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10 ways managers are improving their law firms

Ah, the woes of running a law office. You know them well: Reams of reports, scheduling squabbles, technology tangles, and so much more. It takes a lot of skill, patience, and strategy to make a law office run smoothly—plus a little bit of help from others who know your pain.

That must be why the Reader Tips section of our website is so popular. It contains dozens of solutions and helpful hints submitted by our readers from across the United States.

Here are some of the top articles from that section:

1. We help employees with personal errands, even dinner.

An Atlanta firm makes work-life balance easier with some unusual add-ons for employees. The firm has engaged several companies that provide personal services, often at a discount. One, for example, delivers ready-to-cook meals to the office, which gives employees a quick-fix dinner to take home that isn’t fast food. There’s also an onsite concierge who is available for personal errands, such as picking up laundry, taking a car in for repair, or buying and delivering a gift. Some employees even have standing appointments with her to buy groceries, and each week they send her the grocery list. The fee is about 20 percent of the fee charged elsewhere.

Read more: From ready dinners to errand helpers, Georgia firm supports families

2. We created policies, procedures, and best practices for social media use by all our attorneys and staff.

The 65-attorney firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein took the position “that we were going to be tuned in to social media to promote business development,” says Frederick J. Esposito, Jr., CLM, CFO and director of administration at the firm’s New York City office.

And with that decision came the task of setting standards for using it.

At that time, there were very few guides for the firm to follow, he says. The only applicable information was the rules of ethics regarding advertising. So Esposito researched the benefits and risks of social media, gave a seminar on the findings to the attorneys, and began to develop the policy.

Read more: An ever changing policy on using social media

3. I created an inviting environment to encourage open communication

One of the most difficult ways to become a manager is to be promoted from within. For a Colorado administrator, however, moving up was even more difficult because the promotion came with a directive to change the working atmosphere of the office. The previous administrator, while knowledgeable, was not someone who encouraged a welcoming atmosphere, says the administrator of a family law practice in Denver. The partners wanted that to change and they wanted the staff to relate to, and have good communication with, their administrator. So the new administrator came up with a simple yet effective solution. She remodeled her office. And that alone was enough to start the wheels turning to meet the partners’ challenge.

Read more: Why your first act as a new administrator should be to rearrange the furniture

4. Our hiring process is a team effort.

For secretarial interviews, an Ohio administrator includes input from attorneys and staff, including observations from the receptionist. At the 25-attorrney firm in Dayton, the administrator set up the system not only to make sure the applicant is qualified for the job but also to evaluate how well the secretary will work with the attorney and whether there will be a personality match with other staff.

The interview itself begins with a phone call inviting the person in for an interview. The administrator listens for a welcoming and caring tone of voice, good grammar, interest in the firm, and knowledge of the position. The interview continues when the applicant walks in. And that part is handled by the receptionist. The receptionist is the director of first impressions (in fact, she has a plaque on her desk with that title on it).

The receptionist’s role in the process is to observe the candidate’s appearance and demeanor. Does the applicant make eye contact? Smile? Have a professional appearance? After the interview, the receptionist discusses her impressions.

Why is this important? First impressions are what the clients see, says the administrator. The firm represents corporate clients and they expect staff who are welcoming and who treat them as guests in their home.

Read more: Easy-to-use interview system guarantees a good match between secretary and attorney

5. Our raffle for prizes is not only fun, it increases attendance at staff meetings

A raffle for prizes gets each monthly meeting off to a fun start for the staff at a Finger Lakes, NY, professional office. Director of operations Eileen Szanyi says the draws are designed to increase attendance at the 8 a.m. meetings. “Those attending put their names into a basket for the month’s prizes,” she explains. “The gifts don’t have to be costly. One prize is always our premier parking spot. That’s a parking space close to the building and only the winner can use it until the following month’s meeting. The rest of the staff is required to park at the back of the lot,” she says. “This is especially popular in upstate New York winters!”

