Managing a law firm is challenging. Whether you are a small business aspiring to grow or a big business looking to expand, there will be challenges along the way. How you manage these challenges will decide whether or not your firm keeps growing.
While having an excellent team of legal professionals by your side is imperative, is that enough for your business to become successful? Not in the slightest.
Along with the right talent, you must also have adequate systems and tools to ensure superior law firm management that sets you on the right path towards success.
In this guide, we talk about everything you need to know about the ideal structure of a law firm, what is the best hierarchy in a law firm, the best practices on how to manage a law firm, and much more.
The organizational structure of a law firm
Like any other business, a law firm must have a clear and defined organizational structure for better law firm administration. A streamlined hierarchy of a law firm helps employees know who is answerable to whom and the chain of command.
If you have looked at some of the established law firms in the country, you would understand that there is a uniform law firm hierarchy that most of them follow.
Here are a few important roles in a law firm.
The managing partners are the topmost officials in a law firm. They manage everything from daily operations and financial resources to evaluating the best law firm structures and monitoring team performance.
They are also concerned more about flawless client management and business growth. In most cases, those in these roles often own the business entirely or in part, along with other partners.
Partners or shareholders
Also called shareholders, the partners work under the managing partners in a legal firm. They own shares in the company and have extensive experience in the legal industry, in addition to working with the legal team.
Apart from their salary, they are entitled to receive a percentage of the firm’s annual profit as partners.
Associates are attorneys and lawyers who work for the firm but do not have any ownership. Although experienced associates will have more client interactions and responsibilities, junior associates often carry out legal research, document management, etc.
The work done by an associate is often reviewed and assessed by shareholders and partners of the law firm.
Like any other business, marketing is an integral part of a legal firm, and the primary role of a marketing director in a law firm is to grow the business. They help improve the brand’s reputation in the market and acquire new clients.
They also act as the company’s PR wing and work with influencers to grow the brand and its reach.
Although not employed by the law firm, contract attorneys are a vital part of the law firm structure. They are hired during busy periods under specific contracts. Contract attorneys are often paid as per the contract or on hourly bases.
However, when contract attorneys are hired, they work with the firm till the case ends.
Paralegals have profound knowledge of the practical implications of the law and help lawyers in various cases. In a legal firm office, paralegals mostly have admin-centered tasks, including preparing legal documents, case-based research, etc.
In addition to this, they also help prepare case reports for trials and interview witnesses. Paralegals also go to court in rare instances.
Often at the lower section of the hierarchy in a legal firm, law clerks are students who want to gain experience and exposure in the industry. Their principal duty is to help associates with their cases.
The primary responsibility of law clerks is to attend to the time-consuming aspects of cases that the associates and other lawyers don’t have the time to carry out.
The role of legal secretaries in managing law firms is crucial as they manage all the administrative tasks such as organizing cases, securing client details, filing important case details, etc.
When associates and paralegals need help with any type of admin tasks, legal secretaries are the people to help them.
How to ensure effective law firm management
While having a well-established hierarchy in law firms is essential for their success, the structure alone is insufficient. The law firm structure must also be supported by adequate processes and systems to ensure the efficiency of the operations.
To ensure effective management, a law firm must:
Develop a law firm business plan
When running a law firm, you need to have a strong business plan that helps you navigate every challenge your business may face. The challenge could be anything from finding talent, establishing brand value, finance management, and operations management to client management.
The plan will help you anticipate what lies ahead and how you will face these challenges. Not having a plan may jeopardize your business as there won’t be a sensible direction for your business.
To make it more focused, you can divide your enterprise plan into various categories, such as:
- Talent acquisition and management plan
- Finance management and budget plan
- Marketing and public relations plan
- Business acquisition and growth plan
Create a law office procedures manual
Systems and procedures are what make a business efficient in its operations. Further, it also helps you establish a consistent and effective method for achieving your smaller tasks that lead to overall business success.
The procedures manual for your firm will help everyone understand how things need to be done in your firm. The consistency will be immensely value-adding for everyone as it ensures a more predictable environment for associates, attorneys, and paralegals.
Creating a manual will also help you train your legal practice managers and new employees effectively, as they have an established system and manual to fall back on in case of any doubts.
While creating a manual, you must include processes and procedures for:
- Client intake and onboarding
- Billing and collections
- Filing conventions
- Numbering conventions
- Productivity and time tracking
Even after creating a manual, you need to review it at times to incorporate new elements and make the procedures more aligned with the industry changes.
Focus on law firm marketing and branding
Marketing is an important function for a law business, like any other company. While your core business function is practicing law, you must also invest adequately in marketing to grow your law firm. Your marketing efforts must establish how unique your firm is from the rest of the brands.
While creating your marketing strategies and plans, center everything around who you are and what value you bring to the table as a law firm.
After creating and implementing the strategies, evaluate what works for you and what does not. Assessing the effectiveness of your marketing is also important to prevent resource wastage and better return on investments.
Here is a legal podcast that you can listen to learn more about law firm marketing.
Ensure high benchmarks for flawless client service
The focus of any legal firm is to serve its clients and serve them very well. In today’s world, the service expectations from clients in any industry are incredibly high. This means that the quality of your client service must be nothing short of impeccable.
As a law firm, you must be able to understand their concerns, pain points, and their service journey so that you can serve them better and offer personalized services.
