You’re busy in your practice and working 60+ hours a week. You’re probably thinking, “I’m worn out.  I’m ready for a change.  Yet work keeps piling on, which is great because the cash flow keeps coming in.”

But think about the things that you’re missing. Wouldn’t be nice to get home before 8:00 at night?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have weekend off?  This sounds like a pipe dream right? This is just the way it works.  It’s the way it has worked for the past 100 years.  Attorneys just plain and simply have to work this hard. It’s a badge of honor.

But what about the cost? Sure the income is great, but it’s hard to find the time to spend it. You’ve missed more activities with your family than you care to count.

The good news is that there is a better way. And it starts with understanding how decisions work in your firm. Take, for example, the last time you went or someone you love went in for surgery.  Did the surgeon prep you for surgery?  Did the surgeon make sure that your papers were filled out before hand?  Did the surgeon wheel you out of surgery and take you to recovery?

Absolutely not!  They performed the surgery, they made sure that they did the technical procedures that they spent time training for.  They also have systems in place for training their staff.

Now think of your office. When is the last time you had to deal with a bill or make sure that the client was called? If you are still dealing with things that don’t require your experience then guess what? You are the bottleneck in your firm.

So how do you go from being the bottleneck to the person that only deals with problems that require your expertise?  The answer is through systems and procedures. You create an environment where your staff knows what decisions they can make and the decisions that they need your help with.  The reality is that you are making the same decisions over and over again, which is causing you to work weekends and evenings.

Most people look for a silver bullet to help them shave off 20 hours out of the work week. But there is no silver bullet. In order to shave off 20 hours you have to start with 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there. And one of the places to start is to teach your staff how to make the right decisions and have a process to ensure that it gets done.

So the next time you get pulled away from doing a critical task, take a moment and think about whether you should have to answer the same question every time or if you could do like we did for our other clients and put a process in place to help your staff know what decisions they can make.

Are you tired of working 60+ hours in a week?

I’ve worked with a number of attorneys over the years and most of them are working more than 60 hours a week. They rarely don’t work on weekends. But they are frustrated because they feel like they are chained to their desks.

So the question they should be asking is, “How can I work a reasonable amount of time and still make the same amount of money?”

Many attorneys look at this as impossible. It is just the way it has always been. You work really hard and then you hopefully retire and get to do all the things you missed out while you were working really hard.

This past week I was talking to a few attorneys over lunch who asked me to look at their processes. When I asked them what their goals were for the two days I was going to be with them, they said that they really wanted to just work 45 hours a week.  They were tired of the 60+ hour work week.

I told them that in order to reach their goal they are going to have to not only invest in processes but they had to make processes a way of daily life.

What does that mean?

Well, most attorneys don’t have defined processes. But the process is what gives you freedom to know that everything is getting done the way it needs to be done.

For example, last week I talked about checklists and the importance of having them. I work with attorneys over the course of two days to help them define the key areas that were costing them their personal time. Then I work with their staff to develop some key checklists that would help ensure that everything is getting done right.

It has been fun to see the light go on in attorneys as they have understood that process are going to give them the lifestyle they are looking for. The key to going from a 60+ workweek to a 45 hour work week is eliminating all of the tasks that don’t add value to clients. In most cases it is done by freeing up 5 to 10 minutes by either eliminating a task or making a task more efficient.

To start, I recommend keeping a list at your desk and write down the things that you do during a day that you don’t get paid for. Then categorize them into three categories: I should do this, my staff should do this and no one should do this.

Once you have done this make a plan to remove these things from yourself, from the staff, and then eliminate tasks. The next step is to look at the things that you get paid for and put them in two categories: I should do them and my staff should do them. Using this list, create a plan with a date for when the staff items will be shifted. Next week I will go more into depth on how to do this.

If you need help with this we offer various coaching packages to get you started.  Click here for more information.

