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Melissa Shanahan

#234: Case Management Workflow and Delegation with Randa Prendergast

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Last week, Melissa was joined by Randa Prendergast, a.k.a. The Attorney Whisperer. They sat down to discuss billing and why solid billing practices are vital for getting your cash flow stable, which is the precursor to this week’s topic: investing in effective workflows and delegation for all law firm owners.

Everyone wants great systems and processes. However, it’s work most people don’t want to do. Whether you currently don’t feel like you have the know-how to structure case workflows and identify tasks for delegation, or simply aren’t willing to take on the learning curve, it’s the unsexy stuff that makes your business hum. The great news is Randa is the expert, and she’s providing you with everything you need to know. 

Tune in this week to hear Randa’s top tips for beginning to implement a case management workflow that supports you, your team, and your clients. You’ll learn why addressing your firm’s case workflows matters, what to consider when shopping for a software that fits your needs, and how to set yourself up with partners who can help you get the results you’re looking for.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• Randa’s top suggestions for implementing regular check-ins with your clients.

• Why Randa is not a fan of utilizing project management softwares for case management.

• What to consider when shopping for a case management software that serves you.

• The signs that clue you into the need for delegation.

• Why addressing your firm’s case workflows matters.

• How to identify the type of tasks you need to delegate.

• What you can expect when you work with Randa.

Featured on the Show:

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Schedule a consult call with us here.

Randa Prendergast: Website | Facebook | Randa's Facebook | LinkedIn Attorney

#233: Billing Procedures: Good Practices for Healthy Cash Flow with Randa Prendergast

Sage Timeslips

PCLaw

PracticePanther

MyCase

Lawmatics

Clio

Smokeball

Faster Law

Calendly

John Grant

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #234.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Melissa Shanahan: All right, everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode. I am here with part two, with Randa Prendergast. Thanks for being here, again.
Randa Prendergast: Yes, thank you so much for having me again.

Melissa: So, in the last episode we talked about billing. There were two things that we both thought would be really great to talk about on this show, that would be really useful for listeners. One was around billing, and the other was around workflows and delegation.

So, you wanted to start with billing, you felt like that was really important to get your cash flow stable and right, so that it really allows you to pay attention to and invest in workflows and delegation, and getting those processes really set into place.

The combination of those two, it seems like, from your perspective, just seems like okay, then you'll be humming in a very different way. Is that fair to say?

Randa: Absolutely, yes.

Melissa: Okay. For those of you who are chiming into this episode, or tuning into this episode, and you haven't listened to the first one, I highly recommend going back to listen to that one first; Episode #233. This is #234. We're going to talk about the workflows and delegation. You can learn more about Randa there on the first one. Then I'll ask you some questions at the end for wrap up for everybody.

Okay, so where should we start when it comes to workflows and delegation?

Randa: Let's just talk about case workflows. What do you expect to happen on a case from start to finish? Typically, when I speak to law firm owners, I get a lot of, “Well, I know what's going to happen, but it's all in my head.” That works for a true solo, because they're the ones doing the work.

But if you're planning, or you don't always want to be a true solo, you need to start working towards getting those processes out and into some type of system, at least on paper. At least. I highly recommend a case management system of some sort, just because it works for you and not against you.

But if you don't have one, that's not the end-all be-all. You can still utilize some of these tips and things that you should be doing until you get one, or just so you have it out of your head.

So, when we're talking about case workflow we're talking about after retention, after your client has paid you and signed their fee agreement. You’ve got to make sure you have both of those things first. And then, we identify, usually, all the things that you're doing on a case at the beginning.

Like, there's a difference between the information you're getting in the intake process, and then the information that you need to actually start representing your client. So, a lot of times, it doesn't matter the practice area, we usually recommend that you do some type of case opening or matter opening.

It could be simple things like setting up your e-folders. Maybe you want to meet with your client again. It's huge in family law, or any type of law where you need a lot of discovery information. Family law sticks out because there's always either initial disclosures or financial affidavits, or discovery. And it's so hard to get that information from your client when it's served on you in that shorter period of time.

So, we'll talk about, “Hey, why don't you send out a welcome letter and a list for your client to start gathering these items? It's less stress for you.” You always want to think about being proactive instead of reactive. We essentially like to start with, what do you do as soon as someone signs up with you? We recommend a matter opening, or case opening, that has some of those lighter tasks. But it’s still very important.

