Article written by Ryan McKeen.
We all get the same number of hours in a day, and it’s not how much of what we do that gets us ahead, but it’s applying purposeful effort to the things that matter that really gets us ahead. If your goal is to be an Olympic athlete – going to the gym and doing a bunch of exercises isn’t enough – you need to do the right exercises – the ones that really move the needle.
As lawyers, we’re constantly inundated with tools and tactics that may or may not move the needle for our practices. It could be marketing tactics. It could be new case management software, a new automation software, or a new CRM. If you are running a law practice, you probably know there are a million different ways to acquire things or do things that may or may not get you ahead.
I want to tell you about one of the things that I know will really move the needle in your practice: Having a private Wikipedia® page for your office that’s searchable and has all of your processes in one place. A private Wiki is the business equivalent of doing great core work in the gym: It’s necessary and makes everything else easier.
A number of law firms don’t have any written policies whatsoever. Knowledge is haphazardly scattered through servers and word documents, or it’s in people’s heads and not written down at all. Every law firm has systems and operates on systems, whether no not they realize it (or if they do, they’re just not written down). You’ll commonly hear things in these kinds of firms like, “I think I had a case about that… what was the name of it?”
Then, there is a separate class of law firms that may have a policies and procedures manual, and that generally is a document that has been written. Some of these firms even copy other firms’ policies and procedures manuals. Perhaps the original version was written a while ago. Here’s the truth: Usually they’re not read very much. They may be in print format (and never read), they may exist in PDF format (and never shared), and they may be in print and digital but hard to find.
Our office has an internal private Wiki, just like Wikipedia®, except nobody else outside of our firm can access it. You may ask — “What do you mean that it’s like Wikipedia?” Well, just like any standard Wiki, anybody in our firm can create a page about a specific topic and anybody in our firm can edit a page. Also, the Wiki keeps track of change logs and can be restored to the original any point in time.
If you take the time to write down systems, then you know things are going to change. You’re going to have to go back and fix the system or tinker with it at some point in time. If you’re not constantly updating your systems, they became stale or useless. For example, the marshal or sheriff that you used to serve legal papers may retire or move and you need to find a new person and document how to reach that person for service. Instead of reinventing the wheel every time when you need service, you’ve got the information right there for everyone on your team to read. And when the information or process changes, your team is right there to edit it for future use.
By allowing your whole team to create systems, the benefits really multiply. The first benefit is you (as the managing or practicing attorney) don’t have to write everything down. You, and everyone on your team, don’t have to know everything. Your team can go out and create an incredibly rich and fertile database of systems and procedures that you can use for time eternal. When an employee leaves, the knowledge stays. When a new employee joins, the knowledge is at their fingertips. The Wiki creates continuity.
Also, there’s a sense of ownership. And there’s a sense of community in creating these systems that makes adoption of these systems really, really, really easy.
One of the most important rules any law firm can have is that no single piece of knowledge can just exist in anyone’s head. If you’ve got one person who “knows how to do this/that” and that’s how you get staff questions answered, then you’re creating problems. That person could die. They could leave. They could get sick. Your team may not have access to the knowledge that they need when they need it, and you’re going to underserve your clients. And honestly, the practice of trial law is really a battle against disorganization. The more organized you are, the easier it is to prepare, the easier it is to apply high-level tactics and strategy to the cases in which you are handling.
There’s also a culture benefit because one of the ways we look at problems in our firm is to ask, “How do we solve the problem that’s in front of us in this specific case and how do we solve it the next thousand times we do it?” When you invest in people who buy into working in this culture, in creating these systems, then you’re going to find you have a lot fewer problems.
Ultimately, this all affects the bottom line. The more systems and processes you document in a way that is accessible to your team, the more you will increase your net profit. For example, you won’t be spending time having employees searching for how to print stamps or create .pdfs. Your onboarding process will be much easier. Your employees will be less frustrated because they have the tools to do their jobs. And best of all, you won’t be inundated with questions about things like ordering envelopes.
For our office, we use Tettra for our private Wiki. We love the ease of use of Tettra and its ability to make certain pages private and inaccessible to our team at large. We also love being able to restore anything at any time, so mistakes can be corrected. We have systems for everything from how to make coffee, to our skymiles numbers, to how to do closing arguments. Our team loves having all of the answers to their questions at their fingertips and they love knowing they can contribute at anytime.
Having a Wiki is one of the best way I know to really make your firm grow —- and grow in a way that delivers great results for your client and which allows you to rest easy as an owner, knowing that the information is out of people’s heads, documented in an accessible central location, and gives your team the ability to “wow” your clients and serve those who trust you with their care with top-rate customer service.