Process Makes Perfect

by | Feb 15, 2022

In my last article, I discussed the benefits of leveraging outside sources with well-defined and established processes and taking this approach in certain situations instead of hiring someone.

The primary focus was outside processes. In this second part, we will dive into why ‘process makes perfect’ and how to go about creating processes in your firm.

[Quick apology – this article ended up being longer than planned, but it is all beneficial, so I am splitting it into two parts, like splitting atoms. Like that? J]

All right, here we go!

Let’s start by making a case (no pun intended) for using processes in your firm. I often remind lawyers that legal services fall in the top 3 most profitable businesses, along with accounting and financial services, generating net profits between 17.4% and 18.3%!

Not bad.

While that is great, I have found it creates a big problem; many firms can get away running a sloppy law firm and still make money. Another point to consider (call it the flipside) is that the legal industry has the 4th highest payroll costs, resulting in 45.03% of revenues. Because this is such a considerable cost, anything you can do in your practice to increase output while keeping your payroll costs fixed will increase your bottom-line profits.

This is where processes come in and will pay off big-time. Many attorneys bill for different work at different rates. Suppose you reduce the amount of time you spend on low revenue-generating work and instead delegate that to someone else, freeing you up to focus on work you can bill at your highest rate. And although you have done something for years and can do it in your sleep, it does not mean you should be spending your time doing it. The absolute equalizer is time, so the more things you can delegate and remove off your plate, the better.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

This is just as important for your staff. Do they have specific, well-defined processes that drive their repetitive tasks, or do they ‘wing it’ and do tasks a different way every time? What happens when an employee leaves or is let go? If you do not have defined processes, it will often take a LONG time for them to become efficient at doing the things they need to do, and someone else will need to assist and train (additional cost).

Now imagine this: you have well-defined, play-by-play instructions for the most common tasks, so you show your new employee where to find the instructions, then set them free and let them come to you when they need clarification.

Wow, what a world of a difference!

Fight the Urge and Get It Out of Your Head.

When we started creating processes, it took a while to get started. Let me share the lessons I learned to provide you with shortcuts to process creation.

The most common excuse: “I’m so busy I don’t have time to create a process.” ‘It’s just easier/faster if I do it myself.” To overcome this, take a high-level view. Calculate how much time you’ll save in the next 3, 6, 9, 12 months. How often is this process repeated? Being nearsighted only takes the now into consideration, and your mind will think it’s easier to do it yourself.

Whether we are conscious of it, we have a process for tasks we repeatedly do.  By becoming more aware of the process, we can define it and look for holes in our approach. [I want to point out that a process does not have to be something we delegate. I use many techniques myself, which keeps me moving through it as fast as possible and ensures I don’t leave out details.] Legal work is exceptionally detail-oriented, and a goof-up can quickly become a costly mistake.

When I first started doing this, I had a legal pad and started writing down the steps as I did it. If you are doing a short process, like how to file on a specific website, you can probably make that list and all the info you need.

If you’re creating a complex process, such as hiring a new employee, you will want to get it all out of your head. Then you will need to break it down into chunks, which you can then dive into one at a time. 

As my process for creating processes has evolved, I prefer starting with a quick first pass: what are the 3-5 main pillars or steps in the process? Then add 3-5 bullets under each step. I work best with another person to bounce ideas off and help pull things out of my mind.

As an example, we currently revamped our new employee process for our clients. When one of our clients hires someone new, many things need to be done, from an HR perspective, IT, accounts, training, and more. Our role is setting up the computer and all related accounts. Printer setups, licenses, software installs, mobile device setup, and much more. We have broken down how we are going to build this process in a series of phases:

  1. Pre/Pre (makes sense to me) – This is a proactive call with our client way before they hire someone so that we can define what their HR process is and to see how we can best fit into this process to alleviate work on their plate and clearly define the things we will take care of and what they will take care of.
  • Form & Setup Project – Intake all the information generated on the custom form our clients submit when they have a new employee. By making this detailed and thinking of all angles, we can gather most of the information needed in a matter of minutes, savings much back and forth work. We use Typeform for this, a fantastic tool that kicks SurveyMonkey’s butt and makes it look and feel ancient! We then set up the project, create tasks, and process all the information. (And this is mainly done with Zapier, automating tedious, repetitive steps ripe for data entry errors.)
  • Purchasing & Licensing – If needed, we reach out to the Apple Business team to get a quote for a new computer, plus anything else required that we captured in the new user form (additional monitor, battery backup to protect desktop, USB to Ethernet adapter for laptops, etc.). We have thought of everything: the outcome is zero reactionary actions once the new employee starts. We purchase all licenses and create all necessary accounts (Microsoft Office 365, Box for file access, etc.)

    4.     Tech Setup – Our technicians then install all software, register licenses, set up the email accounts, file sharing access, VPN access, apply our custom Security Profile, and more. This step has over 90 tasks for all clients and an additional customized task list per client, considering their unique setup.

    5.     Quality Control – 24 hours before a new employee’s first day, everything is ready to go, but we make no assumptions. We have a quick call with our client to review the computer and ensure nothing was overlooked.

    6.     Training – We then have a pre-created Training ‘Drip” with a sequence of emails that will go out to the new user over their first month with tips and videos we have created specifically for the staff of a Mac-based law firm. Most employee computer training goes like this: “you’ve got the job, here’s your computer, get to work.” We know additional training will make the new user feel more comfortable and confident using the computer and more proficient, maximizing their work output. We also take this opportunity to introduce them to us and how to best work with us and get support.

As detailed as this may seem, this truly is just a quick overview. Each of the bullets above has a detailed, play-by-play process and checklist created. This process has allowed me to switch from providing a fair amount of tech support and onboarding new clients to delegating 100% of these responsibilities to my staff while keeping the same quality. I can now invest more time in creative and growth activities, generating a far higher return on my time.

What Processes?

One of my favorite business gurus is Gino Wickman, the creator of EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, made popular by his books Traction and Get a Grip (I recommend the latter to start with) is an absolute must. It is most definitely applicable to law firms – at least for those running it as a business, instead of just practicing law.

EOS has us define the critical 4-9 processes driving our business, then assign someone to oversee tracking these. Once you have determined these, pick the one that needs the most improvement or the one you need to get off your desk the most. Then block off time to start working through and defining these.

As an example, ours were:

  • People Development (Recruiting and internal skill development)
  • Sales & Lead Generation
  • Onboarding of New Clients
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Best Practices (the sum of all the key areas we look at for our clients and the processes we go about implementing these)
  • Service/Product – the quality of our support, response time, etc.

You should plan to spend about 90 minutes with your staff to determine these critical processes. For more direction in EOS, pick up Get a Grip in audio, ebook, or paperback. I am an avid reader, and this is one of my top 3 business books of all time.

We’ll wrap up here as you need to do what I said above…get started!

Come back next month, and we’ll talk about demystifying the process of creating processes and testing and refining those processes.

You will not want to miss those steps.