Posted on February 15, 2016 by Peggy Gruenke
Originally published in Attorney at Work
Processes are the means by which we get things done and checklists are a great tool for helping you get these processes completed. Within your business, there are many things which you do repeatedly. The purpose of documenting what you do is to make sure it gets done correctly, improve upon it and do it more efficiently. That’s why pilots, surgeons, and astronauts use them extensively. For solos, creating these simple checklists helps you stay on top of what needs to get done without worrying that you forgot something important.
When you set-up a new client file, file a bankruptcy, or end a case, you do so using processes, which are most likely in your head and may not be well documented. So let’s get some of these processes out of your head and on paper (or use one of the handy checklist apps)!
To help avoid a potential malpractice claim. To effectively analyze conflicts, you need to have in place a conflict-checking procedure. The ethics rules in some jurisdictions require law firms to maintain a conflict checking system and to have a policy in place.
For solos, I think setting up a simple Conflict Checking Checklist and documenting you used it is a sufficient process to have in place. Even in very small or solo firms, you should not rely on your memory to determine whether you have a conflict. Detecting a conflict after the representation has started may harm the client and your reputation. Plus, it creates extra work – like having to refund that retainer payment you already deposited.
Below is a sample checklist created using Evernote. Of course, you could choose to add more details, such as the location of the files to be searched, will you search open as well as closed files, and what will be searched: emails, the document server, and/or the contact database.
New Client File Setup
A process, hopefully, you perform on a very regular basis. Quite frankly, it is very administrative and can be time-consuming. So grab your pencil and start writing down, step-by-step, how you step up a new client file. Then flush it out, re-write it and lastly, commit it to paper by creating the checklist. This way you’ll be ready to delegate this administrative task as soon as you can afford to do so.
Receiving a Retainer
Every lawyer knows mismanaging a trust account (IOLTA) can have terrible consequences. So creating a checklist to ensure you are properly depositing a retainer is a good idea. And in this article “Would You Pass a Trust Account Audit”, I review in more detail the trust accounting process. For this checklist, let’s make sure you are processing that initial receipt of retainer correctly.
To keep your eyes on the business side of your practice. This process will include some of the below steps:
• Make sure all monthly expenses and payments received have been recorded
• Reconcile your operating and trust accounts
• Sign-off on reconciled reports (especially trust if you have delegated this task to someone else)
• Review key financial and performance metrics
• Monthly and YTD Profit and Loss reports (did you make money?)
• Past Due invoices
• IOLTA Balances by Client
• Number of new clients/matters this month
• Update cash flow analysis spreadsheet
• Give yourself a raise!
Closing a Matter
For keeping in compliance with client documents retention rules. Another frequently occurring task – you complete a case. Then what? They are rules you need to follow and things you’ll want to do when closing a matter. Such as:
• Advising client the case is complete and any next steps on their part
• Retaining client documents for the required time period
• Returning original documents to the client
• Asking for referrals and repeat business (ask your client to leave a review on one of your online profile sites)
• Reminding the client they still owe you money
Bonus: Advantages of creating these checklists are:
• They become a risk management tool and you now have the start of a risk management policy manual (which malpractice insurers love)
• You will save time
• It will lead to better ways of getting things done
• You are building the foundation for growing your practice
• You’ll sleep better knowing these things are consistently done right