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July 28, 2023 Feature

Technology Check-Up for the New Work World: Documenting Procedures and Managing Projects

By Catherine Sanders Reach
Given the post-pandemic increase in remote work, legal departments must strengthen business continuity with the latest digital tools.

Given the post-pandemic increase in remote work, legal departments must strengthen business continuity with the latest digital tools.

PeopleImages/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Over the last several years there has been significant change in the work world. During the pandemic, lawyers and their teams learned how to work from home using new tools and technologies. People reassessed their lives, and some retired or changed focus and followed their passions. Economic shifts resulted in reductions in force and layoffs. Many lawyers want to continue to work remotely or adopt a hybrid approach with some workdays out of the office. All this change means that how we work needs to transform and that we must increase the focus on business continuity. When people depart or are not in the office to answer questions, what happens to their institutional knowledge and the office processes that fuel progress? Documenting procedures and tracking tasks have become essential to reducing disruption due to the constant shifts encountered in our new work world.

Why and How Processes and Procedures Should Be Recorded

The recording of a legal department’s processes and procedures has many advantages, from onboarding new team members to identifying opportunities for improvement. Documentation can help with business continuity and succession planning. Many legal departments may have a standard operating procedures manual, but is it easy to find and update? A three-ring binder back at the office is no longer sufficient. Legal departments should reinvigorate their efforts to create effective “how to” office manuals.


When new people start at your office, whether attorneys or support staff, an office manual can help them get up to speed quickly. Dedicating time to training often gets pushed to the side, and new hires are left to seek help or try to figure things out alone. A robust office manual facilitates training and guidance when everyone else is too busy to help right away.

Standard Operating Procedures

Legal department policies such as time off, dress code, and acceptable use of technology are often already in written form. However, there are procedures that go with these policies. How does someone request time off? Is there a primary calendar to check? A detailed policy and procedure manual can help the team stay in compliance.

Many legal offices use workflows (the series of tasks necessary to accomplish a project, from initiation to completion). Examples include everything from responding to requests, mail processing, and records retention. Are you leveraging checklists? Whether you are negotiating a contract or working on a zoning approval, a checklist can help ensure that the matter moves forward and work is done in an organized fashion with nothing falling through the cracks. Documenting office workflows and checklists helps staff perform their jobs more efficiently and ensures consistency and compliance.

There are several ways to begin compiling or improving your legal office manual. Start with a team brainstorming session where everyone is asked what tasks they routinely perform and which processes they believe require documentation. Create a team to examine the list and add any missing tasks or processes. Once a draft list is compiled, send it to all staff for another review.

After the final list is complete, assign documenting each task to the person who performs that task most often. It is best to have them record the process as they perform it, which should reduce the extra burden of documenting it.

An office manual should be available to everyone and easy to access. It can be stored on a shared file server or in the cloud. Make sure entries are dated so users will know when the process was created and last updated. Consider who can make updates or edit processes. Assign task “owners” (creators of the documentation), and make sure the manual notes the owners in the event of questions. Add a table of contents or some straightforward way to navigate through the manual. Use bullets, screenshots, videos, and other uncomplicated ways to express complex information. Schedule a periodic, overall review of the manual, but make sure that each owner keeps his or her respective segment(s) as up-to-date as possible.


Once you have documented your policies, procedures, and processes, you can identify how to improve. You can feel comfortable knowing that your office is prepared for onboarding and succession planning, as well as business continuity. You can look at certain processes to leverage project management tools more effectively. The time invested in creating a well-designed office manual is significantly beneficial.

Tools You Can Use to Create a Manual

While the manual could be created in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, there are other tools, discussed below, that are more effective for capturing information, updating, and responding to the variety of ways people learn (auditory, visual, etc.). It’s vital that the tool allows for user-friendly updates to prevent the manual from becoming outdated.

Use What You Already Have

If your office uses the popular Microsoft 365 suite, you already have a lot of tools to get you started.

Microsoft PowerPoint. The familiar presentation software has many features available to create training videos, document processes, display screenshots and instructions, illustrate workflows and timelines, and more. Need to show a process, timeline, hierarchy, list, or cycle? Go into PowerPoint’s Insert tab, and in the Illustration group, open SmartArt. There are many graphics to help you represent information in a visual way. For example, use a Pyramid List to show hierarchical relationships, such as a review workflow or responsibilities chart. Use a Converging Text graphic under Process to illustrate how multiple steps or parts merge into a whole. Or use a standard timeline to show the typical steps along a continuum for a process. For instance, what are the primary steps on the timeline of a condemnation proceeding?

Also found in the Insert tab are tools to create and embed media, such as audio and video clips and screen recordings. In the Media group under Audio, you can record an audio clip. If you have a slide presentation, narrate what some of the graphic illustrations mean and contextualize them, all without having to type a word. Look under the Images group in the Insert tab and click on Screenshot. Take a clip of your screen and then annotate it or add voice narration with an audio clip. Would you like to capture your screen(s) to show how to do something such as navigate to a shared file repository, use a particular piece of software, or create a video of you presenting with the slides you have created? Go to the Record tab, and under Record you can present your slides with audio and screen recordings; if you have a webcam, you can use the Cameo feature to present your narration in a picture-in-picture arrangement. You can format, but not edit, any video screen recordings. Then in the Record tab you can export your file to video as an .mp4 video file or as a self-running PowerPoint show.