In the first part, part one, when we are talking, we talked about how billing your client is good customer service, because you are telling them what's going on their case more frequently. That's what I call a “natural touch point.” So, your natural touch points are throughout cases; sending them their bill, sending them timestamp copies of their pleadings, sending them a hearing notice, reminding them of hearings or depositions or deadlines.

In addition to that, I always recommend building in a client check-in. This can happen every 30-45 days. The reason we want to talk about this, and implement it, is because it cuts down on interruptions from your clients asking you a bunch of questions of what's going on in the case. It gives you the opportunity to follow with any pending action items that they have, like discovery or witness list.

It also gives them the opportunity to ask any questions that they have. Also, you have the opportunity to ask them if there's been any change in circumstances. This is super important for PIs. This is super important for family law, and a lot of practice areas.

You want to make sure there's been no change in circumstances. Did they lose a job? Did they buy a car? Did they move? All of those things. You can keep up on that information as the case is going forward, because that's going to change your strategy.

Melissa: How often do you recommend check-ins?

Randa: Anywhere between 30-45 days. A lot of law firms are like, “I want it every 30 days.” Usually it's a team member, like a paralegal or legal admin, that can do this check-in. It's also an opportunity, if they have more legal questions, that the person can schedule a time with the attorney instead of having to put the attorney on the call or the check-in. The check-in can be a phone call, it can be an email.

But this task, in this workflow, essentially gets reset throughout the entire life of the case. And then, when we're talking about case workflow and that matter opening, and throughout all of your processes or your case workflow, we want to tell your team who's going to do this task, when they're going to do this task, and how they're going to do the task.

So, for that client check-in task, that will be part of your case opening workflow, we’ll say, “The paralegal is responsible for the task. That happens 30 days after hire. The language of how to do the task is: Ask these four questions, give them an update on their case or a deadline, and reset the task for another 30 days. So, check in again.” By laying out how you want it done, how you want to communicate to the client, and what questions they should be asking, that person knows exactly when they need to do it and how they should do that.

Melissa: Okay, one question that comes to mind is, I know that tasks are set up many times, oftentimes, or maybe all the time, inside of the case management software. Do you also utilize something outside of the case management software? When you said when, how, and I don't remember the third one…

Randa: When, who, how?

Melissa: Yeah, when, who, and how. The “How” is that in a different software that is meant to hold their internal processes? Or no, and it's actually all built in to one software, when you're working with someone on this?

Randa: That's a great question. So, there's a little bit of overlap. We try to put as much information that we can right into the task. They don't have to leave the task at hand to go look at how to do something. I do think that there should be additional written processes on certain things that your team members should be trained on when they get on-boarded.

For example, discovery is a really good example. There should be a process for discovery, a whole written process; how you should label things that come in, what needs to be redacted. Are you keeping a log of discovery? What your client provides, what opposing provides maybe, or if you need to subpoena someone. There should be even a good old Google Sheet or an Excel spreadsheet, that can satisfy that discovery log.

But there are so many other things that go into discovery and organizing discovery, that I think that is a really good place to have in your task process discovery, per our policy and procedure. You can even put a link to it, straight to that procedure. But that is a good example where there's going to be a little bit of overlap.

Melissa: Okay, yeah. So, is there ever any one or particular software that law firms use that they don't have to have an outside, because of how robust and how awesome it is? I would imagine the answer is no, but I'm just seeing.

Randa: Not that I can recall. There are different ways to put it in the system, but it's not going to all live in that task that you pull up to do.

Melissa: Okay, I have one more question. Are there certain software out there that law firm owners are sometimes tempted to buy or purchase for some reason that you would just recommend against? Like, when it comes to implementing the kinds of things that you do, but it just makes it too difficult? Where there are so many barriers that it takes longer, or they're stuck longer than they need to be? And so really, they should look into something different?

I'm not trying to throw any software under the bus. But listen, if you're about to say a name, they need to get their stuff together.

Randa: Well, I guess to go back to your previous question. When I'm talking about software, I'm looking specifically at legal case management software. There might be a software like a project management software that can do something like that. That kind of leads to the answer of the next question.

I'm not a huge fan of utilizing project management software for case management, just because then your tech stack becomes greater because it can only do project management. It can't do legal billing, it may or may not be able to do document storage, it may or may not be able to have a calendar where you keep deadlines.

If you're using (Sage) Timeslips, or PCLaw, or it's time to upgrade, when you're shopping or looking at software, identify your biggest pain point and see which one solves that pain point the best. There is not going to be a perfect case management software, it just does not exist.

