As long-time readers have probably noticed, we’re fascinated with the ways attorneys can automate their practice. We’re always looking for new ideas to get each step of a case cycle moving toward a seamless flow.
But what happens when the printer toner runs out? When someone forgets to pay the internet bill? When the new guy doesn’t know how to make coffee and you’re stuck with a mug full of hogwash?
Automation isn’t only for legal work. It’s also for the ‘other stuff’ — the dozens of little logistical tangles that crop up in any workplace.
Your productive, comfortable office depends on a host of amenities. When one of those goes awry, the likely result is an interruption. Maybe it’s the original interruption of the internet going out — or perhaps it’s the secondary interruption of someone coming into your office to ask just who the internet provider is anyway and what’s the best way to reach them.
In both cases, you know what interruptions mean: the destruction of your focus and a tax on your capacity for productive work.
Many law offices hire someone to take care of workplace details. But when your office manager is sick for the day, will anyone know how to use the new coffee machine? Will attorneys and staff members are able to do things themselves, or will it constantly have to be funneled through one person?
Whatever your size or situation, firms benefit from having some office automation in place. Firm-wide systems empower each member, make institutional knowledge accessible, and create better workplace cultures.
Here are 4 quick ideas to automate your office management logistics:
1. Make a Law Firm Wiki
Law firm designer Ryan McKeen shared this idea with us. Whenever someone has a question about the basic workings of the office, they must first ask the wiki. If the answer isn’t in the wiki, as soon as they find it out they must put it in the wiki.
A firm-wide wiki can contain common technical questions (how do I set up my work email?) and firm policies. It should also contain any logistical answers you find yourself repeating, such as how to load paper into the copy machine or where to park your car.
The downside to a wiki? It requires team buy-in. Perhaps instilling a holy fear of interrupting others can get the team there. Without full trust in the wiki, you might find people are still interrupting you to ask if the wiki’s answer is up-to-date and relevant.
It also requires a bit of technical knowledge. Which leads to the age-old question: if you are writing a wiki post about how to write a wiki post, will the universe curve in on itself?
2. Easy Restocks
I’ll admit I was a little skeptical when I first saw the Amazon Dash buttons. What is this — a tiny plaque commemorating the ultimate triumph of mindless consumerism? But in the workplace, you don’t want to spend all day deciding just what coffee flavor to buy this time.
Amazon’s not the only one thinking about automatic or easy refills. Check with whatever supplier you use to see the quickest way to reorder what you need. Some items can connect to the Internet of Things to automatically reorder their own supplies when needed.
Keep in mind that automatic restocking can go beyond traditional office supplies. New services offer regular healthy snack delivery — or even happy hour drinks if that’s how your firm rolls.
3. Rethink Office Design
One way to create a shared system is to literally design your workspace around it.
You don’t see many kitchens that put the dishwasher far away from the sink. But law offices are riddled with perplexing layouts. You squeeze past the massive filing cabinets, wind your way down the hall to get to important shared tools like copy machines — and throughout, you are surrounded by beige walls and bathed in bad lighting.
You can instead build efficiency into your workspace design. This means making shared equipment more accessible, grouping together objects that are commonly used together, and creating spaces that match the needs of attorneys and staff. These principles also apply for remote workers, as they adjust their home office space.
Current trends in law firm design have axed the huge filing cabinets in favor of cloud-based storage. And they’ve also gotten rid of the big, walled-in corner offices. In their place, they’ve put more collaborative workspaces and comfortable lounge areas that feel a bit like a coffee shop.
These changes reflect the evolving nature of law practice to be more egalitarian and collaborative. It also reflects new research on the economics of aesthetics. We’ve found that beauty can add to your bottom line: when people work in spaces with good lighting, a splash of color, and comfortable chairs, they’re proven to need less time off and take shorter breaks.
And of course: a pleasant space can also improve your clients’ perceptions of you and your legal team.
4. Managing More Than Cases
Another option for shared systems: find new uses for a tool that’s already at your fingertips.
Your case management software should be designed and built for managing the nuances of legal matters. But it can also be used to keep your office running smoothly. You can create a project inside your system called “Office Management.” Here you can keep shared documents, create tasks, and ask questions in a less disruptive manner.
With more advanced software like Filevine, you can set up Taskflow Triggers. This dramatically simplifies even complicated and multi-step tasks, and easy Edit-in-Place document changes allow you to alter your shared information as necessary.
The benefit of using case management software for office management is that it’s something everyone in the firm is already using. You don’t have to download some additional app, and then try to cajole everyone to get on board. This is already their go-to source to share information, as well as assign and receive tasks — and that just might include planning the next staff appreciation event or ordering more paperclips.
With Filevine, it’s easier than ever to automate any process at your law firm.
Case management software makes for a better law firm
You didn’t become an attorney because you wanted to manage a workplace. But you might find that unless you invest some thought into the daily details of your space, the workplace starts managing you.
With a little forethought and the right software, you can automate the logistics of your daily workflow. Not only will this greatly reduce the nagging interruptions that happen when something goes wrong — but it could also add positively to your sense of wellbeing.