Microsoft Stream. If you are a Microsoft 365 Business subscriber, you will see an option to Publish to Stream in PowerPoint from the File—Export menu. What is Stream? Stream is similar to YouTube but built to house videos for an internal team. You can find it in your apps list, or go to and log on with your work account. You can upload videos, such as recorded PowerPoint training videos or recorded Zoom meetings, into Stream. Stream is on SharePoint, so you can easily share videos with people in your office or organization. Once you store your video file in Stream, you can create thumbnails, add “about” information, add transcript and captions, add chapters for longer videos, allow comments, and track views by enabling analytics.

You can also use Stream to record videos. Capture your desktop, audio, and video under the Create New—Recording option at the top of the screen. You can show how to do something or simply record a video explaining how to do something. You can add backdrops, annotate the screen, add a teleprompter, add a whiteboard, and more. Then publish and share on the Stream platform. Even for novices, this is easy!

Microsoft Teams. Another tool built into Microsoft 365 is Teams. In addition to being a videoconferencing platform and a place to have internal chat—which is helpful for folks new to the office asking quick questions and seeking guidance—Teams has workspaces and channels. You can set up a workspace for the legal department and create channels shared with specific people. A channel could be project or matter based or could describe a process such as actions to take in a consumer protection investigation. A Teams workspace channel includes chat and files shared with those who are given access. Further, you can click on the plus sign and add anything to the channel—a Word document, a OneNote notebook, a wiki, videos, written instructions, forms, and much more.

Other Tools

While it is cost-effective to use the tools you already have, they may not always be as effective as others. Although helpful, Microsoft tools are not purpose-built for documenting processes, recording standard operating procedures, or tracking new employee onboarding with training completion. Below are other tools to consider:

Loom. This video creation and hosting site has several uses. One is to provide a workplace video host for your team to access. Another is to create videos instead of having meetings, especially if it is to provide an update. They also focus on team alignment to boost productivity. Loom is easy to use; just click New Video, and it captures your screen, audio, and video. Once you record the video, you can do some minor editing, including the removal of filler words, and you have some ability to split, stitch, and trim the video. Loom can also create a transcript. People on your team can add comments in text or add audio comments.

Trainual. Trainual is built to help document and organize standard operating procedures and turn them into training manuals. Training can be updated, assigned, accessed, and tracked. Whether you write your process or record your screen, Trainual makes it easy to turn steps into training. The tools also help create actionable org charts, documenting who is who, who does what, and how they do it. Your team and the office or organization can use a directory that shows employees’ titles, how long they have been in the organization, a headshot photo, and more. This can help folks in the office know how to leverage human resources when they get stuck. In addition to helping with training manual creation and human resources, Trainual can also store information that helps people get up to speed on what your office or entity does and what are its mission, values, and policies.

SweetProcess. SweetProcess helps you document procedures, create and share business policies, collaborate on process improvement, assign and manage tasks, and develop a knowledge base. The product helps create workflows from procedures, helps turn procedures into graphical process maps, leverages artificial intelligence to help with writing, incorporates permission levels, and integrates with hundreds of other applications.

Zoho Learn. Described as “knowledge management and training software,” this subscription tool combines a knowledge base for standard operating procedures, policies, and documentation with an online learning management system with interactive courses and assessments. The suite includes business wiki software for building a knowledge repository in a collaborative environment. Employees can open the wiki, document a process, and edit, as necessary.

Task and Project Management

Project management methods focus on assigning and tracking deadlines, identifying milestones, and helping to make sure a matter is completed promptly. Project management helps control and predict costs, reduce errors (Who was supposed to do that? Did I forget to . . . ?), supervise lawyers and staff, create transparency, improve efficiency, streamline all parts of a matter in one place, and improve remote collaboration.

Create a Template for Managing a Project

Your legal department may already have documented workflows and checklists. These are processes. Processes are incorporated into a project to accomplish the steps necessary to start and finish work on a specific matter or endeavor. Combine the checklists and workflows into a project plan. Identify milestones (first draft, approved, finalized) and add in the tasks necessary to reach each milestone and finish the project. Then assign tasks and add deadlines. If necessary, add subtasks and/or dependencies (tasks that must be completed before the next task is tackled). Once you have developed an effective project plan, convert it into a template and reuse it! Be patient. It will take a while to determine and document all the components into a systematized template.

Tools You Can Use

The hardest part of leveraging any project management application is not the tool itself but creating your strategy for how you want to structure your projects so they are repeatable. This may take some trial and error, but refinement will help the team stay on track with the hundreds or even thousands of tasks required to complete a legal matter.

Use What You Already Have

Again, if your law department has a subscription to Microsoft 365, you may already have technology that can help you begin your journey with task and project management. While the products in the Microsoft 365 suite are not the most robust on the market, they are useful for building a basic structure for documenting and tracking tasks.