Has this ever happened to you? You thought you trained a team member to do a job a certain way, but the results were not what you intended.  If this is the case for you then you should understand some different training methods.  They are listed in the order of least effective to most effective.

  1. The sink and swim method  – You ask a person to do a job and then expect them to get it done and if they don’t make it then you just reassign them to something else or worse let them go.
  2. The benevolent sink and swim method – It’s similar to the first sink and swim, but you just continue to let them plow through the tasks and hope they get it right someday.  You believe they will get the task done and there is no threat of being fired.
  3. Written instructions on how to do the job, now go and do it – This is getting better. At least they have instructions on how to do their job.  But in many cases they still are sure exactly what to do because the instructions aren’t necessarily clear and they are hard to understand.
  4. Watch – Do Together – Ask Questions –  In this type of training you actually sit down with the person to show them how to do the task. Then you do the task together.  Next, they do the task on their own with the ability to continue to get feedback on what is working.  You also have instructions that are clear on what needs to be done.

The reality is that the effort you put in to training your team member is critical to your success.  If you aren’t training them with the best practices possible you’re setting them up for failure.

I sat on a plane recently ready to take off to visit one of our clients for two days of process improvement.  As I marveled at our ability to fly from one side of the country to the other, the thought crossed my mind about how these airline pilots ensure that everything is ready to go.

I was reminded of a story early in aviation history where Boeing developed the 299 plane which later went on to become the B-17 bomber. During the trial evaluations of the plane, tragedy struck because the elevator lock wasn’t released. Boeing went from a sure lock in for a contract of over a hundred planes to people saying that the plane was too complicated for one person to fly.

Did Boeing create too complex of a plane? A team of pilots got together to determine if there was a way to ensure nothing would be missed. Out of that meeting the checklist was born. The plane later went on to fly 1.8 million miles without serious accident and the army eventually ordered 12,731 planes.

Today checklists are the staple of airlines and many other industries. Law firms are also taking advantage of checklists to help them ensure that every detail is taken care of for their clients. The key to using checklists in your office is to have the checklists match what is really happening with the process. This will ensure that your firm benefits from the use of checklists.

If you been reading my blog for very long you might have noticed that I’m passionate about having documents that are free of errors. The question that you may be asking is, “How do I get my documents so that they are ‘error proof?’”

The answer lies in your ability to create systems in your office that ensure 100% accuracy and don’t rely on human intervention to do this.

So how to you create a process that ensures accuracy?

The first step is to do a full review of the document templates that you send to your clients. Go through and review them to ensure that the right language is there and that the template itself is error proof.

The next step is to ensure that you have your document templates automated. With automation you are able to take 80 to 90 percent of the errors out of the document creation process because the templates are error proof to begin with.  If you happen to be a firm that is still using find and replace you are going to have an extremely hard time getting to the 80% to 90% error free capability.

Next develop a set of decision trees that your attorneys use every time that they create a document.  This is a set of questions that the attorney can fill out and pass to the person doing the document preparation. This ensures that the right selections make it into the document in the first place.

Next develop a set of standards that are used when preparing the documents. Think of it as a checklist.  With this checklist in place and followed every time you will be well on your way to developing an error proof system.

The last step is to track your errors so that you know when they are happening. This is so you can continue to improve your processes to ensure that your documents are error free.

You might be caught in the same thinking that I used to have. That you can multitask and get things done faster. If an email popped up in Outlook I would check it out and then go right back to the task I was working on.

The problem was I wouldn’t get right back to working on the task that needed to be done. I would divert my time to that email and my mind would think about it. Then when it came time to get back to the task that I should be working on, I had to remember where I was.

There have been a number of research studies done in the past few years on the effects of multitasking. Each of them have come to the conclusion that multitasking may be causing a loss of productivity of as much as 40%. That’s almost half of your day.

So how do you stop the productivity loss of multitasking?  First, you have to stay focused on the task you are currently working on and not get distracted by emails, phone calls and other things that are happening in your office.

