It’s not uncommon for lawyers to launch into hanging up their own shingle with a mind full of confidence and a heart overflowing with passion…passion to serve others, build something to be proud of, and to make a hell of a lot more money than their previous role, where all their billings went to fancy office lobbies and equity partners.
Unfortunately, that law firm growth strategy is flawed. 95% of the legal industry is made up of firms with 20 or less lawyers, and a majority of those are solo practitioners. And yet, many law firm owners find themselves desperate to grow their firm to 10 lawyers, and then 20 lawyers despite their humble beginnings as a solo. I have heard the story over and over from law firm owners about being burned out, overwhelmed, and feeling like there must be a better way. You should either have more time or more money, but not have to burn the candle at both ends without any financial and/or life satisfaction.
Legal Back Office has found some common denominators across our clients that lead to stalling in their growth, burnout, or a failure to launch. In nearly all instances, the partner(s) don’t know how to say no: No to lawyers or staff who simply aren’t performing for fear of looking like the ‘bad guy;’ No to overpriced service providers that try to sell them on a “formula for success;” No to clients and/or work that isn’t right for them; No to doing their own bookkeeping, marketing, or administration.
Just say no and you will start to see positive change and experience the law firm growth you have been looking for. And NO, this isn’t a prescribed formula to success. Each law firm is unique and the path to success is incredibly custom, but there are some best practices that can ensure you firm is going in the right direction. And P.S.: If anyone tries to sell you on a proven formula, just say no! 😉
Managing Poor Performance in a Positive Culture
Too many lawyers in small firms don’t want to hold their lawyers or staff accountable for poor performance. We have found this has typically come from a previous negative experience in a bigger firm where performance was demanded at high personal costs, not appreciated, and certainly not rewarded. Any recovering big firm lawyers out there want to give us an amen?!?!
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), “Over half of lawyers across all firm sizes say they make time for themselves (about 51%). But over 9% of all respondents say they never stop working; over 55% of lawyers at firms of 500+ say they often work long hours. As you might expect, this is more pronounced at the very largest firms and among those who work in employment and IP practice areas. Almost 60% under age 40 say they seldom or never take time away from their electronic devices to relax.”
Fear of firing or holding your lawyers and staff accountable will create real, long-term issues as you try to grow your law firm. Or simply being too busy to manage performance and keep your eye on maximizing the team can create cash flow issues and put an undue strain on the rest of the team. One person not hitting goals can create serious disruption to your law firm growth plans.
I love the advice to “make decisions with your head and communicate with your heart.” Holding performers accountable for the expectations does not have to be cold or harsh. I have been pleasantly surprised by how our law firm clients have started to balance building a positive and supportive culture with one that expects the team to meet goals, and the mutual respect that has been built has produced important results both in their revenue, net income, and in employee retention as well as satisfaction.
Don’t Buy Into the Promise of a Proven Formula
If you are in the legal industry, you have undoubtedly been bombarded by social media ads, Google ads and unwelcome LinkedIn messages trying to sell you on a “proven formula for law firm growth success.” What I can tell you after working with lawyers and law firms for over nine years now is there is no formula. There are certainly some business best practices and foundational must-haves that will set your firm up for success. However, the truth is that many law firms have grown and experienced success without paying for high-dollar marketing agencies, fancy consultants, or overpriced attorney registry listings and awards preying on your bottom line.
At Legal Back Office what we have learned is that every law firm is unique, and so are its owners. Lawyers have different visions, missions, and passions about how they want to serve their clients. In an industry where passion reigns to serve others and stand out from the competition, signing up with a service provider that is going to throw you into their machine of templates, forms and tools and not really add custom value, is selling you on a proposition that might work in the short-term, but will eventually fade.
We have found that law firm growth cannot be handle through a template. To successfully execute your law firm’s growth strategies, your competitive advantage needs to be unique just like you are. Lawyers who have built a seven-figure law practice despite themselves or their capabilities would love to sell you on their package and advice for a low, low price of $10,000! We are not saying that law firm marketing partners and/or legal consultants are bad. What we are saying is just say NO to templates or service approaches that try to pretend that your firm is like all the other firms across America and success is an easy formula.
Know Who You Are and Just Say No to the Wrong Clients
It can be tempting to want to take on all legal work when you are starting firm because well…you have bills to pay! All start-up owners have felt this temptation and nearly all of us stray in the beginning. There is something very powerful about branding that we, as consumers, don’t fully appreciate as we make buying decisions without much thought. When we make travel plans, we naturally check out Southwest, and when we need a cell phone provider we look to AT&T, and when we need a new phone, we turn to Apple. Why do we not give our purchasing choices a second thought sometimes? Because we know what we are going to get, and we trust that brand.
Knowing who you are as a law firm and how you serve clients will bring such clarity to your brand that can encourage that same powerful spending and decision-making behaviors with your potential clients. When it starts to get muddy on what you offer and how you serve you community, the referrals will slow down, and the attraction will fade. Taking on too many cases that are not in-sync with your brand can create a lag in the production of work in other areas of your business and not allow your law firm to grow.
Stop Paying $300/hour for Accounting Work
You might be wondering, who in the hell pays $300 per hour for law firm accounting? The answer is most law firm owners when they choose to do this work themselves and you, reader, probably are guilty as well. It’s called opportunity cost when you could otherwise be generating revenue but choose to take on an administrative responsibility that could otherwise be outsourced for far less.
I hear this all the time, “well I’m free and it doesn’t take me that long.” We recently got a new client that was spending 10 hours per week on her accounting and understood conceptually that she could be billing for more than paying someone else to do this work. In addition, she was just incredibly burned out. She needed to get her life back. After outsourcing her entire accounting function (bookkeeping, payroll, paying bills, collections, legal billing etc.…) she not only has been able to increase her revenue, but recently told us, “You all have changed my life.”
You might also still be answering your own phones, managing your own calendar, or posting all your social media content. All of these are examples of areas that could be done much more effectively if outsourced and would free you up to help your law firm to grow. If you’re interested in doing exactly that, or want to know how a law firm consulting company can help you, contact Legal Back Office to get started.