General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Law Trends & News

Practice Area Newsletter

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

SPRING 2010

Vol. 6, No. 3

FAMILY LAW

 

Law Office Staff Manual Policies and Procedures: General Employment Policies for All Staff, Associates, and Partners

There is no perfect organizational structure for a law office staff manual. Generally the manual reflects the personalities and procedures of the law firm. Some are organized alphabetically by task, whereas others are divided into sections based on the hierarchy of the firm. In putting together these sample sections of a law office staff manual, we opted to use a hierarchical structure to organize our issue into three sections based on who the content applies to: 1) For all members of the firm—staff, associates, and partners; 2) For nonpartner staff—associates, paralegals, and employees, and 3) For associates only. Then each of these sections is subdivided into three or four general categories that cover generally: (a) the law or rules of the firm, (b) employee conduct, and (c) law office procedures and (d) law office management. We encourage you to use or adapt these paragraphs to meet the needs of your firm.

This first section covers the law firm mission statement or objective, legal requirements and protections for all employees, acceptable behavior for all employees, and law office procedures and management about which all staff need to be aware. Asterisks between entries indicate optional paragraphs.

Disclaimer—No Employment Contract
This law office manual is designed to provide a written description of various law-firm processes and procedures. It is provided to all lawyers and employees to help them become more aware of and comfortable with day-to-day routine law office operations and processes and the overlapping roles of various staff members. This manual is not intended to create or constitute any type of employment contract.

See also sample disclaimer and Employment at Will.

Firm Objective
The primary objective of this firm is:

To be the premier family-law office in ___________, meeting the needs of mid- to high-end clientele with sensitivity, while maintaining the highest professional standards.

Further objectives of the firm are:

  • To have a well-organized, well-managed, productive law firm that can make a profitable contribution to our clients and to the legal system;
  • To provide a work product that is timely, accurate, and of value to our clients;
  • To be fair, honest, and ethical in all dealings with our clients, employees, court personnel, opposing counsel, and vendors;
  • To be always in pursuit of new procedures and products designed to benefit the firm, our employees, and our clients; and
  • To do everything in our power to make this firm a good place in which to work and an asset to both our social and legal communities.

The Law
Disability Policy
This firm is committed to complying fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by ensuring equal opportunity in employment for qualified persons with disabilities. This policy applies to new applicants as well as employees of the firm. In addition, the firm will not discriminate against any qualified employees or applicants who may be perceived to have a disability or who are related to or associated with a person with a disability or a perceived disability.

New Applicants: Many firm positions can provide meaningful employment opportunities to persons with disabilities. The firm will not inquire about an applicant’s disability, and related questions are limited to inquiring about an applicant’s ability to perform the duties of the position.

Employees: Reasonable accommodation is available to all disabled employees where their disabilities affect the performance of job functions. All employment-related decisions are based on the merits of the situation and not on the disability of the individual. Qualified individuals with disabilities are entitled to equal pay and other forms of compensation (or changes in compensation), as well as job assignments, classifications, organizational structures, position descriptions, advancement, and seniority lists. Leave of all types is available to all eligible employees on an equal basis.

This policy is neither exhaustive nor exclusive. The firm is committed to taking all other actions necessary to ensure equal employment opportunity for persons with disabilities in accordance with the ADA and all other applicable federal, state, and local laws.

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Consistent with the firm’s support for the Americans with Disabilities Act, employees with disabilities or serious diseases may work as 7 as they are able to perform the essential duties of their job without undue risk to their own health or that of other employees, clients, or associates. Any employee with a disability or serious disease is invited to inform the director of human resources so that reasonable accommodations can be made, if necessary, provided that such accommodations do not cause undue hardship to the organization. Such information will be kept strictly confidential.

Disciplinary Action
In the event a problem arises with an employee of the firm, the partners with regard to the problem and the requested correction shall first counsel such employee verbally in closed session, with a follow-up review at some time certain in the immediate future.

If the problem continues after this counseling session, the partners shall issue a formal written warning that will be presented to the employee in closed session. Employee will be asked to sign the warning as to the fact that employee has read and understands the contents of the warning. Such signature does not indicate agreement with the warning. Again, a review period of a time certain will be indicated, along with an explanation of any possible further discipline in this matter.

