggers have added their 11 cents into the mix, and I’m feeling inspired to jump into the fray.
I don’t have 11 little secrets to being healthy because … well, I’m not a health guy.
I can’t tell you about sanity because … well, some would say I border on insanity.
But I thought it would be fun to contribute in my own little way, which led me back to the old idea of, “write what you know.” So here are my 11 little law office management secrets to help you have a better day.
- Listen before speaking. Our staffers are the ones on the front line in the office, and they see stuff we don’t. They know exactly what the client is worried about, what the judge’s clerk wants, and why the postage machine isn’t working. Listen to what’s on their minds before you tell them what to do – or what they’ve done wrong.
- Check your fear at the door. We come to the practice of law – and our notions of running a law firm – with a set of preconceived notions. People who work in the office can have amazing ideas about how to run the law firm better, more efficiently, more effectively. If you’re willing to stash the fear of change and give something new a try, you may find that it works out well for you. And if it doesn’t, you can always change again.
- Never stop learning. You are NOT the smartest lawyer in the world. Nor, for that matter, are you the dumbest. But if you don’t take the time to actively learn, you’re going to end up one of those dinosaurs who continues to use a typewriter and carbon paper.
- Recognize greatness. Every once in awhile, you’ll hire someone who is truly great. Someone who cares about clients deeply, who constantly works to make the office a better place, and who wants nothing more than the see the firm succeed. Always keep looking for that person, and never let them go.
- Hire slowly, fire quickly. Most lawyers hire new employees who have some defined skills. Someone who can type fast, who has a good speaking voice, and who knows Microsoft Windows (or whatever software package makes you feel comfortable). You should be hiring for someone who cares, who communicates well, and who can connect with your office and client base. Everything else can be taught. Take the time to not only interview, but also to learn about this person you’re thinking of inviting into your family.On the flip site, remember that if someone doesn’t fit with your business goals then you need to get rid of them immediately. It’s good for your law firm, it’s good for your clients, and it’s good for the employee. Don’t fire people as a knee-jerk reaction, but don’t hold onto dead weight out of fear or obligation.
- Look outside the industry. Lawyers are good with the law, but not so terrific at running a law firm profitably and effectively. Look to see how other industries operate, and seek to emulate their best practices. You’ll learn a lot that doesn’t make sense for you, but you’ll also gain some powerful insights and nuggets that will help your firm be better.
- Read voraciously. Business books are a dime a dozen, but a good business book will send your brain reeling. Find biographies of powerful people who shook up their industries and showed the world a new way of doing things. You’ll expand your horizons and learn new ideas that will help shape your firm going forward.
- Ignore platitudes. You can go online and read a bunch of mamby-pamby stuff, with inspirational quotes and soft ideas. People will tell you to keep going, to work harder, to be smarter. Avoid those people and their words because they add nothing of value to your practice. Instead, surround yourself with people and ideas that make you stronger, smarter, and more efficient. They won’t get you all the way there, but if someone can help you move halfway that’s going to make things a lot easier for you.
- Keep records. How do you know if your law firm is making money or is efficient if you’re not tracking every little thing? Buy QuickBooks and use the heck out of it. Install Google Analytics and immerse yourself in the wealth of data it provides. Have everyone in the office track their time, even if you rely on flat-fee billing. Use every possible feature of your case management system.
- Enforce rules when needed, ignore when needed. Rules help make your law firm run more effectively, and they provide a framework within which to operate. Rules give staff and clients a sense of safety and predictability. Enforce them, but only when necessary. There are going to be times when procedures aren’t followed for a good reason – it’s good for the client, it’s good for the firm, it’s good for the court. You need to recognize those times, and make mental allowances for them.
- Go home. You run a law firm because you want to create a good life for yourself. If you stay at work all the time, you’re failing on all cylinders. Go home at the end of the day. Turn off the lights. Have dinner with family or friends. Smile. Laugh. It makes you more relaxed, and a better version of yourself. That makes you stronger tomorrow, and better prepared to run your law firm more effectively.