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MANAGING THE OFFICE

To-Dos: Your January checklist

Make a fresh start this year with a focused team, a financial plan, organized files, and a decluttered computer. Here are some tasks you can accomplish this month to help keep your office running smoothly and profitably throughout the year.

1. Help staff set and achieve goals. Addressing staff issues in January gets people charged up for the year and gives you a roadmap for how to improve your office this year

Survey the staff, either one-on-one or in group discussions. Ask what their individual goals are. People are more motivated to follow through with their own ideas than with somebody else’s demands. Guide the conversation along with questions such as these.

What’s on your work agenda for the coming year? Are there any particular projects or initiatives you’re interested in? In what areas do you want to improve? How can I help you do that?

2. Reduce the firm’s costs. An important aspect of reducing costs is re-engineering how your lawyers and staff work and enabling technology for efficiency. Take a look at the life cycle of a file. Map out the processes and identify where you can reduce waste. Are there ways you can streamline projects to eliminate unnecessary work? Is it time to consider legal project management services? Are your lawyers doing secretarial tasks? Ensure that each task is assigned to a person with the appropriate skill.

3. Raise the rates. If you’re going to raise the rates this year (and experts recommend you do raise them every year), it’s best to do it in January. At the beginning of the year, an increase isn’t going to be a big shock. Clients, particularly corporate clients, understand that costs go up annually, and they halfway expect to see an increase. People are conditioned to accept that and no client is going to ask “why are you doing this now?”

4. Prepare for own your raise. A good raise starts with preparation a year in advance. So plan your raise now. Start by meeting with the lawyers and asking what their expectations are and how those expectations will be measured and rewarded.

Open the discussion with something like this: “I want to do a great job. What is it that you expect me to accomplish in the next six months or year?”

Show a sincere effort to provide exemplary service. Ask questions such as, “What elements are necessary for me to exceed your expectations?” or say, “I am ambitious. I want to give you top service, but I also want to earn the best compensation I possibly can,” or “I want to make myself more valuable to you.”

Whatever it is the lawyers want—setting up a new computer system, increasing revenues, or cutting overhead—make those items your priority for the coming year. If you don’t ask, you may spend your time working on projects they don’t even care about.

5. Plan to clearly communicate the financial status throughout the year. Keep the finances on track by managing the partners’ expectations of the profits. Start the year off by outlining for the partners the year end possibilities: what the best case scenario could be, what the middle of the road expectations are, and the lowest profits that can be expected.

In other words, “If collections are A at midyear, our bottom line will be B, if they are at X, our bottom line will be Y” and so on.

Then schedule regular meetings to show them how the actual numbers are falling in line with those three possibilities. Staying constantly aware of that’s going on, they have no surprises to meet in December. What is more, the periodic checks give them opportunity and time to make changes.

6. Schedule. Calendar all of your meetings (including the ones mentioned above) and deadlines for 2018.

7. Prepare for tax time. Start gathering your tax information now, instead of putting it off until later. Make note of anything you’re struggling to find and figure out how or where to keep that information better organized for 2018.

8. Organize your paperwork. Review and follow your document retention/destruction policy. If you don’t have one, create one this month. Clean out old 2017 files, both paper and electronic, and set up new ones for 2018. Now is a good time to consider going paperless and establish a new digital filing system.

9. Take care of your computer. Run a defragmentation and disk cleanup on your hard drive.

What tasks do you normally tackle in January? Send your comments to catherine@plainlanguagemedia.com.


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