A copy of the written warning will be placed in the employee’s personnel folder and a copy will be given to the employee for his/her personal file. If the problem continues beyond the written warning, further disciplinary action will be taken—up to and including termination of employment.

Employment at Will
Employment with the company is voluntarily entered into, and the employee is free to terminate his/her employment at will at any time, with or without cause. Similarly, the firm may terminate the employment relationship at will at any time, with or without notice or cause. Policies set forth in this handbook are not intended to create a contract, nor are they to be construed to constitute contractual obligations of any kind or a contract of employment between the firm and any of its employees. The provisions of the handbook have been developed at the discretion of firm management and, except for its policy of employment-at-will, may be amended or cancelled at any time, at the firm’s sole discretion.

Employee Benefits

  • Credit Union: As an employee of this office, you are eligible to open a share account at the ________________ Credit Union. Group dental insurance is available, at your cost, through the credit union.
  • Life/Medical Insurance: At this time we are unable to offer health insurance benefits because we do not have enough employees to obtain group rates, except for Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). To date our employees have not wanted to join an HMO. You are free to bring to ________________’s attention any information you have about available insurance benefits.
  • Pension Plan: This firm has a pension plan, administered locally by ________________ . All contributions are from the employer. The plan does not permit employee contributions. For more information, consult the pension plan description distributed to all eligible employees.
  • Price Club: You are eligible for a price club membership if you are the senior employee, or if a senior employee declines membership. (We have more employees than cards available). If you are interested, let ______________ know.
  • Profit-Sharing Plan: Complete details of the firm’s profit-sharing plan are described in the Summary Plan Description provided to eligible employees.
  • Workers’ Compensation: The firm is required by law to carry workers’ compensation for work-related accidents. This is provided through the state compensation fund, which is paid for by the firm. Any employee who sustains an accident or injury arising out of and in the course of employment should follow the procedures outlined on the notice posted in the secretary’s office. Written notice to ________________ should detail the date, time, place, and manner of injury. Policy number is ________________ .

Equal Employment Opportunity
To provide equal employment and advancement opportunities to all individuals, employment decisions at the firm will be based on merit, qualifications, and abilities. The firm will not discriminate against or harass any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, handicap or physical or mental disability, perceived disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship status, military status, status with regard to public assistance, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state, or local law.

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The firm is an equal opportunity employer. Our policy of equal employment opportunity is to recruit, hire, and assign the best qualified personnel in all of our centers and offices and to provide equal employment opportunities with respect to the retention, compensation, advancement, and development of all employees in a manner that will not discriminate against any person because of race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental handicap, military status, or any other reason prohibited by the fair employment laws. Any question or concern about equal employment opportunity should be brought to the attention of the human resources department.

Family and Medical Leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a federal law that, in general, requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected family medical leave (FML) to eligible employees for certain family and medical reasons. The FMLA defines eligible employees as employees who (1) have worked for the firm for at least 12 months, (2) have worked for the firm for at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months, and (3) work at or report to a worksite that has 50 or more employees or is within 75 miles of worksites that taken together have a total of 50 or more employees.

Employees on FML will be required to use all paid time off while on leave. The employee can continue his/her insurance coverage by paying the normal payroll deduction in advance each month during the leave. For further details, please contact the director of human resources.

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The firm provides family medical leave (FML) under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to eligible employees. Eligible employees include all regular full-time and regular part-time employees who have been employed by the firm for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period immediately preceding the start of the leave. For purposes of determining whether an employee has worked for the firm for at least 12 months, all employment with the firm, at any time, whether continuous or interrupted, will be counted. For the purposes of calculating the 1,250 hours, only time the employee has spent working, including paid time off (i.e., vacation time and all paid holidays) will be counted (only actual time worked will be counted toward the 12-month qualifying period for temporary workers).

Eligible employees may apply for FML leave as follows:

  • For the birth of a child and to care for a newborn child;
  • For placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care;
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition;
  • Because of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the employee’s job.

Employees who wish to take time off from work duties for items 1 and 2 above must take and conclude the leave within 12 months of either the birth or placement, and for any period of up to 12 weeks. The leave must be taken in one block of time for any period of up to 12 workweeks. Employees who wish to take time off from work duties for items 1 and 4 above may be entitled to short-term disability payments during their FML (see personnel policy #________________).

