Large firms often have in house training programs to bring new employees up to speed on how the firm does things. Solos and small firms, on the other hand, seldom do, and training costs and the learning curve for a new employee can be a substantial expense for the small firm.
Be prepared to bring a new employee up to speed quickly or deal with an unexpected or lengthy employee absence by developing quick-reference guides for how the various jobs within your firm are done. These can be as simple as one or two page “cheat sheets” which outline individual tasks, or full blown manuals covering all aspects of firm procedure. Don’t try to create these from whole cloth overnight unless you have a lot of free time. Instead, start by having each current employee outline the tasks which they perform on a regular basis and then fill in the details.
New employees can’t remember everything they’re told on the first day of a new job, and even existing employees may have difficulty performing tasks consistently if they are done infrequently. These “cheat sheets” will save you a lot of time (and we all know time is money) because you won’t have to cover the same ground over and over, and will prevent mistakes because a new employee will not have to choose between disturbing you or plunging ahead blindly and hoping for the best.
If you don’t already have job descriptions for each of your employees, these sheets can also be used to create job descriptions for each position within your firm and to evaluate whether work is evenly divided or determine whether there are overlaps or gaps in responsibility. If you do have job descriptions, compare the cheat sheets to them to determine whether the employee is doing what he or she was originally hired to do. If not, you will be in a position to discover whether the job description or the work actually being done should be changed.
The PMAP Library offers two great sample policy and procedures guides: Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos & Small Firms by Demetrios Dimitriou and Law Office Policy & Procedures Manual, Sixth Edition, by Robert C. Wert and Howard L. Hatoff. Both come on disc, and both are available for checkout. Or you can purchase your own copy of either from the ABA through the bar’s website at a 15% discount.