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Automation in the Face of Chaos

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by Katie Wolf

on 15 June, 2018

Ryan McKeen gives us a sneak peek at true automation for law firms

Last April, attorney Ryan Mckeen shared his firm management “secret sauce” with us on the Filevine Fireside. In the last year alone, Ryan’s Connecticut personal injury law firm has grown rapidly. He and his colleagues have hit their stride, practicing at the peak of their game, growing their practice at the same time they’re carving out space for improved quality of life.

Though Ryan is quick to assert that there’s still much he’d like to learn, it’s clear he puts a tremendous amount of thought into strategic law firm management. And it’s paying off.

His first secret? Don’t just be a lawyer, be a law firm designer.

“When I look at the practice of law, I look at the design of my firm,” says Ryan. This goes deeper than your marketing materials. “You can’t just focus on a glossy logo,” he says.

The key is to identify each occurrence of “public enemy number one”: Chaos.


Fighting Chaos

Ryan says most law firms are brimming with chaos. You find it in sloppy intake practices or in piles of paper. You can find it in misused software and missed deadlines. Chaos is seen in the lost file and the five different communication apps used at different times every day, supplemented by the occasional post-it note. And chaos also shows its face in little moments, like when you bumble around not knowing how to make coffee in your own office.

“Chaos, to me, is what keeps you up at night,” says Ryan. It’s the sudden moment of panic about not remembering a deadline. It’s the uncertainty of a case’s status. In Ryan’s experience with law firms, chaos is more than a time-sink. It’s also a heavy load of stress.

Fighting chaos means finishing work faster, and keeping a better mood while you do it. And Ryan does it through firm automation.

Ryan explained that when you apply automated systems and structures to each facet of your practice, you create more predictable outcomes. After that, “the chaos sort of becomes the outlier, not the norm,” he says.

As a law firm designer, Ryan’s first move is to walk through his team’s day. “What was one of the first things that happened? Coffee,” he says. Most attorneys don’t bother to worry over how the coffee gets made. But Ryan knew that a coffee shortage can throw a wrench in everyone’s day. So he created a ‘coffee system,’ which includes a video on how to use the coffee maker and a clear explanation of how to order more coffee.

He carried this attention to detail to each step of his team members’ days. He created a firm wiki to hold each piece of institutional knowledge concerning the firm’s functions. Their rule is that before interrupting a human to ask a question, you first check the wiki. And if it isn’t there, then you add it as soon as you find the answer.


Automation Beats Chaos

When it comes to the legal process, Ryan’s firm found automation through case management software. He found that the case management tool Filevine allowed him to bring the same firm-designer mentality to the nuts and bolts of his team’s practice. Deadline chains, automatic tasks and regular reporting can tame the chaos of a case into a predictable system.

All their case work and communication moves through Filevine. Their firm’s mantra is: “If it doesn’t exist in Filevine, it does not exist.” Ryan says, “Every medical record. Every case. Every expense. Every note. Everything goes in there.” This streamlines the communication process and makes information much easier to find.

Ryan notes that most firms function in an older, more traditional way. An attorney has six files on his desk and can deal with them however she wants. In this system “your results are person dependent as opposed to system dependent,” as Ryan puts it. Though some stellar performers may be able to make this work for themselves, one little hiccup creates chaos.

But by creating automated systems, they aren’t at the mercy of personal perfection. Instead, his team is free to do the work they really care about: empathizing with clients, crafting case strategies, and building their practice.


Listen & Learn

To learn more ingenious tips of firm automation, listen to to Ryan’s Filevine Fireside podcast: Fighting Chaos. Also check out more ideas from Ryan in his compelling and useful law blog, aconnecticutlawblog.com.