Read more: Raffle gets staffers to monthly 8 a.m. meeting

6. I use a win-win approach when introducing new policies to gain staff support and compliance.

The manager of a Mississippi professional office relies on a basic management practice when she presents any new policy. “I make it a win-win situation,” says Beth C. Pharr. “I tell staff ‘this why it’s necessary, and this is how it benefits you.'” Such was the case when she set a policy to solve a problem common to almost every office: personal Internet use. To introduce it in a win-win light, she explained it from the office’s standpoint: that it was necessary to protect against privacy violations as well as to prevent losses in productivity—and revenue. Then she explained it from staff’s standpoint: that it was necessary to protect their own personal data. What staff hadn’t realized, she says, was that because the office uses an Internet-based server, any financial information they submit is kept offsite, and an employee at the server company “could capture bank account information and absolutely ruin someone.”

Read more: Try this “win-win” solution to stop personal Internet use by staff

7. I found a way to protect our clients’ data while complying with PCI anti-fraud measures.

One firm was contacted by their credit card processing company regarding “PCI Compliance” (Payment Card Industry). The company wanted to install a piece of scanning and monitoring software on the firm’s network, to ensure compliance with all credit/debit card anti-fraud measures.

“I refused,” said the managing partner. “I think that it would breach a lawyer’s ethical duty to safeguard confidential client information to allow such scanning and monitoring.”

Instead, the firm contacted a consultant and decided to establish a second, separate network (separate IP scheme, isolated from our internal network) solely for the credit card processing machine. “Then, we will be compliant, with no risk of breaching client confidentiality or information protection agreements.”

Read more: How to protect your client data while complying with PCI anti-fraud measures

8. We want to grow our firm, but won’t compromise the benefits of a culture of teamwork, community, and efficiency.

When a small, but busy, 9-attorney law firm outgrew their 6,500 square foot building, they added an annex at the next door building and moved in three attorneys, a few staff, and added a second receptionist.

“Then, after a couple of years, we realized a great divide in the culture of our firm,” says Jason Pink, Administrator of Gianelli & Associates in Modesto, California. “The unity was lost, there was a division, and people weren’t as willing to help each other out.”

“We made it a point to focus on building a culture of community within our firm. One way to do that was physical space. So, we moved more people into the second building so we could renovate our main building with smaller offices, glass doors, and open floor plan for paralegals to work in closer proximity to each other.”

Read more: How one California law firm regained its corporate culture and improved business

9. When co-workers clash, I send them to lunch.

Julie A. Aarup, office administrator at the Michigan firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, had a problem that many office managers face: contrary co-workers. But rather than trying to mediate, Aarup treated the dueling duo to lunch—with a condition.

“I gave the two of them some money out of petty cash and sent them to a nice restaurant together for lunch. I instructed them to find some common ground and, in so doing, find a way to work together companionably. I told them not to return until they had found some mutually agreeable solutions and to come to my office upon their return and share their resolutions with me. I implied that a workable solution was paramount to their continued employment in their current positions.”

Read more: When co-workers can’t get along

10. We handle our marketing with just one letter a year.

A California general practice firm does all its marketing with just one annual letter to clients and business contacts.

The letter goes out on the firm’s anniversary and carries a simple message—a thank-you for past business and an outline of the firm’s other services. And it’s only one page long.

But it’s effective to the point that it brings in business the firm wouldn’t otherwise see, the manager says.

Most of it is repeat business from long-ago clients, some of it is referrals, and some is work waiting in the wings. The attorneys hear from many clients who tell them “I didn’t realize you did this or that type of law.”

Read more: How one firm handles its marketing with just one letter a year

We agree that these articles contain some really great ideas. But we want to know what you think. What’s your favorite Reader Tips article? Have you adopted another firm’s solution as is, or did you modify it slightly?

We want to know what works for you, and that includes any new solutions you’ve found. If we publish your idea, not only will you be helping your colleagues, but we’ll also send you $100. Send your stories to catherine@plainlanguagemedia.com.


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