So, go into it with that mindset, know kind of what your budget is, what you're looking for, and know what your biggest pain points are. Also know your level; how comfortable you are with tech? Because some are very robust, and some are not. Are you looking for more of the out-of-box, ready-to-use type of software? PracticePanther would be a really good one.

If you're kind of comfortable with tech, you can do some things, and you're willing to take the time or at least work with someone like me to do it, MyCase would be a good one; middle of the road for you.

If you are really big on tech and you want it to automate, meaning you don't have to push the buttons as much, I definitely would look into Lawmatics or Clio. Clio can do a lot, and then they have a lot of tech integrations that can help too.

Melissa: So, what about Smokeball? If you don't have any thoughts on it, it's fine. I'm just curious if you do.

Randa: I don't have too many thoughts. The few thoughts I have is Smokeball claims to be online, but they have an offline option, meaning they will be installed on your computer. And so, that update between there and the cloud is not always real time, number one.

Number two, they don't play nice with Macs. So, if anyone on your team has a Mac, it's not a good choice. If you are married to Macs, definitely not a good choice. If you are unsure, or open, to having Macs in the future... I know it's like a war out there with PC/Mac, though. I will be the person that will never use a Mac. But some people… If you're even open to it, I still wouldn't invest my time and money into software that doesn't play nice with it right now.

Melissa: If people listening aren't Mac people and they are PC, and they have considered Smokeball or they are considering Smokeball, what's a perk about Smokeball, if anything comes to mind?

Randa: Yeah, so I haven't worked with it too much. But a big feature is that it captures time really well. Which is really nice because there's a lot of lost time. It basically will capture all the time on a case that you're doing, and then you can choose what to bill and not to bill. Which is really nice because sometimes you forget to set your timer or whatever. But it’ll tell you that you touched this case for this amount of time, so it'll identify potential time you can bill your client.

Melissa: Have you worked with Faster Law at all?

Randa: I haven't. We haven't done any implementation or anything with them. No.

Melissa: Okay. I have some clients that swear by Faster Law with Clio. But I feel like there have been changes with integrations, and maybe some behind-the-scenes drama between Clio and Faster Law.

Randa: I think there was; I saw the drama.

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, it felt like it really helped people, in a similar way that you're talking about Smokeball, really capture everything. So, I was just curious if that's something you come across or had to work with?

Randa: Yeah, some people do you utilize that, which is great. Just keep in mind, it is a separate cost, in addition to your case management, that you're paying for. So, when you start, does it kind of stack different software together?

That's what I was talking about with project management. You stack and they don't really integrate. With Clio, you can stack a lot but they integrate with each other so you're still kind of like in one system.

In MyCase, they used to have a closed API, they have now opened their API. And so, you can build API with them. But I think they're moving towards having those third-party software integrations more. They have a couple right now. But just keep that in mind too, as you're taking a look at software.

Melissa: Okay, I took you on down a rabbit hole with that. So, if we go back to workflows, you mentioned the “Who.” Do you want to speak to that a little bit? Just generally speaking, when it comes to tasks, case tasks, delegation, and what are some of the things you see? What might be something helpful you have to offer?

Randa: Sure. You know you need to delegate, because there's just not enough hours in the day, right? Admin tasks should be delegated and not done by attorneys. There are a million podcasts on that. There are a million articles on that.

But to help you identify the type of tasks that you need to delegate, writing out your processes helps you identify who can do that. So, if it's checking in with the client once a month, an admin can do that. It’s simple. In some levels, paralegals will do it, depending on what type of questions they're asking, and stuff like that.

When you start writing out your processes, you can identify who should be doing it. Like, “Oh, an admin. can do that. A v.a. can do this. A paralegal really needs to do this, because it's drafting. The attorney needs to do this, because they have to review it.”

My goal, when I'm writing out a case process, is that the attorney only has no more than five tasks. And, five is a lot to me. When we get into trial, and trial prep, it's a little different. But my goal is to write a process or build a process with you. In answering discovery, there should be two tasks in there for the attorney, everything else could be delegated to someone else.

Melissa: What are those two tasks?

Randa: It’s reviewing the discovery responses before they get sent to opposing; reviewing/revising rising those. And then, it's just dependent on how people do their processes. Sometimes the attorney wants to talk to the client about them, especially if their request is for admissions or something like that. Sometimes, that task will be written in there. Yeah, so that one could be one to two.

Melissa: So interesting. Okay, five for the length of the case?

