Solo Planning: If You Lose Your Key Support Staff, Can You Run?
by Dena A. Kleeman
(County Bar Update, May 1999, Vol. 19, No. 5)


Solo Planning: If You Lose Your Key Support Staff, Can You Run?

By Dena A. Kleeman, chair, Law Office Management Section. The opinions expressed are her own.

In solo and small law firms, one or two key employees run the office wearing varied hats as secretaries, paralegals, administrators, even file and billing clerks. These key employees know the location of client and administrative files. They maintain the office calendar. They coordinate billing. The list goes on and on...

But what if your "key person" is suddenly unavailable due to illness or other emergency? Can a replacement take over with relative ease? Do you -- the attorney supposedly in charge -- know enough to train the replacement?

To prepare for this emergency, develop a written job manual describing all tasks and duties of your key employee.

  • Plan to update this manual at regular intervals.
  • Make the manual a collective effort involving both you and your staff. In this way, you are kept up-to-date on any changes implemented by your staff, or learn those they wish to implement. Your joint effort will likely highlight any weaknesses in communication between you (how much is happening that you don't know about) and your staff. It will also provide an opportunity to commend a key employee for his/her initiative.
  • Ideally, your employee will update the manual for you whenever changes are implemented. Stress the importance of this task, and make it part of the employee's job description.

Another precaution against emergency absence is a "To Do" list. Are projects stored in memory -- your employee's head, not the computer -- or are they kept in written, printed or computerized format and accessible to you and replacement staff at any time? Make sure your staff understand the necessity of keeping and updating a "To Do" list, organized by client and administrative tasks.

The "To Do" list and job manual are your guides to the employee evaluation. The manual serves as a checklist for performance review in all areas of their jobs. The "To Do" lists provide a checklist of the quality of work on client matters. You can assess your employees' job knowledge, initiative, flexibility, communication skills, dependability, organizational skills and responsiveness -- all areas properly covered in a performance evaluation.

So...get started on your manual and staff "To Do" lists, and stress attorney-staff communication.

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