Improvements in Legal Document Quality and Consistency Start with Standardization and Process
“That’s the way we have always done it.”
As you review the practices and procedures used to operate a law firm, this statement is likely to come up in the conversation at least once. When onboarding newly hired associates and staff members on your legal software programs and standard practices, depending on how long you have worked at the firm, you may even use the statement yourself.
It is essential for your entire team to protect how your firm is represented among clients, courts and the community – namely, through correspondence and documentation. Everyone must be on the same page when it comes to developing and formatting legal documents and correspondence – choosing properly defined procedures over typical tradition.
Remove the Guesswork with Established Routines
Without properly defined procedures governing legal document formatting and development, you are essentially forcing your associates and staff members to rely on guesswork. Since every form of legal correspondence represents and reflects the quality of your firm, you should never allow anything to be governed by guesswork.
Creating well-written and defined standard operating procedures (SOPs) for your firm’s legal writing and correspondence is an essential part of this process. These SOPs will also make it easy to train new hires to fall in line and follow pre-established procedures accordingly, drastically reducing mistakes made through a common trial-and-error approach.
Maintain Compliance with Defined Procedures
Legal writing is primarily built on a foundation of quality control and compliance, according to AZ Central. For instance, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, there are likely quite a few standards to which you and your team must comply. Otherwise, your documentation and correspondence may lose its credibility, validity and overall value with your client, courtroom officials and community members. To ensure that every type of legal correspondence created by your firm maintains compliance, properly defined procedures are vital.
Keep in mind that people change, but the positions held by those people usually remain the same. For instance, you might have an “understanding” with the current staff members in the courtroom clerk’s office. What would happen if you had to unexpectedly interact with a different court? Or, what if the employees with which you have an “understanding” get transferred, laid off or promoted elsewhere? Training your staff the value of compliance through defined procedures and protocol will make it easy for them to efficiently get the job done without the need to have an “understanding” with anyone.
Recently we discussed how technological competence has become a professional development requirement in 27 states. Is your firm equipped with the right legal software programs, standards and practices? Learn more in our article “Legal Technological Competence: The Coming Requirement for Legal Professional Development has Arrived.”
Use Approved Templates for Common Correspondence
There are certain legal documents that will need to be developed from scratch – such as lengthy memos and case file resources that you have never used in the past. However, in most cases, legal correspondence is based on the same information used over and over again with slightly modified details. Therefore, it may save time and money for your law firm to use firm-branded legal templates when creating different types of legal documents.
By having a set of templates that your management team and partners have approved, you can provide your associates and staff members with a foundation on which they can build. Instead of being required to start from scratch. Investing in legal template software can help your firm by creating custom-firm-branded
Employing new legal software programs and practices can greatly expedite many document creation and formatting tasks. Read why “Why Legal Templates and Legal Document Software are a Must For Law Firms.”
Review and Revise Templates Periodically
Over time, even a well-written template will become outdated or somewhat irrelevant. Think about the vast number of changes and amendments made to laws and legal procedures year after year. Your firm needs to stay up-to-date and implement the necessary changes to its practices in a timely fashion. This means that the approved templates that your firm provides its staff may need to be modified or even rewritten periodically.
According to the American Bar Association, model litigation documents and model agreements need to be scheduled for review and applicable revisions on a regular basis. The partners and upper management of the firm need to work together to annotate the existing templates and/or create brand new ones from scratch. Using their industry experience and insight, senior partners are likely the most qualified to work on the necessary updates and revisions – adding practical advice to the documents that will allow them to remain relevant and useful to their associates and overall legal team.
Limit Creative Liberties with Correspondence
Creativity in the courtroom can lead to impressive cross-examinations and closing statements. However, when it comes to legal correspondence and documentation, creative liberties should never be taken. By leaving the creative control of your correspondence to the personal preferences of the associates and staff members responsible for making them, you introduce a level of inconsistent haphazardness to the operational cycle of your firm. It will be nearly impossible to manage that cycle effectively to ensure that it is trained properly to new hires and recently promoted employees.
Removing creative liberties with standard procedures and protocol to follow for every type of legal correspondence will prevent this detrimental degree of inconsistent production from ever being introduced into your firm.
Procedures Help Expansions and Transitions
As the law firm grows and gains new partners, expansion and growth are desirable products of that type of progress. New offices are leased, new associates are hired and new firms are established. As is the case with most franchises, chain stores and Fortune 500 corporations, there is always a specific set of procedures implemented and taught to each new branch, location or kiosk to ensure all operations remain consistent and on the same page. According to the Houston Chronicle, SOPs help to replicate high-quality processes across all branches of your organization.
Regardless of location, these procedures will ensure that every managing partner, associate, paralegal and staff member create and develop legal correspondence using the same approach, guidelines and approved templates.
Changes in a large law firm can seem daunting, but as we’ve mentioned in this article, it’s crucial to the success of any law firm. Advancements in legal software programs that perform legal document automation and provide templates for correspondence are enabling significant improvements in productivity for legal professionals. To make the transition as smooth as possible, read our “4 Secrets to Implementing Legal Software Programs”
Maintain a “By the Book” Mentality
As lawyers and legal experts, you have learned to do things strictly by the book. The way that you handle cases, approach courtroom officials and even research past legal precedents to prepare for future cases are all done by the book – adhering to applicable laws and practices along the way. When teaching and training your staff to handle your firm’s legal correspondence, you should maintain this helpful “by the book” mentality as well. Doing so will help you to maintain the same high-quality reputation outside of the courtroom that you may have worked for years to obtain inside of the courtroom.
Interested in upgrading your standards and practices? Read our blog on the “6 Essential Investments in Technology and Legal Software Programs for Lawyers”, or discover how Infoware’s suite of legal document automation softwarecan help your firm create streamlined, and accurate legal documents.