A serious health condition means an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical-care facility, or continuing treatment by a health-care provider.

Employees may take FML intermittently (in nonconsecutive blocks of time) or on a reduced-hours basis (by reducing the number of hours worked over a period of time). If such intermittent leave or reduced-hours leave is medically necessary, the firm may reassign the employee to another position with equivalent pay and benefits if it better accommodates recurring periods of leave than does the employee’s regular position.

Eligible employees should make requests for FML to their supervisors at least 30 days in advance of foreseeable events and as soon as possible for unforeseeable events. Employees requesting FML related to the serious health condition of a child, spouse, domestic partner, or parent may be required to submit a health-care provider’s statement verifying the need for a FML to provide care, its beginning and expected ending dates, and the estimated time required.

Eligible employees may request up to a maximum of 12 weeks of FML within any 12-month period. The 12-month period is measured from the date an employee’s first leave begins.

Employees will be required to first use any accrued/earned vacation time for FML purposes before taking unpaid FML. The firm will provide employees with only enough FML to total 12 weeks (paid and unpaid leave combined). Married employee couples may be restricted to a combined total of 12 weeks’ leave within any 12-month period for childbirth, adoption, or placement of a foster child, or to care for a parent with a serious health condition.

If the initial period of approved absence proves insufficient, a request for an extension will be considered. Any leave that extends past 12 workweeks is governed by the firm’s personal leave policy, (see policy #_________________ ).

Subject to the terms, conditions, and limitations of the applicable plans, the firm will continue to provide health insurance, life insurance, and disability coverage for the full period of the approved FML, provided the employee is participating in the plans and continues to make any required employee contributions. While on leave, employees may choose from either of the following payment options: (1) prepayment of benefit coverage for the entire leave prior to the employee going on leave; or (2) payment at the end of each month. If an employee’s payment is more than 30 days late, the firm may discontinue coverage after 15 days’ prior notice. Any period of FML will be treated as continued service for purposes of eligibility in the firm retirement programs and service credit in the short-term disability and vacation plans.

Vacation accrual will be suspended during the leave and will resume upon return to active employment. No holiday payment is accrued during a leave (unless the employee is receiving payments under the short-term disability policy (see policy #_________________ ).

So that an employee’s return to work can be properly scheduled, an employee on FML is requested to provide the firm with at least two weeks’ advance notice of the intended date of return to work. When a FML ends, the employee will be reinstated to the same position (if available) or to an equivalent position for which the employee is qualified.

Employees who take FML have no greater right to reinstatement or to other benefits and conditions of employment than if they had been continuously employed during the leave. Changes in hours, schedules, duties, jobs, benefits, pay, and the like may occur due to business needs.

If you are a “key” employee, you are entitled to a FML under the Act, but you may be denied restoration of your employment if such restoration would cause “substantial and grievous economic injury” to the firm’s operations. A “key” employee is a FMLA-eligible employee who is among the 10 percent highest-paid employees of the firm within 75 miles of the employee’s work site.

If an employee fails to return to work on the agreed upon date, the firm will assume that the employee has resigned. The termination date will be the expiration date of the leave.

Note: Certain state laws may set forth regulations requiring that the firm provide leave in excess of 12 weeks in certain situations (e.g., childbirth). The firm will adhere to all state laws governing the required length of leave.

Harassment Policy
The firm is committed to providing a work environment that is free of sexual discrimination and harassment. Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: (1) submission to such conduct is made (explicitly or implicitly) a condition of employment; (2) submission to or the rejection of such conduct affects the making of employment decisions concerning the employee; or (3) such conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment or otherwise unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance.

Examples of inappropriate conduct include, but are not limited to:

  • Sexually oriented or explicit remarks, including written or verbal references to sexual conduct, gossip regarding an individual’s body, sexual activities, and the like.
  • Unwanted or offensive phone calls, e-mails, notes, letters, text or voicemail messages, and the like.
  • Suggestive or sexually explicit posters, cartoons, calendars, photographs, and the like.

Any employee who is a witness to or the subject of any type of unlawful harassment must promptly report the matter to his/her immediate supervisor and the human resources department. If the supervisor is unavailable, or if the employee is uncomfortable contacting that person, the employee should immediately contact the human resources department. Employees may raise their good-faith concerns and make reports without fear of reprisal by the firm or its employees. All reports of harassment will be investigated in a timely manner, and all efforts will be made to maintain the confidentiality of all involved.

