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Create a System Today, Avoid a Headache Tomorrow

As my lack of recent blog posts suggests, I have been pretty busy lately. Among other things, Krause Practice Management will be launching a new website soon. More on that in a few weeks.

As far as client work, one of things that has been keeping me busy is training new billing administrators and streamlining the billing process at existing law firms. It is always interesting how the legal technology business runs in streaks. I have done this type of work in the past but three of these projects came to me in quick succession last month.

I realize that a blog post about what is keeping me busy is not all that interesting. That is not why I am writing this post. I am writing because it illustrates a series of problems that could be avoided if law firms ran themselves more like a business. In all of my recent engagements, the story was the same. “Our billing has been done by the same person for years and now they are leaving or retiring. No one else knows how to do the billing. Help!”

The problem is something I touched on in my recent presentation at Considerations for Starting a Law Practice in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Like any other business, maybe even more than others, law firms need systems. Wouldn’t this type of transition be a lot easier if the billing process was documented somewhere?

A firm’s billing process might be fairly complex. For example:

1. Three days before the end of the month, an email is sent to all timekeepers reminding them that all time must be entered by 5 p.m. on the first business day of the next month. The template for this email can be found on the network at …
2. On the first business day of the month, an email is sent to all timekeepers remind them that all time must be entered by 5 p.m. that day. The template for this email can be found on the network at …
3. On the second business day of the month, draft statements are run from Tabs, by going to the Generate Statements screen and selecting the following settings:

The entire system could very well be fifty steps and a good system accounts for at least 80% of the situations that arise. Do not try to systematize every exception. Doing this will overwhelm you and is not all that productive anyway. Note these as they come up and have a place to save your notes in case it ever comes up again.

Going back to my recent work, all of my new clients could have benefited from systems. This type of transition is much smoother if you can hand a list of billing procedures to the new billing administrator. Then, they only have to call me where they have questions. Another method would be to have me review and revise the current systems and then train the new billing administrator on the correct system. Instead, most firms throw the new person into a difficult situation and expect them to learn everything from the very beginning, often on their own. The result? A new non-documented system that resides in the head of one person and, when that person leaves the firm, the cycle starts over again.

If you want to save your firm headaches in the future, start putting systems in place today.

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