I am the sole owner of a six attorney personal injury firm in San Francisco with five support staff. My father started the firm twenty-five years ago and has since retired from practice. I took over the practice five years ago. At the time I took over the practice we had just my dad, myself, a couple legal assistants, and no technology. Since then I have done a lot to grow the practice including adding attorneys and staff as well as implementing technology. My biggest problem is training new attorneys and staff. We have no written documentation as to how we do things so training has to be done orally by myself or others every time a new attorney or staff member joins the firm. Can you offer any suggestions?


Sounds like you don’t have a written employee handbook or procedures manuals. These are essential tools that every law firm regardless of size should have. These tools dramatically reduce time that has to be spent by others to on-board new employees and can facilitate bringing on lower cost employees with less experience such as recent law graduates or paralegal graduates.

The employee handbook outlines the firm’s employment policies and contains sections such as:

  • Relations with clients
  • Objectivity
  • Confidentiality
  • Investments and other financial dealings with clients
  • Outside work
  • Overtime or bonus
  • Salary review
  • Insurance coverage
  • Sick leave
  • Vacation and Personal time off
  • Maturity Leave
  • Continuing education and tuition reimbursements
  • Time off to attend various training and professional functions
  • Dues for professional and other organizations
  • Allowable expenses and reimbursement procedures
  • Involvement in civic and other community organizations
  • Speeches, articles and books

An operation or procedures manual is the firm’s how-to-do-it guide. It defines the purpose of work, specifies the steps that need to be taken while doing the work, and summarizes the standards associates with both the process and the result. Your operation or procedures manual specifies this is how we do it here. Every process in the firm should be documented in your manual – from marketing – to accounting –  to IT – to legal case work. Sections in your manual might include:

  • Making initial new client appointments
  • Handing the new client appointment
  • Opening new clients and matters
  • Closing matters
  • Billing procedures
  • Processing cash receipts
  • Processing vendor payments
  • Handing retainer payments
  • Managing the firms trust account
  • Managing the case file
  • Filing the lawsuit
  • etc.

Procedures manuals are often a list of steps in outline form. The American Bar Association has a book – The Law Office Policy and Procedures Manual that may help you get started. 

In my earlier life I spent nine years in the United States Air Force Judge Advocate Generals (JAG) office and there I learned the importance of policy and procedures manuals and I carried this into both law firms where I worked prior to starting my consulting practice thirty-four years ago.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC





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