Systems and policies are essential for any successful law firm. But it’s not enough just to have systems, you have to fully integrate them into your practice (this, unfortunately, his the hard part). Truth is, you have to live and die by your systems every single day. Okay, but how? The almighty Work Plan.
A Work Plan allows you to automate just about any recurring process in your firm. The Work Plan consists of a checklist of the tasks need to be done and by whom. The Work Plan includes triggers for the next recurring task, critical deadlines, automated email and text messages and generates documents, e.g., summons and complaint, combined discovery demands, etc.
4 Simple Steps for Creating a Work Plan
Have a clear understanding of the processes in your firm. Get input from your paralegals, namely, who’s going to do what and what role a task will be assigned to.
Keep the Work Plan simple. Less is more. If the Work Plan is too complex, your team won’t use it. Put the outline on paper and have that guide by your side.
Throughout this article, I refer to SmartAdvocate, which I consider the best case management software for plaintiff’s lawyers. If your firm does not use SmartAdvocate, you should be able to create Work Plans using your case management software.
Step #1: Create a Checklist
The backbone of a Work Plan is a checklist that documents every task that must be performed. Sit down with your paralegals and secretaries and create an outline of every task that must be performed. Begin by creating Work Plans for Pre-Litigation, Litigation and Trial.
You can create a Work Plan for any recurring task, including:
- Probate for appointment of Estate representative in wrongful death case
- Probate for allocation and distribution of wrongful death proceeds
- Litigation Plan—MVA--Death
Once you have a Work Plan for Litigation—MVA-Death, you can copy and modify the workplan for a medical malpractice case.
Step #2: Assign Tasks
Who do you want this task assigned to? The task can be assigned to a specific person or you can assign the task to a particular role, e.g., primary paralegal, litigation paralegal, estate paralegal, intake specialist, lawyer, etc.
The tasks are shown on the summary page/dashboard, which shows the date that each task was completed.
Step #3: Generate Documents
Have your document templates ready. You can make a template out of any document. Templates are uploaded into SmartAdvocate.
Custom merge codes fill in the information when the form is completed. You can use an email or text template to update clients at certain milestones of their lawsuit.
Step #4: Create Deadlines and Appointments
After a task is performed, this will trigger the next task. A task is due only after the preceding task has been completed. If you check “Yes” for the task “Check & Verify if Answer to Complaint is Received”, the next task becomes “Serve Discovery Responses”. If you check “No”, the next task becomes “Follow up on the service of the Answer”.
The summary page lists the tasks that have been completed. You can mark each task complete on the summary page.
The Pre-Litigation Work Plan
The Work Plan will take you step-by-step through the different stages of a lawsuit. You can have a Work Plan that is specific to a case type, e.g., “MVA—Death”. The Pre-Litigation Work Plan for “MVA-Death” can be automatically assigned once the case is accepted for litigation.
The tasks in the Pre-Litigation Work Plan for “MVA-Death” might include:
- Generate the client welcome package (e.g., retainer agreement, power of attorney, authorizations, etc.)
- Obtain the Death Certificate
- Determine if an Estate Representative has been appointed
- Verify the client’s and potential defendants’ insurance coverage
- Request Police Accident Report
- Determine if client has filed no-fault application
- Serve SUM notice on client’s auto insurer
- Request client’s medical records from all healthcare providers
- Assign private investigator for witness statements, accident report and photos of site of collision
- Verify client’s treatment status
- Sue or refer out
You can edit the Work Plan as necessary or remove one of the tasks.
The Litigation Work Plan
Once you accept a case for litigation, go through the steps that are necessary for the filing of the lawsuit. These tasks will vary for different case types, e.g., motor vehicle collisions, premises liability, medical malpractice, etc.
An abbreviated version of a Litigation Work Plan might consist of the following:
- Verify receipt of medical records,
- Medical records complete,
- Draft summons and complaint,
- File and serve summons and complaint,
- Verify service of summons and complaint on defendants,
- Check and verify that answer to complaint has been received,
- Serve discovery demands
Add every task in the lawsuit in the Litigation Work Plan, and modify the Work Plan when you’re missing tasks.
The Trial Work Plan
The Trial Work Plan is usually the same regardless of case type (e.g., medical malpractice, truck wreck, drowning death):
- Notify clients and expert witnesses of the trial date
- Confirm date for trial testimony of expert witnesses
- Get updated medical records
- Draft subpoenas duces tecum for medical and employment records
- Edit defendants’ depositions transcripts for video playback during trial
- Contact medical illustrator to prepare courtroom exhibits
- Serve Supplemental Bill of Particulars (non-death cases only)
- Draft motion in limine
- Conduct focus group
Status of Your Potential and Active Cases: You can check on the stage or status of a case simply by reviewing the summary page/dashboard of SmartAdvocate. By checking the summary/dashboard, you’ll know what tasks have been done, by whom and what needs to happen next. Whenever a client calls you for an update, you’ll know exactly what needs to happen next.
Updates to Clients: You can automatically send emails to clients at certain milestones of the lawsuit, e.g., “Send email to client”. You can send a “welcome email to client” and emails explaining the scheduling of their deposition, scheduling of the defense medical examination and scheduling of their trial. Templates for the email are updated into SmartAdvocate.
Critical Deadlines: You can have SmartAdvocate trigger a deadline for the filing of a notice of claim. When you enter the date of the incident, SmartAdvocate will calculate the deadline for you. Enter the date that the summons and complaint are served and critical deadlines are auto-populated.
Monthly Accountability Meetings
Go one step further. Hold a monthly progress meeting with your team members to check on the status of every active lawsuit. Discuss what tasks need to happen next and who will do them.
Make sure every client has been contacted at least once every 3 weeks. Our firm’s Client Care Advocate calls all of our clients once every 3 weeks just to say “hi”, check on their medical status and update them on the status of our work. The updates should be added to SmartAdvocate and you should be updated whenever any team member communicates with one of your clients.
Why Work Plans are Essential for a Self-Managing Law Firm
Documenting the core processes of your law firm is the best use of your time. With Work Plans, everyone on your team knows specifically what task is next for every case and who is supposed to do the task. And on a moment’s notice, the Work Plans can tell you the stage of the lawsuit.
Your ultimate goal should be to create a self-managing law firm that functions in your absence. If you leave your firm for 3-6 months, your firm will function just fine without you. Without Work Plans that are integrated into your case management system, a self-managing law firm is impossible.