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Getting a Grip, Part 3

Loss of Control? Get the Right Management Tools

By Dustin Cole

Without the right management tools in your firm, chaos, stress and confusion often reign. If you feel out of control (and plenty of lawyers do), getting a grip on your law practice will require these three things.

1. The Ability to Insert a “Case Plan” into Each New File

You need a comprehensive list of every task that must be done to complete a matter successfully. Usually lawyers feel this plan is already stuck in their minds — but the truth is that many lawyers tend to make it up as they go along. Then, problems arise when individual tasks are delegated because staff doesn’t have the complete picture of what’s to be done.

The solution is to have a template for a case plan and to insert it into all new files as they are opened. Once inserted, it can be customized for each matter, regularly referred to and revised as needed as the matter progresses. Importantly, once you indicate a team member is responsible for a task in the file, that task should then appear on the team member’s own, separate task list, to be marked as completed on the matter task list once it is done.

This system allows you to inject a “strategy” or matter management plan into each file. All team members can see the bigger picture, and you can monitor the status in real time. Most of the popular cloud-based case management programs have this feature (and those that don’t should be eliminated from consideration).

2. An Up-to-Date Open Files Report

You should maintain and consistently update a list of all open files that includes the current tasks being done on each file, the team member doing the task, and a due date for each. This compilation report can be run or viewed at any time, to help you keep track of how work is progressing in your office. This report, along with the individual case plans in each file, will give you with the ability — and comfort level — to effectively manage a large number of files.

You can create such a list, though somewhat laboriously, on paper, but the cost of the staff time it takes would probably more than pay for software that can accomplish it more seamlessly.

3. Structured and Consistent Team Leadership

This means regular weekly team meetings to review your open files report, discuss matters and tasks with due dates for the next 12 weeks, and keep lines of communication open. Another critical aspect of such meetings is accountability. You must hold your team accountable for performance, adjusting tasks and dates as needed. You must make sure the team knows you are watching closely and staying on top of everything. Depending on the size of the team, these may be all-hands meetings, or individual or subgroup meetings.

It’s your responsibility to learn how to run efficient meetings that are as brief as possible, so they don’t become onerous for everyone — including you.

Your Most Important Goals

Your first and most important goal is to gain full control of your caseload. The second is to develop a more effective, efficient structure that increases your firm’s capacity, efficiency and profitability. And your third goal is to free up your time so you can focus on the higher priorities of marketing, and having a life.

After all, every lawyer should remember that the objective in their practice isn’t only “taking great care of clients.” The other critical objective is “taking great care of the lawyer.” A lawyer who is overworked and stressed, who is worried about money, and whose family life and health are at risk simply cannot deliver the best client care — or at least she cannot deliver it for too long.

A healthy firm equals a healthy attorney equals great client care. It’s the way the profession should work — but rarely does.


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Categories: Daily Dispatch, Legal Technology, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published January 20, 2016
Last updated May 25, 2017
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Dustin Cole Dustin Cole

Dustin Cole is President and Master Practice Advisor with Attorneys Master Class. For nearly 25 years, he has delivered CLE programs on practice management, marketing, risk management and succession planning for bar associations and organizations. He has keynoted and trained at nearly all of the nation’s solo and small firm programs, worked with more than 400 attorneys, and conducted operations and marketing analyses for more than 100 firms. Email him at

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