Evaluating and improving firm performance

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s column is written by Karen Munoz.

Evaluating your individual performance and the performance of your firm can seem like a daunting task. It can be difficult to know where exactly to start; outcomes for clients, productivity, firm finances, organization, marketing. The list of potential areas for improvement is endless. But by breaking down the task of performance evaluation into simple, discrete categories, it becomes a lot easier and potentially very valuable to your firm.

This post looks at 3 simple questions and how to ask them of ourselves and our firms, which will help get us in the right frame of mind for improving performance and efficiency.

1. What are we doing that isn’t working?

This is obviously a very simple question but one that we probably ask all too rarely. Lawyers that have been practicing in a firm for a number of years can become stubborn and very entrenched in their ways. But we can ask this question of our practice in relation to almost every piece of work we do. This can range from the firm’s filing system, to the types of clients/work we are taking on, to the division of labor within the firm.

It might be that a partner or an associate is spending a lot of time in a particular type of task that could easily be delegated to a paralegal, for example. It might be that the filing system in an office is inefficient or cumbersome. The only way these problems can be fixed is by asking the question

2. What are we doing that is working?

If we are going to look what’s not working, we should obviously look at what we’re doing well. While it’s not really an improvement to simply continue doing the things we’re already doing well, we can still learn a lot about our practice even by thinking about it. Perhaps the firm is achieving really positive results for clients in one particular area more so than others. And it may be that you’re carrying out a few small things differently when it comes to different types of work. Looking at what is working well and trying to implement the same approach across the board, where possible, will improve overall performance.

3. What should we be doing that we aren’t doing?

This is the logical next question to ask after we’ve examined what is and what isn’t working. Even if we conclude that most of what we are doing is working, there may still be other things we should be doing that we aren’t. For example, we might be doing great work for all of our existing clients but maybe we aren’t doing much to bring in new ones.

Linked to this question is initiatives we have been meaning to employ but haven’t got around to doing them, whether it’s a minor individual task or a fundamental overhaul of a procedure in your office. Every little helps and continually thinking about ways to improve your practice will help a lot.

I think we should also bear in mind that getting other perspectives is extremely beneficial when we are trying to evaluate our work. So asking co-workers for their opinions and sending client surveys can help realize more thorough evaluation and more meaningful improvements.

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