Randa: Five is the max for a process. What we do is we break down each process. Because what we don't want to do, is take what you do from start to finish on a case and put it all in one task list or workflow. Because it's not all going to be applicable to every single matter. We break them down.

So, here's a good rundown of the different task lists and workflow that we would do applicable to family law, and probably civil lit. Like, a regular civil lit. case. We’ll do a matter opening. We’ll do a complaint list or petition list, if you’re plaintiff or a petitioner. We’ll do a responsive petition or an answer. We’ll do a motions list or response to motion, discovery issuing, discovery responding.

If you do depositions, we typically recommend three to four depo lists, depending. Civil lit. has a little bit more than family law. But we do one for preparing your client for a deposition, taking opposing’s deposition, taking experts deposition, because it's different. And then, taking a third-party or non-party deposition, like a witness or someone. We’ll do a mediation list.

We'll do a pretrial list, a trial list; sometimes they're called different things. It just depends on how your jurisdiction does deadlines, but they're essentially the same process.

And then, I'll do small lists like case management hearings; a list for that. Even though it's not complex, there's still things that you need to do every single time you go to Case Management Hearing, every single month. You’ve got to tell your client. If you want to order up to hear a motion, you have to have a task to make sure that you have that to review, to do that, because there's a deadline to submit it to the court.

You have to put the new case management hearing on the calendar when you get back from the one that you were just at. So, the processes don't have to be long and complex. It's just something that you have to do and you don't want to forget to do. We don't want to forget the fine details.

Melissa: So, within each of those five, at the most. But now I can see why you're saying five is a lot. But per process, that's not what you're trying to do for the attorney.

Randa: No, no. Like I said, five for when you start to get into trial prep, pretrial.

Melissa: Got it. Okay, that's great. And so, with the delegation, once you start breaking these processes down, it becomes really clear who you can hand or give responsibility to for certain tasks, in a way that works and that the expectation is clear.

Randa: If you don't have anyone to delegate to, still do it. Because the goal is eventually to delegate to someone. And so, just looking at, “I want to do these types of tasks,” then that tells you who you need to hire, to delegate to.

Melissa: Absolutely. This just comes back to why it's so hard to do for ourselves, though. I can see the value in having a company like yours to break this down, or help them break it down. It's the same thing when we teach Monday Map/Friday Wrap. You have to get everything out of your head and onto paper, or you have a list of to-dos somewhere.

Usually, they're not broken down small enough, so it feels like your weight to carry. But if you just break down the things you have written down, there's several to-dos within each item that you have, and then you can divvy out the to-dos. It makes everything lighter and move faster.

But it's really, I was going to say it's a skill, but it's just a muscle that you flex. Everybody has got the ability to do this, it's just harder for some than for others, so you have to practice it. And, having a guide to do that work, because their brain is so far into other kinds of work. So, having someone like you guys, that help people do this with their systems and processes specifically, is super valuable.

Randa: Well, when we are doing that with our law firms, we also identify inefficiencies. I'm like, “Why are you waiting to do X? Why not get that out of the way at the beginning?” Discovery is a big thing, and I'm like, “Why are you waiting until you're served with discovery to ask your client for discovery docs?” You know they're going to need three years of tax returns. You know they're going to need bank statements.

It's like, “Tell them at the beginning of the case. Start collecting this. It saves the client time and money when they do get served with discovery.” Because the hope is, they have most of the stuff already.

Or other things too, like utilizing a scheduler like Calendly. We’ve talked about that a lot; how to utilize it, how to save a small firm’s time, which translates to saving money. By just utilizing something like that, having good calendar control, and what that can do for your case processes. And then, utilizing Calendly in their workflows for automation, so you don't have to do that follow up with your client, or those reminders.

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. Anything else you want to say on the topic of workflows and delegation that might be useful? Or any hot tips, so to speak?

Randa: Once you do this, it's just very helpful because anyone who joins your team, you're cutting out that communication on how you want something done. So, it aids in training new team members, because you can assign them a task, you've already put those details in there.

Also, just utilizing just what I call a “one-off” task in your system is very helpful too, even though it's not part of a workflow or a task list. And just getting into the groove of putting those fine details into those tasks, especially if you're delegating it to someone else.

So, you can start identifying very quickly where you are in a case. Not only does it help you just be more efficient, but it just helps you identify where you are in a case and where you've been on a case pretty quickly. Like, “We did this, on this date.” So, that's very helpful too, if clients have questions and stuff like that.

Melissa: Absolutely. Gosh, this is the stuff. It's the unsexy stuff that makes your business awesome.