Whether you are working with huge businesses or individual clients, you must offer them personalized services that appeal to them.
To ensure that you are on the right track to serving the clients better, follow these tips:
- Learn about the concerns of the clients in depth.
- Ask them how they want you to help them.
- If something is unclear, clarify the same with the client.
- Thoroughly understand the issue the client wants to resolve.
- Be willing to think outside the box to help your client.
Have systems to assess the firm’s performance
Knowing how your law firm is performing is another crucial aspect of ensuring effective law firm management. The first thing you need to have for this is to create systems for assessment.
These systems must ideally cater to the following:
- Employee performance
- Marketing performance
- Process performance
- Financial performance
Evaluating each of these elements in the larger context of conducting your law business will tell you where you are performing and where you are not.
The insights you generate from analyzing these factors will help you create strategies and plans to address your challenges. Further, knowing your performance also helps ensure that you use the business resources optimally.
Train and develop the legal team of the firm
The backbone of every legal firm is its legal team. The more skilled and experienced the team is, the more successful the firm will be. It is not necessary for your law firm to have highly experienced professionals all the time.
However, what you can do about this is invest enough time and resources to train and develop your team. This will ensure that your team is well-versed in every aspect of the industry.
Some of the areas that you must focus on while training your team are:
- Communication skills
- Leadership qualities
- Time management skills
- Client management skills
- Project handling skills
- Decision-making skills
- Analytics skills
In addition to building a proficient team, focusing on your team’s professional growth and learning will make them loyal and committed to your firm.
This way, you also gain employees who always go out of their way to help clients.
Automation for effective law firm management
Ensuring business growth without technology is an impossible task in today’s world. Everyone uses technology, and your law firm needs to take advantage of the latest automation technologies to improve the efficiency of the business.
However, you must exercise due diligence before implementing automation in your law firm management.
Consider the following when automating our law firm management:
Assess your requirements
Before considering buying any law firm management software, assess your requirements first. Doing a preliminary requirement analysis helps you understand what your needs are. Once you have identified the same, start researching for a solution that fulfills these needs.
This is where you think about the tasks you must complete in your law firm. Think about the following:
- What are the repetitive and daily activities in your firms?
- How crucial are they in running your law firm?
- Do they need human intervention to be carried out?
- What parts of the activities take more time in your firm?
- What are the activities that may be automated?
While these questions may seem simple, you must sit with your senior attorneys and associates to sort out the perfect plan.
This will help you zero in on the most suitable litigation management software that can automate the tasks you need to do.
Test and adopt
The next step in choosing the best law firm management or case management software for your business is to test a few and see what works best for you.
Testing will help you understand the program’s suitability for your business and what needs improvement.
Make it scalable
Like all businesses, your business also wants to grow. As your business expands, the number of clients, cases, and litigations also grows. Therefore, the case management software you use for the same must be able to handle these ever-increasing needs.
The best way to ensure that your software can handle the mounting workload is to choose a scalable program as per your needs.
Common law firm office management tools
When trying to integrate technology into a law firm, there are a few tools that you need to consider using apart from the business management software.
Some of the widely used law firm office management tools are:
In law, timely communication is integral for effective business and case management. Therefore, subscribing to an email service provider is the first thing you need to do.
Although Gmail is a popular free tool, it is advised that you go with a paid email service from Google or any other email provider to ensure better control over the data.
Some of the most popular choices are:
- Google Workspace
- Zoho Email Service
- Office 365 Outlook
- Bluehost Email Service
Word processor tools
A law firm needs to make hundreds of documents every single day. Therefore, having a reliable and easy-to-use word process program is paramount for efficient functioning. The popular choice for most businesses is Office 365.
However, businesses can also consider other tools, such as:
- Google Docs
- WPS Office
- Apache Open Office
Law practice management software
This is another tool that makes it easier for businesses to manage their law practice. It ranges from managing the clients’ requests, legal documents, litigation details, etc.
With a litigation management software platform to help, legal firms can scale their services and ensure practice efficiency.
Some of the common litigation management software are:
Accounting and billing
Billing and accounting are other significant part of running a legal firm. Not only must the tool help the business manage the accounts effortlessly, but it should also allow the company to keep track of billable hours for each client.
A few of the tools that businesses commonly use are:
- QuickBooks Online
Law firm management resources like books and courses
Like your employees, you must also be willing to learn and upskill yourself to manage your law firm successfully firm. Going on a learning spree with the help of a few free books and online resources is the best way to do it.
A few of our favorite books to help you learn about law firm management and become better at it are:
1. Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace, written by Ari Kaplan
2. The Tour of Law Firms, written by Gino Jagoe
3. Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century, written by Mitchell Kowalski
A law firm needs a clear organizational structure for better business management. This is extremely helpful for the business as the law practice managers know their jobs and what they are supposed to do. You can avoid a lot of ambiguity regarding their roles and responsibilities by establishing a thorough organizational structure.
Along with a proper hierarchy in the legal firm, using software tools and solutions is also integral for efficient law office management. A variety of mundane and repetitive activities that don’t need human overlook can be automated to ensure better client and case management. Using these tools intelligently will also free a lot of law firm managers who can use the time for more critical, strategic business growth purposes.
All law firms that want to grow must take advantage of technology and law firm management tools intelligently. Creating a technology-backed management system will endow your business with a competitive advantage that can set you on a path of constant business growth.