Love them or loathe them, file reviews for law firms are here to stay. And irrespective of opinion, Outcome 7.8 requires that you have a system for supervising clients’ matters, to include the regular checking of the quality of work.
But, the humble file review has very quickly built a myriad of myths. So let’s tackle just 3 of those myths head on.
1 The reviews must be undertaken by Partner, Department Head or Team Leader
First question is “why”? Why must file reviews be undertaken at that high level?
The notion first came about because the view was files had to be reviewed by suitably competent and experienced people, therefore somebody at Partner level should be entrusted to review the files.
Of course, it is imperative that more junior lawyers are supervised effectively. However file reviews are not a substitute for supervision. They can reduce supervision time by 80% when undertaken effectively.
Conversely the task should not be entrusted to an administrator unless very clear guidelines are in place and appropriate training in how to review a file effectively has been provided.
Senior and people managers definitely benefit from the results of the file reviews, but they do not need to spend hours of valuable fee earning time sifting through client files to answer questions on a “tick sheet”.
2 Open Files Should be Reviewed
Little consideration is usually given to the purpose of file reviews, or the required outcome. Subject to specific accreditation or client requirements recently completed rather than open matters will give the most comprehensive picture of file handling and the levels of service being afforded to clients.
If open files are always reviewed, scope does not exist for reviewing the end of a file. Often a significant amount of time is wasted at the end of a matter, the final bill not delivered or documents left on the file instead of being returned to the client.
Open files are part of the “Corrective Actions” culture that is now pervading law firms countrywide. Whilst it may be necessary to review open files to satisfy a particular accreditation standard it does not support a far healthier and more profitable culture of improvement to ensure mistakes do not happen again.
3 File Reviews are Merely a Tick Box Exercise that Provide Little Useful Information
An effective file review system is pivotal in providing management with pertinent information.
Consider the benefits and saving of time when:
- Managing Partner receives on a single sheet summary information for the whole firm
- Team or department head has a snapshot of performance on a separate sheet.
- Client Managers receive reassurance that retainer client requirements are being met
- Lawyers receive objective feedback which is more readily accepted
- The Training Manager is able to unequivocally identify true training needs without undertaking separate Training Needs Analysis
- HR Manager uses the objective information for appraisals or disciplinary purposes.
- Finance Professionals can view a summary showing where the write off problems, high WIP and inaccurate billing problems lie.
- Risk Manager or COLP is provided with accurate trends of information.
An effective File Review system is without doubt crucial to the successful management, improvement and and profitability of every successful law firm.
An expert in the business benefits derived from effective file reviews. Gail has managed law firm improvement based on the results of over 45,000 file reviews from more than 400 firms. She was the managing director of an outsourced file review company and has trained lawyers how to review files effectively. Gail's focus is on creating successful businesses. She works with law firms advising on how to obtain the most benefit from file reviews.