Legal Perspective: Your Firm is Ready for a Branch Office. Now What?
February 18, 2022
When the COVID-19 pandemic started almost two years ago, most law firms, including my Smokeball clients, were forced to work remotely for the first time. At the time, these firms faced a bevy of questions. How will I collaborate with my staff? How can I make sure my employees get their work done? How can we complete our already-tough time-tracking remotely?
The answer (or I should say solution) to these questions was Smokeball. Staffers collaborate and communicate from their kitchen tables and couch offices with features like Communicate. Managing partners and office managers effectively manage their matters thanks to Smokeball Workflows and Task Management. And with automatic time tracking, firm owners see how long certain work is taking without popping their heads in offices. Remarkably to my clients — but not those of us at Smokeball — these firms are successfully navigating the challenges of the pandemic.
In fact, business is booming at firms across the country. According to the 2021 State of Small U.S. Law Firms Report, 54% of small firm leaders anticipate moderate to high demand for services to continue in the next year; 59% expect that growth to continue over the next three years.
If you’re among that group, you may be considering expanding your firm to a branch office or two. What does that have to do with remote work? As you’ll learn, quite a lot. The same communication, productivity and time-tracking challenges faced during the transition to work from home also apply when your firm grows beyond its home office. Let’s look at how Smokeball can help.
Enabling clear communication
Clear, consistent communication with your staff is critical to successful law firm management. This is never more vital than when you’re opening a branch office; business objectives must be clear in establishing the new office.
Smokeball’s Communicate portal helps your entire team remain connected in one centralized, accessible place. Create specific channels within Communicate to discuss the operations of the new branch, which will help prevent any communication breakdown. Messages are easily accessible and can be quickly searched, keeping mission-critical tasks from falling through the cracks.
Duplicating your firm’s effective processes — and establishing new ones
Your firm’s reputation for great legal work and personalized service are part of the reason you’re able to open a branch location in the first place. So, your new office needs to serve as a continuation of that reputation. Taking the best practices from your home office and applying them to your new one helps staff at all your locations consistently serve their clients and maintain your brand.
With Smokeball, those best practices are built into the tools you use to do business every day. Here’s how it works:
The combined power of our Tasks and Workflows creates a to-do list for each member of your firm. Map out an internal process (like your client retention techniques) using a Workflow. Then assign each Task in the Workflow to a specific person, complete with related details, documents and reminders. On a larger scale, Smokeball’s Task Management system provides a one-stop view into your entire firm’s tasks.
Tasks and Workflows aren’t limited to one location. If you’ve nailed down that client-retention process, export the Workflow to your new branch. If your new office is in the same practice area, and especially in the same state, the home office Workflow can be used with little alteration. If your new office is in a different state, the Workflow can easily be adjusted. It’s easy to effectively manage your firm’s overall workload no matter how far — or near — your branch office(s) may be.
Monitoring your time + productivity
Opening a branch office is stressful enough without the burden of manually tracking every minute of your staff’s time. Thankfully, Smokeball’s landmark automatic time tracking feature does the heavy lifting for you, recording all tasks completed within the Smokeball software — including our all-star Microsoft Office integrations. If a staff attorney is crafting a document, or a paralegal is composing an email, you can see this work reflected in Smokeball.
This is helpful for many reasons when opening a branch office, as you can compare the time it takes to complete similar work at the home office and the new office and adjust where needed. Firm owners looking for peace of mind around monitoring remote employees’ productivity can rest assured that staff at the new office are completing their work.
On the fence about opening a new office?
Still not sure you’re prepared to launch a branch office? Here are some questions that may help you realize your firm is more ready than you thought:
- Are you looking to expand revenue?
The whole purpose of a new office is to stretch the firm’s reach and bring in new clients. A branch office allows you to provide a local presence in a community, which many prospective clients are seeking.
- Are you losing potential clients in a specific geographical location?
With a lot of firms using video calls to conduct initial consultations, geography is no longer a barrier. However, as we mentioned above, when a prospect decides on an attorney they may ultimately go with the local option. Further, if litigation is occurring in that location, the prospect is more likely to choose a local attorney. Prospective clients will likely incur fewer fees with a local firm thanks to shortened travel time.
- Do you have a staff attorney working in another geographical location?
Throughout the pandemic, I have spoken with Smokeball many client firms who have several staff working in different locations from their home office. If you have an attorney in this situation who you feel could handle the challenge of helping open a new office, it’s a great opportunity for empowerment.
Once you’ve considered the underlying factors behind opening a branch office, like the physical space, tax considerations and ease of access for your clients, Smokeball provides the tools you need to create success in a new market.
Mark Petrolis serves as senior account manager and in-house counsel at Smokeball. He earned his J.D. at The John Marshall Law School at University of Illinois Chicago.
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