Randa: But it's not unsexy to me, Melissa.

Melissa: Well, okay, that's the beauty. I feel the same way about planning and strategic planning, and habits and focus; all of that. Where some people don't. I mean, that's the muck of it. It sounds nice. It sounds nice to have. Everybody wants good habits, they want to have good focus, they want to be good planners, and on your side of the world, they want good systems and processes.

But to get that done, and to create those, that's the result of a bunch of work that most people, if they're being honest, they don't want to do. But they want the result. And so, I think it's super smart to set yourself up with partners that can help you get the results that you want. But not in a way that doesn't foster your own self-development as an owner.

I was just thinking about, for instance, John Grant. Do you know who John Grant is? I love him. He is a teacher at heart. The thing about him that I think is different, and it's not better or worse, it's just different, is that he likes to explain and help and walk people through so that they understand how to do this for themselves in the future. And so, the work he does is on a call with him. Like it sounds like you guys perform some work for your clients. You bill for the time that you're really working on their stuff, right? Is that true?

Randa: Yeah, well, we kind of do both. So, when you do legal consulting with us, you will meet with us once a week. It's a one-hour working meeting.

Melissa: Do you ever work on their stuff outside of calls with them?

Randa: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes we'll put some things together, or obviously do implementation in the software and stuff.

Melissa: Yeah, so that's different. It sounds like you also help the owners develop, so that they really understand, principally speaking, why these things are important; how to think about these things, how to structure things, you get their input. And so, that's one piece of it.

The other piece is execution, and not that they have nothing to do with execution, but you guys also really own a piece of that, to help them get from point A to point B.
You're were talking about geeking out, you think it is fun, you think it's the sexy part of the business, and that's what makes the world go round. Thank goodness for that, because people have an opportunity to partner with others who like to geek out on the things that they feel inadequate to do. And there is a learning curve that needs to be had, and you can provide that for people in a way that also...

I guess I brought up John Grant, because I do think it's different, is you guys have similar areas of expertise with how you think about things and how you break things down and you deliver different results. But he likes teaching, he likes development. He will work with it on a call with you, but it really is still sort of the owner’s development that has to be pushed forward. They have to execute on these things.

Whereas, your company appreciates deeply the truth that you have to educate the owner, and you're kind of willing to do some of the work also, to speed it up. And so, it's just different ways. You guys both geek out. Different strokes for different folks, right? But I'm so glad you do think it's the sexy part of the business. I get it.

Randa: What I always hear is, they want to do it but they're like, “I'm just not good.” I’m like, “Good thing I am, so let's go.”

Melissa: Exactly. That's so cool. Okay, how do people know where to go? Well, you could tell them. MrsJuneLegal.com, right?

Melissa: And then, of course, LinkedIn and Facebook at attorneywhisperer. One last thing I'd love for you to say, is how you work with people. What can they expect? Are there packages? Or is it, “Let's just enter into sessions together and go from there?” What do you have to say about that?

Randa: Yes. Sure. We'll identify on a discovery call their biggest pain point. So, if it's A/R we'll do billing. If it's missing deadlines, we'll do calendar. If it's case workflow or delegation or just keeping cases moving forward, we’ll do task lists or case processes.

It's an hourly meeting each week. The case processes are pretty consistent of meeting weekly. On average, it takes about 12 weeks for a practice area. That's not consecutive, sometimes we skip and stuff like that. But that's our goal.

We build out processes, three or four of them, and then we'll do training so you can start using it right away. So, you have something and you learn how to use it, and you can continue to use it as we complete the process. So, that's really fun and nice.

A lot of times we do calendar together. Because we'll do Calendly and we'll build, out of that, workflows at the same time. So, that pushes that timeline a little bit, slightly longer, but you have two improved areas in your law firm.

Billing is a little bit more difficult, because it's all dependent on how you're doing billing, if your billing’s current, or if your matters are set up correctly. It's still that hourly meeting each week, but as far as timeline, that does vary because there's all different types. Law firms are in different spaces when it comes to that.

Melissa: That's great. Thank you. Thanks for coming on.

Randa: Yeah, this was so fun.

Melissa: It was great. I really appreciate your time. I think there's some good nuggets in here for people. And so, what a great way… This is towards the end of the year, when these will air, and people can really start to think about some of this stuff and what they want to shift for next year. And so, I really appreciate your time coming on.

Randa: Thank you for having me, Melissa.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to velocitywork.com, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to velocitywork.com to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to velocitywork.com where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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