The following article originally appeared in the July 2011 edition of The Myers Report newsletter published by the firm.
The Unexpected Happened to Me – Saved by the Office Bible!
by Jane M. Myers, Esq.
One minute you’re on horseback flying around the riding ring, and then, CRACK! you’re on the ground with a fractured femur. No way are you going back to work anytime soon. And while you’re in the hospital and rehab trying to get past the needles, chronic pain and the slop they try and pass off as food (see the samples at left), you have to be on top of damage-control at the office – but you’re a mess and you’re just not well enough to do it.
What do you do if something incapacitating happens to you or one of your key people?? How do you keep your business going? Serious disability and the impact on business is something we never think we’ll have to face. But it can happen . . . it happened to me!
I’m not talking about having disability insurance in place, although that can be helpful. I’m talking about how you keep your business functioning without a hiccup if suddenly you’re not there.
Some of you may know that this past May, I fell off a horse and fractured my femur. It’s a painful, nasty situation. I was out of the office for many weeks and yet we continued to operate pretty much as if nothing had changed. After leaving the hospital and rehab, I convalesced at home with remote access to our office network and had my Blackberry always within reach to respond to emails and phone calls. Jim was in the office attending to client meetings and negotiations, court appearances, conference calls, document preparation, billing – his usual lawyer routine – except now he had the perfect life . . . the unfettered practice of law without me there to nudge him.
I learned many things on many levels from the accident, particularly: (1) when you have great people working with you, your daily presence is not necessary for the continuation of the business – at least for the short term; and (2) you will ensure the survival of your firm if you have in place documentation that describes all the day-to-day operations of your business. Lucky for me, I had both.
When I started my firm over four years ago, one of the first things I did was to create our office Operations Manual. It’s a slim binder that lists all the little details of our day-to-day operations; it’s our bible. Since the inception of our firm, and in addition to my prolonged absence, we’ve had key admin people leave and we’ve brought in substitute help from time to time. We never have to waste time figuring out account numbers, passwords, whom to call for a particular service, how to use on-line services to produce newsletters or anything else pertaining to the operations of the firm. We have been in what felt like “crisis mode”, but the stress practically vanished because we had our Operations Manual.
It’s easy to document your office knowledge. What we did is have our key administrative person document in writing every function she performed while at the office; Jim and I did this for office tasks that we did as well. We compiled the descriptions of the tasks over a period of about a month since there were certain things that were performed daily and others that were performed once in a while. After we each typed up the step-by-step narrative of what we did, the others would follow the instructions to see if they were clear. That is a key point. You may think that your task description is clear; that’s because you are familiar with the task. It may not be clear to someone who has no familiarity with that task so make sure someone else reviews your narratives.
Here are some of the topic headings that are contained in our Operations Manual:
- Where certain documents are found on our computer system (e.g. billing rates list, case list; contact information, document templates);
- Contact information of company from which we order office supplies;
- Contact information and process to make contributions to our 401(k) plan;
- Contact information for our accountant, banker and insurance broker;
- How to operate the scanner, fax, photocopier and other office machines;
- How to ship Fed Ex packages and order postage stamps online;
- How to access specific reports and print client invoices from our time and billing program and record payments received.
Regardless of the size of your firm, you never want to be in a situation where the person who has the knowledge you need is not available – document your practices now. You will never regret it.
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Please note that this article is intended only as a general discussion and that it should not be taken as creating an attorney-client relationship or as legal advice with respect to any particular person, business or situation. Circumstances and the applicable legal principles vary and you should consult with an attorney and/or other professionals regarding the facts of your particular situation.