“Social Media and the Environmental, Energy, and Resource Lawyer”

 Debra L. Bruce  will be speaking at the upcoming

Fall Meeting of the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, & Resources

Austin, Texas

Thursday, October 11, 2012, from 10:30am-12noon

For more information or to register, go to:


Systematize to Optimize Your Legal Practice – Part 3

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

In this issue of “Raising the Bar”, Debra L. Bruce continues with the final part of her series which addresses how law office systems work to provide improved efficiency, increased quality control, and cost reductions.  Part 1 focused on “Why Systems Matter”, Part 2 introduced “How to Employ Systems”, and this final part continues with some additional steps to “Employ the Systems”.  If you missed Parts 1 or 2, follow the links on our blog to read them.

1. Stop recreating redundant letters and emails. All lawyers have forms as starting points for longer documents like interrogatories or purchase and sale agreements. Many continue to prepare common emails and letters from scratch, however. Even if they will need some customization, design forms for frequent letters and emails. Begin with one you have already written, or the next time you write one, save an extra copy of it in your forms folder. You’ll be able to whip out future emails more quickly, or let your assistant do the first draft for you to edit. Email forms can be saved in the drafts folder in Outlook (or another email program) for a quick copy and paste into a new email. Read more «Systematize to Optimize Your Legal Practice – Part 3»

Systematize to Optimize Your Legal Practice – Part 2: How?

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

In this issue of “Raising the Bar”, Debra L. Bruce continues her three-part series with a starting point to employ systems.  The series addresses the creation of law office systems for increased efficiency, improved quality control and cost reductions.  As a bonus, systems help lawyers to focus on and enjoy their law practice more.  

How to Employ Systems

Now that you have been persuaded that it would be worthwhile to develop and document some systems, how do you get systems in place and how do you use them? You’re probably already struggling to get all your own work done or trying to cut down your nonbillable time. How will you ever get around to creating systems?

Have each staff member create a desk manual.  

Ask them to spend a few minutes each day documenting the tasks they do repeatedly and the steps involved. In a couple of months you will have a manual, without extraordinary effort on anyone’s part. The manual should include:

          a. Lists of software and online programs you use

          b. Instructions for equipment (especially phones, copiers, scanners and anything else used multiple times per day) or location of user manuals (digital or paper)

          c. Screenshots or videos with circles and arrows explaining to a temp or new employee procedures and schedules for regular tasks

          d. Usernames and passwords (appropriately protected) for software and      websites necessary to do the tasks

          e. Links to online tutorials for your software and equipment

          f. Instructions to remind your assistant how to do infrequent tasks or use uncommon software features

          g. Contact information for vendors and repairmen

          h. Troubleshooting tips for quirky equipment and software

          i. Suggested scripts for answering the phone and greeting clients, including how to handle calls when you don’t want to be disturbed

          j. Steps for opening a new client file or archiving an old one

          k. Filing conventions for digital and paper document

          l. Procedures for handling mail, email and messages

          m. Protocols and time frames for creating routine legal documents and correspondence

Click to read Part 3Part 1

Post adapted with permission from an article by Debra L. Bruce in the August 15, 2012 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c)2012 ALM Media Properties LLC.  Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

Systematize to Optimize Your Legal Practice – Part 1: Why?

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

In this issue of “Raising the Bar“, Debra L. Bruce presents the first of a three-part series addressing the creation of law office systems for increased efficiency, improved quality control and cost reductions. As a bonus, systems help lawyers to focus on and enjoy their law practice more.


Why Law Office Systems Matter
Increased competition, downward pressures on fees, and elevated client expectations require lawyers today to respond faster while maintaining high quality. Law firms and individual attorneys need structural aids to improve productivity and assist in quality control. Systems let lawyers spend more of their time on the high level, challenging work they enjoy most.

1. Delegation improves cost effectiveness. If you bill for your legal services on a flat fee basis, your profits go up as your time invested goes down, so identify what can be handled by someone at a lower rate than yours. Even if you bill on an hourly basis, you lose money if you spend time dealing with administrative matters like setting appointments, opening new client matters, filing, invoicing, paying bills, managing payroll, talking to technical support and archiving closed matters. You also lose money if you have to write off some of your time to keep the aggregate bill within client expectations, when you could have been more efficient or a lower paid person could have done some of the work. Delegating what you dislike also lets you focus on more interesting work, enhancing your ability to remain productive.

2. Delegate more by developing systems. Often attorneys don’t delegate something because it takes too long to tell someone else how to do it. Once you develop a documented system, the system can guide your staff and less experienced lawyers on the proper processes to implement. That reduces or even eliminates the time you invest in instruction, supervision and review.

3. Systems improve quality. They reduce errors by providing step by step procedures and checklists. Less experienced people don’t have to guess what is needed, based on inadequate knowledge or understanding, when the system tells them what to do. Even you and the experienced staff members are less likely to forget a step when it is documented and systematized. You’ll sleep better when you don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about whether something fell through the cracks.

4. Become more system dependent than people dependent. When you have a clearly defined system with documented procedures, your office doesn’t come to a grinding halt when a valuable staff member takes a vacation, gets sick, changes jobs or gets hit by the proverbial bus. Other staff members or even temporary personnel can fill in to keep the office functioning. Equally important, everyone else can function without your input while you travel for business, focus your attention on more complex matters, or take a well-deserved vacation.

5. Reduce costs by becoming more system oriented. With systems in place, you can keep your expenses down because you can engage less experienced people. Your processes and procedures guide neophytes in how to do the job. You also avoid increased expenses for expediting fees and overnight deliveries when your system accounts for typical time frames required.

Click to read Part 2 and Part 3

Post adapted with permission from an article by Debra L. Bruce  in the August 15, 2012 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2012 ALM Media Properties LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.