Anyone found to have engaged in sexual or other unlawful harassment will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. Likewise, any employee who is determined to have intentionally made a false accusation against another staff member will also be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.

This policy and complaint procedure also applies when an employee believes that a third party (i.e., vendor, consultant, etc.) or client is subjecting such employee to sexual harassment as detailed in the preceding paragraphs. The firm will not tolerate such conduct by its clients, vendors, and the like.

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The firm provides its employees with an environment that encourages creative, productive, and efficient work. The firm does not tolerate any individual’s engaging in harassment of any other individual or group on the basis of color, race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, medical condition, or any category protected by applicable federal, state, or local law and will impose appropriate disciplinary action on any individual who engages in such prohibited action. Harassing conduct is unacceptable in the workplace, and at any work-related settings, such as business trips and business-related social functions and will not be tolerated on the part of employees, vendors, or other third parties.

Allegations of harassment will be investigated and, if substantiated, corrective or disciplinary action will be taken, up to and including administrative review and/or termination of the employee.

  • Harassment Defined: Harassment is unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct creating an intimidating, offensive, or hostile environment that interferes with work performance or otherwise adversely affects an individual’s or group’s employment opportunities. Examples of harassment include verbal actions (including slurs, jokes, insults, epithets, gestures or teasing), visual evidence (including offensive posters, symbols, cartoons, drawings, computer displays, or e-mails) or physical conduct (including physically threatening another, blocking someone’s way, etc.) that shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of any protected characteristic.
  • Sexual Harassment Defined: Sexual harassment is defined to include any of the above conduct as well as other unwelcome conduct, such as unsolicited sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, conversations regarding sexual activities, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual or gender-based nature when:
    • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of an individual’s employment; or
    • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual; or
    • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

It is the responsibility of every employee to refrain from actions that could be considered sexually harassing. Sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to:

  • Making unsolicited and unwelcome written, verbal, physical or visual contact with sexual or gender-based overtones. (Written examples: suggestive or obscene letters, notes, e-mails, or invitations. Verbal examples: derogatory comments, slurs, jokes, epithets, or suggestive or insulting voicemails, sounds, or noises. Physical examples: assault, touching, impeding or blocking movements. Visual examples: leering, gestures, display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons, posters, or magazines.)
  • Continuing to express sexual or personal interest after being informed that the interest is unwelcome.
  • Making reprisals, threats of reprisal, or implied threats of reprisal following a negative response. For example, either implying or actually withholding support for an appointment, promotion, or change of assignment or suggesting that a poor performance report will be given or an unsatisfactory work environment will be created.
  • Engaging in implicit or explicit coercive sexual or gender-based behavior that is used to control, influence, or affect the career, salary, and/or work environment of another employee.
  • Offering favors of employment benefits, such as promotions, favorable performance evaluation, favorable assigned duties, recommendations, reclassifications, etc., in exchange for sexual favors.
  • Conversation about one’s own or someone else’s sex life.
  • Conduct or comments consistently targeted at only one gender, even if the content is not sexual.
  • Teasing or other conduct directed toward a person because of his or her gender.
  • Reporting: Employees who believe that the actions or words of a supervisor, co-worker, or any other individual constitute unwelcome harassment have a responsibility to report the incident(s) as soon as possible to the firm management and/or the next level administrator who is not the subject of the complaint or the director of human resources.

Complaints of harassment will be fully and promptly investigated. Any lawyer or other staff member who has been found by the firm to have harassed another employee or individual will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination or discharge from the firm. The complainant will be informed of the completion of the investigation and of remedial actions taken.

No adverse action will be taken against a person for making a complaint of harassment when the complainant honestly believes harassment has occurred or is occurring or for participating in or cooperating with an investigation. Confidentiality will be preserved, consistent with applicable laws and the responsibility to investigate and address such complaints. Employees who believe that their complaint has not been satisfactorily resolved may make a written appeal to the executive officers of the firm. Where required by local law, additional procedures and requirements will be followed. Please consult your supervisor or director of human resources for details.

