Unless you’ve been too invested in the Sochi Olympics or spent too much time in court lately, odds are you’ve heard of the viral video game Flappy Birds—and how its creator caved under the “pressure” of success and pulled the game from Apple’s App Store, despite raking in $50K per day in ad revenue.
If not, check out yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article and you’ll be up to speed.
While most solo and small-firm attorneys won’t ever experience that kind of meteoric growth all at once, the fact is that success, no matter what scale it’s on, can and must be planned for.
This point was driven home at last week’s LegalTech New York 2014 seminar called “Solo Success: Real-World Insights.” The CLE-approved discussion featured panelists Bradley Randall, JD, from The Randall Law Firm, PLLC in Phoenix, AZ and Penn Dodson, JD, an attorney at AndersonDodson, P.C in New York City.
The seminar was so well received that it’s also being offered as a free CLE Webinar on February 18th, sponsored by LexisNexis Firm Manager®.
Here are some highlights:
The Key Operations of a Successful Law Firm
First of all, what exactly is a successful law firm? The answer is simple: a successful law firm is one that meets the owner’s professional, financial and personal goals.
The key operations of a successful law firm involve one of the following three things:
- Getting the client
- Getting paid
- Getting the work done
Key #1: Getting the Client
In order to ensure ownership (and accountability), it’s important to define who within your firm is responsible for the following basic methods of client attainment.
- Lead Generation: attracting potential clients
- Marketing: defining your firms brand to attract the right clients
- Advertising: how and where to bring awareness to potential clients
- Lead Conversion: signing up a client
This can be implemented within job descriptions and within policy and procedure manuals.
From there, the importance of a system can’t be overstated. Implementing consistent procedures for each function mentioned above to ensure quantifiable, trackable and consistent results.
If this is outside anyone’s particular comfort zone, this is where investing in an outside expert would help tremendously. There are lead generation and marketing firms by the thousands, and they don’t have to be located in your city to work effectively for you. At the very least, it’s smart to invest in a high-quality web site, and learn the basics of blogging and social media.
Especially in today’s highly-competitive legal market, potential clients want to know a lot about their attorney—and his or her expertise—before picking up the phone. The web is the first place they will look.
Key #2: Getting Paid
When it comes to getting paid what you deserve, it’s again important to set policies and procedures to define who is responsible for processing payments, collections, and so on.
Of course, the attorney is the main source for logging time and expenses, and there are of software programs that make that job easier.
Make it easy to get paid is another important step that some attorneys make harder than it needs to be.
For example, accepting payment by credit card is worth the small percentage in fees you’ll pay. Trust accounts are another way to ensure payment, and again there are several software programs available that help make that easier.
Finally, accepting collateral is an alternative payment method that is becoming more common in today’s legal economy.
Key #3: Getting the Work Done
High-quality legal services don’t always have to be delivered by the attorney or, sometimes, by any attorney, as long as the attorney has oversight and the final responsibility for the end product. The power of leverage can work in everyone’s favor.
For example, there are plenty of services paralegals are capable of performing that will still give the client a worthwhile experience, because they will be resolved in a more expeditious manner than if you took them yourself and “put them on the back burner.”
However, it’s best to decide in advance who is responsible for these types of services, and define them specifically in job descriptions and policy and procedure manuals.
Setting Personal, Fiscal and Professional Goals
To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
That’s why goal setting is paramount to success in the law and any other area of life. The process doesn’t have to be complicated, it just needs to be followed.
Here are the six steps the panelists followed:
- Determine what you want. Is it more income? To expand your practice into other areas? The ability to spend more time with your family?
- Dream big. Make sure it’s a big enough goal or important enough to keep you excited and invested. It’s always good to get some quick wins to build momentum, but too many goals go unaccomplished because they aren’t big enough, and the goal setter loses interest.
- Be specific. The more specific you make your goal, the easier it will be to visualize and take concrete steps toward it. For example, set financial goals after figuring out how much it would really cost to live the way you want to live. Don’t set a goal to get more clients, set a goal to get 5 more clients a month.
- Write down your goals and review them daily. A goal is really just a dream written down. Focus on results and don’t let yourself off the hook.
- Start with the harder things first. What are the things you’re looking forward to the least? Take action to get them done right away, and the rest will seem easier.
- Commit to your goal. Motivational expert Grant Cardone recommends taking 10 times the amount of action and effort you originally think it will take to accomplish your goal.
Why—and When—to Get Help
Solo and small law firm attorneys often struggle with why and when they should bring people in to help, and the answers really aren’t as hard as they need to be.
First, the why: You bring people in to help you so that you can make more money than it costs you to pay for their services.
Then, the when: You bring in people to help when you are doing lower-value work that someone else should and could be doing.
It might sound counterintuitive, but the best time for extra help is right from the very start of your business. Many functions of a law office, like answering phones, can be outsourced at a reasonable fee. Your time is much too valuable to be doing things that can be outsourced.
For those that need a specific trigger, look for the time when you’re doing more of someone else’s job than your own job of being a lawyer.
Bottom Line: Successful Law Firms Are Built by Careful Planning
It doesn’t matter if you are setting personal, fiscal and professional goals, deciding to hire help or not, or debating on finally defining policies and procedures; keep in mind, it is not impossible to accomplish. With the commonsensical advice of other solo small firm attorneys who have gone down this road, the time invested toward your business will reap profit, whether in the form of making more money, getting more time with your family, or having less stress in your life.
To hear these tips live and get a free digital version of the handout from Legal Tech New York 2014, sign up for the free CLE Webinar on February 18th “Solo Success: Real-World Insights.”
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