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A manual that covers the entire administration

A Washington, D.C. administrator has set up an operations manual that covers every imaginable item of managing the firm.

It holds the basics of everything so that when she is out, the firm “can be on autopilot and keep the trains running on time,” says Jill D. Hirsch, chief operating officer of Slevin & Hart.

And, she says, “it’s for me as well as for someone stepping in for me.” No administrator can remember every detail of the office’s operations, so it’s a quick reference whenever a question arises.

The manual covers the daily administrative procedures, the emergency procedures, the accounting controls, the recruiting – everything. There’s also a timeline, so if a partner wants to know when something is due, the answer is right there.

And perhaps most important, the manual spells out “the official way to do things.”

A work in progress

Hirsch began the manual 19 months ago when the partners told her “it would be great if all the procedures were laid out.”

Since then, it’s been a work in progress.

She keeps it as a Word document that’s available to the entire office and easy to use. To find something, all anybody has to do is enter a search term. It’s divided into major categories with everything kept in alphabetical order.

Many of the items follow templates. For example, there’s a template for new-employee orientation, and that’s been adapted to secretaries, paralegals, and also attorneys.

Starting with human resources

The first section covers human resources, and it literally starts at the beginning telling how the firm recruits staff and moving all the way to what the firm’s progressive discipline procedure entails.

There are summaries of the major employment laws such as the FLSA, FMLA, and ADA and the procedures the firm follows for each – how to make a complaint about harassment or discrimination and what elements and remarks “should be a red light” to management and how to document things.

Hirsch points out that when she first came to the firm, things were not spelled out, and when a pregnant employer asked her for FMLA forms, it was a scramble to find them. Now, however, every type of employment issue is covered, so if somebody comes in and says “I’m having back problems,” there’s a procedure for doing an ergonomics assessment.

The HVAC, carpets and keys

Another section covers the facility.

There is information on how to arrange for HVAC service after hours and whom to call for copier service and even instructions “on how often the carpets should be cleaned.”

There is a section for the emergency phone numbers for the entire building.

And there are items that have cropped up out of necessity. For example, when the firm had a problem with lost desk keys, she had four keys made “for every single desk drawer,” and set up a numbering system for them. The employee has two and the office keeps two in a safe, all with corresponding numbers, and the manual identifies them.

The computers and more

Still another section summarizes the IT service contracts and tells what work gets handles in-house and what is outsourced.

There’s information on the telephone software. There’s the firm’s policy on mobile devices. And there’s information on when the warranties run out.

Along with that are directions on how to handle the typical IT problems that come up, though the directions, she says “aren’t so specific as to be ridiculous.”

People and committees

The section on management is quite detailed.

One important element is a summary of Hirsch’s job description. “it’s an overview of all my responsibilities,” she says – administrative, HR, technology, and business functions – plus her reporting path.

Firm governance is covered too. There’s a breakdown of who the officers of the firm are and what committees there are and what responsibilities each has.

There’s a list of who’s in charge of what. With the profit sharing plan, for example, it shows who is responsible for oversight and which partner helps Hirsch with the administrative work. Similarly, there is an explanation of what decisions need to go to the finance committee versus another committee.

There is an outline of what decisions need committee approval and what decisions can be made without committee approval and what Hirsch can and cannot approve. And where something requires partner approval, it tells which partners are involved.

And here’s when to do everything

The manual wraps up with a timeline.

It shows all the things that happen every month, such as when attorney time has to be submitted and even when to send out birthday cards to clients.

It also shows the annual items – when to renew contracts, when to send the staff evaluations to the attorneys, and when to make pension plan contributions.

And the list is a tickler system, Hirsch says. For each item, there’s a start date such as “March 10 – X will be due in 30 days. Start working on it now.”

If you have an idea you would like to share with readers of Law Office Administrator, please contact the editor at catherine@plainlanguagemedia.com. We pay $100 for each idea we publish.


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