Employee Conduct

Appropriate and professional behavior

E-mail, the Internet, & Pornography
The computer and access to the Internet and e-mail are essential tools in our office. However, we must use these tools with restraint and discipline. All attorneys and staff must remember that these tools are for office use only and that there are laws and ethical rules applicable to their use. The following is a list of rules and warnings for their use. Each staff member must remember that firm tools, computers, software and equipment are the property of the firm and may be inspected at any time by management. This list is not all-inclusive, and staff members are expected to conduct themselves with regard to these tools in a professional, ethical and moral manner, whether or not a specific conduct is covered here:

  • The office computers and the software and Internet access are for business purposes only. No staff member is to use this equipment for personal communications or for game playing.
  • The Internet is for business use only and may not be used for personal matters without prior permission of management. The Internet is not to be used at all for nonbusiness use during business hours.
  • E-mail is for business use only and not for personal matters without prior permission of management. E-mail is not to be used for nonbusiness communications during business hours.
  • Pornography: Viewing of pornographic materials on the computer, whether over the Internet or through e-mail or any other means, is expressly and completely forbidden. Viewing such material without a business purpose will result in termination. Child pornography is illegal, and its viewing or introduction into the firm in any way is expressly forbidden under any circumstances. If, in the course of an investigation in a case, you discover this type of material, stop work immediately and consult management as to how to handle it. If pornographic or illegal child pornography is encountered, make a written report to management immediately. It is unclear at this time under what, if any, circumstances attorneys may possess such material as part of their service as attorneys, so, extreme caution must be exercised. In all cases involving such evidence, seek and obtain written advice from management. When in doubt, store such evidence outside of the premises of the firm.
  • Under no circumstances should anyone receive or review or send e-mail with pornographic, off color, or immoral material. Do not forward jokes, funny stories, or other material to others where such material is not related to a case the firm is working on. If such material must be received, reviewed, sent or forwarded as part of work on a case, seek and obtain permission to do so.

Office Etiquette and Confidentiality
Loyalty is one of the most highly prized qualities of an employee of this office. This means, in part, keeping confidential all client and office business, not airing personnel grievances outside the office, and addressing personal complaints or grievances through appropriate channels.

It is the goal of this office to have long-term employees. Frequent turnover not only damages the morale of everyone else in the office, but also is extremely disruptive to work in progress, client affairs, and the efficient use of staff and professional time.

Obviously, circumstances arise that sometimes make a job move necessary and desirable. If you anticipate such a move, please give adequate notification so that we may interview and hire a replacement. Two weeks’ notice, while legally adequate, is insufficient as a practical matter. Thirty days’ notice would be appreciated.

Attitude and Cooperation
Attorneys, paralegals, and secretaries all work together for the firm and for the benefit of its clients. In a small law office such as ours, everyone is required from time to time to “pitch in” and help others when workloads so demand. By being helpful and cooperative with each other, our workday will be far more pleasant and satisfying for everyone.

Engaging in pettiness and personalities quickly destroys the pleasant and warm environment we want in our office. There is no place here for harboring a grudge. If differences develop between you and another person in this office, speak directly with that person and immediately attempt to resolve the problem in a quiet, peaceful, and reasonable manner. If necessary, talk with human resources about problems.

Confidentiality
The ethical codes of the American Bar Association and of the state bar apply not only to attorneys, but also to their employees. An attorney’s work and all communications on behalf of a client are strictly confidential. Consequently, all work and conversation in the office is confidential and may not be discussed with anyone not working in the office, including spouses, judges, other attorneys, paralegals, and secretaries. This extends to public record information about publicized cases we handle. It is unethical to reveal to persons not employed by our firm even the fact that we represent a particular client for any reason whatsoever without the client’s permission.

When talking on the telephone, do not reveal any information about a case or client unless specifically authorized to do so. Do not use a client’s name when other clients or other persons may overhear. When meeting with clients, files and written material relating to other clients should not be visible.

Nothing is more damaging to a family-law practitioner than the perception in the community that a client’s business is talked about outside the office.

Smoking and Drug Use
Smoking is not permitted in the workplace or within 25 feet of the workplace. Employees are expected to dispose of all cigarette material before entering the workplace. In the event an employee consistently smells of smoke, the firm may require the employee to change clothes prior to beginning work. Smoking breaks are not permitted.

