How important is an Office Manual for Law Firms?

Introduction

An office manual is generally considered best practice to implement and for those firms with a quality standard such as Lexcel, SQM, or IIP, it is a requirement but do they really help, and should firms embrace them?

The reality is that an office manual that is up to date and reflective of how the firm operates is a very useful document. Not just because it provides evidence to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Professional Indemnity Insurers that the firm has control over its supervision, but it should (amongst other reasons) provide a useful ‘go-to’ document for staff to refer providing them with direction.

The office manual should sit at the heart of a firm’s policies and procedures offering clear guidance on how the firm operates. It is essential that the office manual is kept up to date and keeps pace with the changing nature of the firm (and best practice) as an out-of-date office manual is quite simply redundant.

Our conclusion is that office manuals have their use, and they are to be embraced but their maintenance is essential.

In this blog, we provide some of the reasons why having an office manual is a positive step.

The only real negative to an office manual is the time taken to prepare it and in particular the first time. It is unquestionable that to develop an office manual takes time but with a well written, non -complicated document there is no reason why a firm should not be able to manage this either internally or with some external support.

At The Strategic Partner, we work in unison with a firm to provide a bespoke office manual that truly reflects how the firm operates and through the journey of drafting the manual we also assist with implementing best practice. The outcome of this service is that we take information from you, we draft the manual, and we train your staff on the application.

For more information, you can view our Office Manual and Accounts Procedure product brochure or you can call us on 020 3911 9710 or email us info@thestrategicpartner.co.uk.

The Structure

The first element to establish is how to structure the office manual. In the below, we set out the rationale and in the attached brochure, Office Manual and Accounts Procedures we provide an insight into areas your office manual should cover.

Essentially a firm should approach the documenting of their procedures into 3 clear sets of documents or processes which together become the complete office manual. However, splitting them in the following way makes them easier to follow and more likely to be read.

  • The office manual and accounts processes – a document that sets out the way in which the firm operates, (the subject of this blog)
  • Compliance and regulations – A set of policies that details the firm’s approach to regulation and compliance including Anti Money Laundering regulations – read about our Compliance, Regulation and AML Solution
  • The employee handbook – Sets out the way in which the firm will manage the staff.

It is the combination of these documents that provides law firms with a clear statement of all important aspects of the management and running of a law firm.

Rationale

There are a variety of reasons why an office manual is a document that is worth generating and maintaining and we explore some of these here:

  • Supervision – whilst as part of a firm’s approach to regulation and compliance, it will require a supervision policy, in addition to this, the office manual will set out various supervisory touchpoints indicating when and where an individual should and must seek guidance to address or resolve an issue. The office manual will clearly set out who the supervisors are and how to interact with them and for which reasons, providing authority levels and permissions.
  • Training & Induction – the office manual is an excellent ‘go- to’ document for training. Whether a member of staff is a new joiner and needs to be told how the firm operates, or whether someone is an existing member of staff, the office manual provides a solid platform from which training can be provided. As the office manual will provide the detail of the firm’s operation and how to interact between individuals and departments, it is the perfect training aid for both new and existing staff. It should absolutely be the central document in any induction training and should also serve as general refresher training for existing staff. 
  • Best Practice – An office manual is not just a statement of how a firm tackles its operation but also a statement of best practice. When writing the manual for the first time or updating the manual it provides the firm with the opportunity to review how it operates and challenge and update where appropriate. Through doing so, a firm can be assured that it is keeping up to date with the changing market, and ensuring the best practice is adopted throughout the firm.
  • Consistency – The office manual is a document setting out the operation of the business and delivering this in a clear and concise written document provides clarity for the staff and brings consistency of approach and operation.
  • SRA – If a firm experiences an enquiry from the SRA or an investigation, they may be asked to demonstrate how the firm operates and exercises control. The production of an up-to-date office manual is an active demonstration that the firm can evidence its approach and sets out to the staff and other interested parties such as the SRA how the firm operates. This approach to the maintenance of an office manual will be seen as a welcome addition by the SRA in the overall management of a firm.
  • PII – Professional Indemnity Insurance is not only essential but can also prove expensive. One element of a firm’s expenditure, which can be significant, is the PII premium and if a firm wants to engage with their insurer to control premiums it must be able to demonstrate a robust approach to risk management. One of the documents that can assist with establishing with an insurer that the firm does have control over the staff and method of operation, is the production of an office manual that truly reflects how the firm operates and importantly, that it is communicated to all staff where relevant.

The conclusion is that there is very little that should prevent a firm from building and maintaining an office manual and the positives outweigh the only negative which is the time taken to develop and control this. For some firms, they will be used to having an up-to-date office manual due to the requirements of a quality mark but regardless of the reason why a firm chooses to have an office manual and if voluntary or compulsory, it is a key document in the management of a firm but it has to be kept up.

Get in Touch

For more information on The Strategic Partner and to discuss how we may be able to assist in accelerating the creation of an office manual Click here  or to simply keep this up to date you can call us on  020 3911 9710 or email us info@thestrategicpartner.co.uk

 

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