Second, I like to group like tasks together. For example, if you are working on preparing documents for a client, then make sure you complete them all at once. Third, realize that everyone else in your office is dealing with the same issue. If you disrupt their flow then you have just helped them become less productive.

Document automation will really help with this. Automation ensures all documents for a client are completed all at once. It also keeps each staff member on task.

Learn how document automation can help you improve your firm’s processes by scheduling a free 1 hour process evaluation.

If so you are not alone. Many firms struggle with this very issue. They are constantly working to put out fires.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. To go from having fire drills all the time to having consistent work is not always an easy transition. It takes some planning and some hard work.

The transition is possible and doable. Here are the high level steps that you need to take in order for your firm to have a manageable workflow:

  1. The first step is to begin understanding what your processes currently are. This can be done by mapping out your current processes using what is called a Value Stream Map.
  2. Look for areas that you can put standards in place. This is a critical step, because without a standard procedure for doing tasks you will not get out of the fire drill.  You may be thinking that your practice doesn’t do the same thing over and over again. But you will be surprised at how many tasks follow a similar pattern. I have yet to see a practice that is unable to put standards in place.
  3. Once you have a standard in place you can start looking at what improvements can be made and how to make them.
  4. Come up with ideas for improvement and test them to ensure that they work.  You need to measure if they did work and improve your processes.
  5. Don’t just stop once you have made one improvement. Continually look at your processes to see what can be improved.

By following these steps you will no longer have to put out fires all the time. We have helped other law firms like your implement these very steps. The results have been phenomenal!

Click here to schedule your 1 hour process evaluation and take the first step to eliminating the fire drills in your office.

Kim-Mayberry-HotDocs-Consultant

Times have changed for client expectations. It used to be that they would be willing to wait to receive their documents. It was OK to have documents ready in a couple of months. In the past several years there has been a trend towards getting the documents done within a couple of weeks. Why is […]

We’ve worked with a number of law firms over the years. By creating a standard within the law firm of how they create documents has helped the firms we work with. The document automation gives them the ability to easily train their staff on how to create new documents. The system walks the person through the entire process.

Having a standard on how you do tasks in your firm helps you in the following ways:

  • Training staff becomes much easier because the process is documented and easy to follow. You get the same output no matter who does the work.
  • Having a set process in place creates an environment where you know exactly how much time it takes to perform a particular task.
  • You are able to make improvements to a process because you have a benchmark that you can compare your results to. Without a baseline you have no way of knowing if you actually improved your process.

For those firms who want to improve their processes it is time to put standards in place. Here is a link to a case study on a standard that we put in place for our client Yosemite Farm Credit.

I recently read this article by Micah Buchdahl called Managing Client Expectations. I liked what he wrote, except the idea of “Under Promise and Over Deliver.” If this is your idea for meeting client expectations than let me tell you why this doesn’t work in transactional services. If you are always trying to under promise and over deliver it means that you have no idea when your document is going to be done. You likely have taken the approach that delivering on time means that you deliver when you think is best, not when the client needs or wants the document delivered.

Let me introduce you to a new way of looking at delivering on time. You deliver when you say you are going to deliver and when you say you’re going to deliver is 80% faster than your competitor is going to deliver. Many of you may know what a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP is. But for those that don’t it is a factor that differentiates you from your competitors. For example, if you say something like, “All clients receive individual attention to the details of their unique circumstances.” That is not a USP. You can find that statement on almost any other estate planning attorney’s website.

But if you said something like, “We will have your document ready for you within 48 hours of coming to our office,” that is a USP for people who need their documents done quickly. Or if you said, “Our documents will be error free or you will get your money back,” that is a USP for people who are concerned about having error free documents.

These are just examples and may not apply to your firm. The idea is that you need to do much more than just under promise and over deliver. If that is all that you have for your goal, you will not be unique to other firms in your area.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help you create and deliver on your USP, sign up for our Document System Evaluation.