Use of illegal drugs or the illegal use of legal drugs, including alcohol, is forbidden in the workplace or during employment-related activities. The one exception is consumption of alcohol during bar association social functions. The use, possession, distribution, or sale of controlled substances, such as drugs or alcohol, or being under the influence of such controlled substances, is strictly prohibited while on duty, while on the firm’s premises, or worksites. Violation of this policy will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Law Office Procedures

What to do when something happens

Accepting Payment
See Tools of the Trade.

Bookkeeping
The firm maintains a dual-entry system to reflect payments made to clients’ accounts. The office manager sets up a client file on the Timeslips program and enters all payments there. The secretaries set up a client file in Timematters and on the server. The administrative attorney records all deposits on the Quickbooks program.

Two copies of all incoming checks are made. One goes into the check chronological file and the other to the left side of the client’s billing subfile. Original checks go to the administrative attorney’s office after copies have been made.

Credit-card-payment receipts are handled as follows:

  • White copy is kept in the client file.
  • Yellow copy is provided to the client (if telephone authorization, the yellow copy is mailed to the client).
  • A photocopy is provided to the administrative attorney for recording in Quickbooks.

Current ledgers are kept in the library.

Client Files—Release of
We do not give our client files to anyone (including the client, other attorneys, etc.). One exception is that we do loan the file to attorneys who are covering the case at a hearing in place of a firm attorney who is unable to attend.

Typically, we mail copies of all pleadings and correspondence to the client during the course of our representation. If the client has satisfied all financial obligations to us, an additional copy of these documents (but not attorney’s, paralegal’s, or secretary’s notes) and client-provided originals may be returned to the client (copies made are at the client’s additional expense).

Always clear the release of anything with an attorney. Complete a removal-of-documents form, have the client sign a receipt for the removed documents (can be done on the form), and file the form in the main client file. Because there is a 30-day appeal time, we generally do not release originals, depositions, etc., before 30 days from entry of a final order.

Docket Control
Docket control is essential to a legal practice. One major malpractice risk is missed deadlines.

  • Court Hearings: As soon as they are known, court hearings are entered in three places:

1. The attorney’s desk calendar,
2. The attorney’s pocket calendar,
3. Smart Time Manager on the secretary’s computer.

In addition, ____________ maintains another calendar on his/her laptop computer.
Attorneys ( ___________ and ____________ ) and secretary (_______________ ) make entries. Compare frequently (every one to two days) desk calendar and computer calendar entries.

  • Docket Control Deadlines: Paralegals will enter all deadlines, including statutes of limitation, discovery due dates, pretrial dates, and hearing dates that require subpoenas, in the LPI tickler file and in the “tasks” column of the time management calendar. Adequate advance notice dates shall be included in the tickler file. The paralegal also will check the tickler file daily.
    Minimum advance notice dates include:

Statutes of limitations: 3 months
30-day discovery: 2 weeks
Subpoena hearings: 2 weeks
Settlement conferences: 1 week
Confirmation of OSC: 3 days before the OSC
Pretrial statements: 1 week

Many tickled dates reflect paralegal responsibilities, especially regarding discovery and confirmation of OSCs. The paralegal should prepare the documents in a timely fashion and have them approved by an attorney far enough in advance of the deadline to permit revision.

The paralegal shall notify the responsible attorney well in advance of all tickled dates and have personal contact with the attorney on the day before the deadline date to make sure that the task is completed (unless the paralegal has seen that the appropriate document has been filed). Do not merely place the tickler on the attorney’s desk.

Telephones
We use __________________ telephone hardware and ______________ telephone line system. Each of these systems has an information book, which you should keep at your desk (we have enough copies for each telephone set). Each telephone is assigned a station number, which is used for intercom, transferring, and conferencing calls. Speed dial numbers are the same on all telephone sets. Post an index of these near your phone. In addition, you may program 15 speed dial numbers that are accessed only from your set. Keep an index of these behind the blue cover on your set.

If you do not want to program these yourself, ask ____________________ for assistance.

Flashing light patterns and ring patterns mean different things, so refer to your telephone instruction booklet for this information.

