Is it time to grow your law practice?
Perhaps you’ve noticed that there’s a growing demand for the kind of work that you do. Maybe you’ve decided you could do better work with the help of a team. Perhaps you just want to hire a staff so you can occasionally enjoy a vacation without having to worry about your business. Or maybe you just see the potential for bigger earnings.
All of these are great reasons to expand. However, growing your firm too quickly without a thoughtful plan can have disastrous results.
If you want to grow your small or solo practice by adding staff, locations or practice areas, you need to take several steps first. Start by getting your practice running as efficiently as possible. Then, identify your practice’s most important financial indicators and create a plan to make sure you can pay for your growth.
1. Create Efficient Systems
Lawyers know all about the importance of documentation when it comes to their legal cases, but they don’t always take the time to keep a record of their internal business practices.
Instructions for oft-repeated tasks like filing documents, contacting clients, signing in visitors, and scheduling meetings should be clear and easy to access for everyone on staff.
Established procedures for these kinds of tasks remove friction and enable the work to happen quickly and easily. Written procedures also enable your business to operate smoothly when you’re not there. Optimizing all of your procedures before you try to grow your staff or practice areas accomplishes several things:
- It frees up the funds you need for growth by saving you time on tedious tasks and enabling you to bill for more lucrative tasks with that saved time
- It ensures that you have a solid procedural foundation to build on (your processes will only get more complicated as additional people, places or subject areas get involved)
- It makes it easier to hire potential employees, because you’ll have a clearer idea of what you expect them to do
- It makes it easier to train new hires, because they’ll have built-in instructions for their essential tasks
Becoming truly systems-focused requires a long-term commitment from the leadership. Your staff will ignore procedures if they’re not seen as a critical job priority. And as soon as documents get outdated, they become useless for training and staff turnover management.
2. Identify Tasks to Delegate
If growth is the goal, the firm’s leaders must prioritize the tasks that enable that growth: Namely, the tasks that bring in the most revenue. That usually means that they can’t handle all the tasks that they used to be responsible for.
Delegation can be particularly difficult for lawyers at small firms because their personal identity is often intertwined with that of the firm. (Sometimes the firm even has their last name!)
For owners to manage growth successfully, they must stop looking at the law practice as a personal extension of themselves and start seeing it as an independent company that can operate without them.
Here are a few examples of tasks that lawyers delegate effectively to free up their own time for more profitable work:
The idea of a “customer service team” might make you think of a retail company. However, much of what weighs down a law firm’s time is its customer-service-like requests from clients, such as updates on the status of their case and questions about dates and timelines.
By hiring a dedicated team to handle these requests, you free up time for lawyers to bill for more expense work. But in the process, you also increase client satisfaction, and therefore increase your odds of getting referrals and keeping clients for the long term.
Most business owners are accustomed to outsourcing their taxes to accountants. But smart business owners know that they can also delegate tasks like invoicing, bill collection, and payroll to dedicated professionals or software programs.
If you already have a front desk staff at a physical office, their job is going to get more demanding as your practice grows. If your front desk staff is also responsible for office management or administration tasks (as many are), visitor management software can help them check people in quickly and efficiently and focus on their other work.
Also, if you don’t have a front desk staff yet, you might be able to prevent harmful interruptions with a standalone visitor sign-in kiosk in your lobby area.
There are plenty of legal-specific tools on the market today that make it easier for attorneys to manage case documents, notes, schedules, dates, expenses, time tracking, and client communications for their cases in one place. These programs come with a number of features. Some of them even integrate with other online software programs, such as accounting software, to save your staff even more time.
Some law firm management tools are even equipped with client portals to let your clients check on their own case details without ever having to call your office (a convenience they’ll likely appreciate).
3. Create Financial Benchmarks Before Hiring
If you’re considering making a hire, things are probably going really well for your practice right now. You might even be feeling overwhelmed with all the work on your plate. Hiring to get yourself the help you need might seem like a no-brainer.
But a full-time hire is a big, long-term commitment. Can you afford to pay for this hire’s salary, benefits and other expenses (such as equipment and office space) throughout every month of the year? What if your growth slows or you encounter other unexpected expenses? No one wants to have to make a hire just to let them go a short time later.
That’s why you need to carefully calculate how much it will really cost to hire someone for any given role. Then, calculate how many new clients, engagements, or hours billed you need to hit in order to afford to pay them long-term.
Getting a handle on those numbers will give you concrete goals to hit and make you more comfortable with what it will take to afford your staff. If you run the numbers and don’t feel comfortable with the risk, consider that you don’t need to hire full-time. Part-timers, freelancers and agencies can also be great options.
Attorney Alexis Neely did just that for her first hire. She hired an independent contractor, who then went on to create her own job and hours. That contractor leveraged her freedom as an independent contractor and took the initiative to improve many aspects of the business.
Neely suggests that law firms get a handle on the following numbers before they make a hire:
- Average fee per client
- Average number of monthly speaking engagements and their average attendance
- Number of initial meetings each month for the last six months
- Number of initial meetings already scheduled for upcoming months
- Average engagement rate (how many initial meetings turned into engagements)
- The average cost to acquire a new client
Good luck in your efforts to grow your firm. If you’d like to join the many legal offices that have streamlined their waiting room experience with The Receptionist visitor check-in software, click here to start your free 14-day trial.
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