Microsoft To Do. Microsoft To Do is a task management tool that comes with Microsoft 365. It is based on the Wunderlist platform, which Microsoft bought in June 2015. Like all of Microsoft 365, it works in the browser and has apps for desktop and mobile devices. You can create tasks with rich context, including deadlines, reminders, sub-tasks, notes, and files. You can create tasks for yourself or assign them to your team. To Do has “Smart Lists” and suggestions based on tasks and flagged emails from other applications across Office 365, including OneNote, Planner, and Outlook.

You can also create shared task lists. Below the options for My Day and Smart Lists in the left panel, you will see an option at the bottom to add a New List. You can create project-oriented tasks grouped together in this section and share them with others. Within the Lists you can create tasks and sub-tasks. You can create grouped tasks for larger projects. You can also duplicate a project to create ad hoc templates.

Microsoft Planner. Microsoft Planner comes with the Business and Enterprise versions of Microsoft 365. Microsoft Planner is not as robust as other project management applications, but it can be a great introductory tool, especially for law departments just starting out using project management.

There are several ways to create a Planner plan. You can incorporate Planner plans into SharePoint or Microsoft Teams. Through Teams you can create a plan using “Tasks by Planner and To Do” by clicking on the plus sign in a Teams channel. A plan created through the stand-alone Planner can be linked to a SharePoint site, or you can create a new plan directly from within a SharePoint site.

When you create a new plan in Planner, you will add members. These will be people from within your department or broader organization. The initial view in Planner is organized as a Kanban board, which is part of the Agile project management methodology. While you can keep your columns (“swim lanes”) simple, such as “to do,” “doing,” and “done,” you can also get creative with more specific groupings.

Add tasks within each column. The tasks (or “cards”) specify what needs to be done, by whom, and by when. In Planner, each task card can have a “checklist” (subtasks), labels and priorities for sorting and filtering, notes, comments, and attachments. As activity progresses on a task, it can be marked as finished and moved to a different column.

By default, anyone who is assigned a task receives an email notification. In Planner a task can be assigned to multiple people, which is unique in project management tools. It also sends periodic reminders of due dates. To send a group progress report, at the top of the Planner page, click the ellipses (. . .), and from the drop-down menu choose Plan Settings. In the column that opens on the right, click Notifications at the top and check the box by the option “send email to the group when a task is assigned or completed.” Tasks assigned from Planner will also appear in individual users’ To Do app.

Other Tools

Asana. Asana offers board views and list and calendar views. It offers discussion and notes within a task, and you can interact with tasks via email. There is automation via rules. You can create project and task templates. Tasks can have subtasks and dependencies. You can link to documents, upload documents, or integrate with your document storage. User dashboards show your tasks, tasks you have created, tasks you have assigned, recently completed tasks, and more.’s work management product incorporates project management, task management, business operations, and resource management. It is extremely customizable and comes with custom dashboards and reports. The template tools will automate deadlines based on parameters, which can yield considerable time savings when compared to reworking deadlines from an earlier project in other tools.

Zoho Projects. Zoho Projects includes most features a legal department would look for in terms of views, tasks, reporting, and communication tools. It also leverages other tools from the Zoho offerings, such as Zoho Meeting for videoconferencing.

Managing Resistance to Change

One person cannot create a robust office manual or implement new project management tools alone. You will need the support of the highest level of management as well as the right mix of team members at all levels in the organization willing to put their shoulders to the wheel to help bring about the change. Remember that not everyone will buy into the idea at the outset. You need to think carefully about who will be on the team to lead the change. Overcoming that most powerful force—inertia—is difficult. You will need an equally powerful team.

Divide the team into working groups with a focus on each specific part of the overall goal. You will want to have a team to evaluate products involving different end-user roles. IT staff must be involved early and know what role they will play. Make sure costs—hard and soft—are adequately accounted for by the finance folks. Have a group test the new system and report bugs.

The old expression states you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It is vitally important to give considerable thought to the introduction of the change and to the staff’s first exposure to the new system. Identify the potential roadblocks and develop strategies to cope with them well ahead of time. Identify tactics to deal with issues before they appear. Bring people into the process early and let them shape the new systems, policies, and procedures. Listen to their concerns and respond. Obtain their buy-in.

Effective training is vital to rolling out a new system and must be factored into the overall time commitment and strategy. Ensure that there will be a variety of training options. Will it be one-on-one? Group? Recorded? Personalized? Each user may learn in a unique way. Identify “super users” on the team and have them train first. These super users can then help train the rest of the team and contextualize the training. The super users can help develop tailored training depending on the staff’s different duties—this will decrease frustration and resistance.


Asking employees to accept new procedures and management tools is not easy. However, if handled with tact and respect, the resulting benefits will be significant. The goal is for the new procedures and tools to make each staff member’s tasks easier to accomplish and ultimately to ensure the smooth operation of the law office in this new work world.

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Catherine Sanders Reach

North Carolina Bar Association

Catherine Sanders Reach is director at the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association, providing practice technology and management assistance to lawyers and legal professionals. Formerly, she was director of Law Practice Management and Technology for the Chicago Bar Association and director at the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center.