  • Etiquette: For most clients the first contact with a law firm is by telephone. This first contact creates an immediate and continuing image of the firm in a client’s mind, which can favorably or unfavorably affect our relationship with that client. In the past, we have actually lost a potential client due to a secretary’s perceived attitude toward the caller. The reception and service provided over the telephone can do much to create an impression of a courteous, efficient, and helpful firm and instill confidence in the client. Make every effort to help clients understand that their concerns are important to all members of the firm.

If a caller must be placed on hold, check back frequently to see if he or she wishes to continue to wait or prefers to leave a message. If an attorney is unavailable, offer to have the caller talk with the paralegal or the associate.

Tell clients who call that the attorney is “with a client,” “in a deposition,” “in court,” or “attending a conference.” Never say that she is “busy” or “unavailable.” When the attorney is with someone, offer to take the client’s message so that the attorney can return the call. This reflects respect for the importance of the client’s call. Never ask who is calling after telling the client why the attorney is unavailable. Otherwise it appears that you are making excuses or the client is a “low priority.”

  • Messages: Take all telephone messages on the tablet provided. Fill in the name of the caller, his or her telephone number, the person called, and date and time of call. Include your initials in case a message needs further explanation or knowing who took the message later becomes important.

Complete each message in detail. Always record the caller’s phone number and repeat it back for verification. Even if the caller says that we have the number, record it. Always record the caller’s last name. We often have several clients with the same first name. Ask the caller to spell any name you are not sure of to avoid potential embarrassment when the call is returned.

The white copy of the message goes in the holder on the desk. The yellow copy remains in the notebook to provide a record. Old telephone notebooks are kept in the storage room. Fill in the date started and the date completed on the cover of each phone message notebook.

Record longer messages on white copy paper and leave it in the holder. Attorneys and paralegals should pick up messages from the holder. If the call appears important and the person called is in the office, hand deliver the call record to that person.

Never provide home telephone numbers to anyone other than another attorney. Never provide any information about clients. Do not confirm that someone is a client. Explain that you are not allowed to provide such information without an attorney’s direct authorization.

  • Collect Calls: We do not accept collect calls from the jail, prison, or elsewhere, except for clients who have already retained us and have paid a retainer (not just an initial consultation fee). Explain that this is our office policy.

Do accept collect calls from members of the firm or attorneys we have called. If _________________ is in, always check with her before accepting a collect call. Occasionally we authorize other people to call us collect. Anybody making such authorization should communicate it to the secretary, but if the caller says it is authorized, check with the person who gave the authority. If the caller is a professional with whom we work and he or she says ___________ has authorized the collect call, go ahead and accept it.

  • Long-Distance Calls: We use ___________ for long distance service. After dialing a long distance number the usual way (1-area code and number), you will get a dial tone.

1. For office calls, dial “000.”
2. For client-chargeable calls, dial the last three digits of the computer (billing) number.

Law Office Management

How the process works

Office Machine Servicing
All service contracts are listed on the speed dial index. Companies can be called by using the two-digit memory number.

The copy machine is serviced by ______________ .

We also order toner and toner bags through them.

We have a service contract, so call them if there are any problems. They are located at ___________ .

We also have a service contract for all computers and printers with _____________ . The company is located at __________ . __________ is our sales representative. Ask for ___________ for service. If company personnel cannot help over the phone, take the equipment to them. We deal with various people about software problems, so check with _________________ about that.

Office Procedures Manual

  • Emergency Procedures: If an attorney or paralegal is not available, and you have an emergency question, call _______________ (number is on the system speed-dial index). Leave a message on her answering machine, as she monitors it closely.

Call 911 for all obvious emergencies (fire, police, or medical).

Office Security

  • File Cabinets: All file cabinets have locks. At various times we keep them locked. Check with ____________________ about current procedures and do not lock cabinets unless so instructed.
  • Doors: Before leaving for lunch, if nobody else is in the office, check outside doors to make sure they are locked. Always lock the front door when you leave for the evening. The paralegal is responsible for keeping the door to the executive offices locked. The associate is responsible for keeping the outside door of the associate’s office locked. To prevent accidental entry, keep these two doors locked most of the time. The last person to leave should make sure that all exterior doors are locked.

Note
Law Office Staff Manual Policies and Procedures: General Employment Policies for All Staff, Associates, and Partners, 2009, Family Advocate, 32:2, pp. 16-26. ©2009 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any or portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

© Copyright 2010, American Bar Association.