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Management | Productivity

Unlocking Efficiency: The Power of an Operations Manual

Published on Aug 28, 2023
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What’s the one essential resource every firm needs to reduce turnover, improve employee engagement, and consistently ensure a high-quality work product?

The operations manual.

Those who have one and use it properly know the power of this tool. Those who don’t are doomed to a life of frustration, repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Trying to run and scale your business without one is needlessly difficult, so before you spend one more dollar on marketing, read this blog!

You’ve crafted a solid vision and mission statement, hired enough people, and seem to be well-positioned for growth, but the same problems continue to reoccur. Pockets of team members are just phoning it in. Some seem checked out and confused, lacking both energy and enthusiasm. Turnover is too high, and intake and case handling quality are inconsistent. You may have a few experienced team members who are repeatedly asked to train new hires, but many new hires leave shortly thereafter, or worse, stay and underperform, weighing your firm down. You’ve heard how helpful procedural manuals can be, but your team doesn’t have the time to write a manual, they are too busy handling cases!

At Vista, we have encountered this situation in countless firms. Sadly, many managers think this is just the nature of the business and that it has to be this way. It doesn’t! There is a solution. It’s an operations manual that incorporates your customized client service standards with proper instructions on how to use your case management software.

The operations manual is so much more than just a training or a reference tool. It is a game changer. It’s essential to ensure a consistent, high-quality client experience every time. The bottom line is that if you want to compete with the best in the business, you can’t afford not to make the time to create your own.

The advantages of having an operations manual

  1. It serves as a training tool for new hires as well as a back-to-basics reference tool for veteran team members.
  2. It provides the content for consistent, standardized training and increases the likelihood that the same high-level quality will be delivered by everyone every time.
  3. It reduces the number of repeat questions fielded by senior team members. Legal work requires attention and focus. Every time a co-worker is interrupted with a question, more time is required to recover and regain focus on the original task. This is inefficient and, over time, can cause stress and friction among team members. Rather than repeatedly asking the same questions of already busy paralegals, team members can now go look up the answers themselves.
  4. It reduces turnover because trying to memorize every procedural rule learned in initial training sets new hires up for failure. They need a resource to go to when they forget the right way to do something.

Many team members don’t want to bother their team leader or another paralegal by asking too many questions, so instead, they will just complete the task wrong or not complete it at all. Employees do not enjoy having to do this, they just don’t feel like they have a better option. Eventually, lacking proper training and support, these people will leave. Now, your senior paralegals, who already handle full caseloads, will need to stop what they are doing and train another new hire who may or may not stay. This is a vicious cycle!

Team members are most engaged and thrive when they know exactly what to do and how to do it. They leave at the end of the day knowing they did great work for their clients within the specific guidelines of the firm. The clients are happy, the team members are happy. Win/win!

How to eat the elephant

If you’re thinking creating an operations manual is a big task, you’re right. Getting a solid, well-thought-out operations manual in place takes time and commitment. So, for an already overwhelmed firm, who should complete this project?

It’s usually choreographed by the office manager, operations manager, or COO, but that doesn’t mean they should attempt to complete it all themselves.

First, assign a project manager. Then identify and choose one subject matter expert from each phase of case handling, beginning with intake. The project manager should call a meeting with all subject matter experts to explain the goal of the project and outline the plan. This will involve explaining that each subject matter expert will be responsible for writing a rough draft of their phase on how to handle cases within your firm’s case management system and within your client service expectation guidelines.

The drafts should provide a detailed explanation of how to complete each step in the case stage process. Including screenshots from your case management system is strongly encouraged. Remember, every team consists of different types of learners. Visual learners need screenshots, in fact, they’ll be lost without them, and your manual will be ineffective.

Next, the project manager should decide how many rough drafts should be submitted before the final draft is due. The project manager should then enter the plan with the subject matter experts’ names and target completion dates into your project management software or simply a calendar. Due dates are important. Do not skip this step!

Finally, the project manager should schedule the next meeting for the same day the first drafts are due. The project manager should review each first draft for content and for consistency in terms of the level of detail provided by each subject matter expert. Some drafts will likely be written in general terms, some in more specific terms. Because the more specific, the better, the best version should be shared by the project manager as an example of how much detail is expected. Each subject matter expert should polish up their drafts and submit the appropriate content and detail in draft number two. This process should continue for at least three drafts until the project manager deems the final draft complete.

At that point, the final draft should be handed off to someone in the firm who can automate it into a learning management system (LMS). While you do not need to use a learning management system (a Word document or PowerPoint with screenshots would do), screen recording software is particularly useful for visual learners. If, however, you craft a written manual, be sure to break it up into brief paragraphs and use lots of screenshots from your case management system.

What should my operations manual include?

Begin at the beginning.

Every operations manual should have an introduction to the philosophy of your firm, your vision, mission, and core values. This sets the tone for your firm’s culture. It should also contain a table of contents. The first section might begin with instructions on basic telephone hardware use and instructions on how the firm greets clients, including scripts. The table of contents should continue in order of case stage handling through the disbursement process and close with specific techniques on how to brand build and market to former clients.

Keeping it alive

Now that you have done all the work in crafting this masterpiece, don’t let it sit on a shelf! The Operations Manual should be a living document and must be updated continuously as tools, workflows, and procedures change. Appoint someone responsible for doing this task.

While it should be made available to everyone in the firm, it is not enough to expect your team to read it or watch the tutorials in their spare time. Trainers or team leaders must make time during the day to train and conduct refresher training in small groups using the manual regularly on an ongoing basis. This will keep their skills sharp and reinforce your firm’s commitment to quality case management.

Once these steps are in place, EVERYTHING gets better. Repetition is the key. Now you are ready to grow your firm with a standardized approach and a solid foundation in place!

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