For many lawyers, owning your own law firm is a major career milestone and personal goal. Starting a law practice, however, can mean facing fierce competition, depending on several factors such as what type of law you practice and how saturated the market is in your particular location. It also means adding “business owner” and leader to your resume, which comes with a whole new range of responsibilities and challenges.
After building my law firm into a team of 40 people across two offices in the past decade, I’ve gained some insight through trial and error that may be helpful for others looking to start a law practice. Here are my 10 best tips for starting your firm and ensuring its success for years to come.
1. Work Hard and Stay Humble
These are two traits I have carried with me since the day I started my firm and I consider both keys to success. I may not always be the smartest person in the room, but I am usually the hardest-working. I also know I won’t have the answer to every question, so I make a point of surrounding myself with smart people who have professional experience that varies from my own.
2. Use Technology to Manage and Streamline Workflows
Don’t shy away from using new technology in your firm — even if it isn’t standard practice among your peers. We use technology more than any law firm I know, and it absolutely pays off. We use a mix of out-of-the-box and custom-built systems to track our matters and deliverables, manage essential workflows and caseloads, and create more efficient processes. For example, for project management, we find that Trello is a great, accessible platform we can use to ensure our team is always moving things in the same direction. However, for higher-touch workflows, we’ve invested quite a bit in building our own platforms. For instance, we created a custom intelligent call-routing system to cut down on time and admin costs associated with answering the phones, and we are currently working with a software developer to create a custom case management platform.
3. Find What Sets You Apart and Own It
When I started out, most personal injury firms representing the average victim and claim were offering very average experiences to clients. I knew I wanted to start a firm that could do better. Our driving philosophy, which has helped us stand out in a competitive practice area, is providing superior customer service and a high level of sophistication to every injury victim, whether they have a $20 million case or a $20,000 case. This philosophy influences everything we do. For example, our policy is to meet potential clients anytime, 24/7 in our office or wherever they might be. Also, we always strive to return client calls within one business day.
4. Don’t Underestimate Team Buy-in
While you may be the owner of a business with a grand vision of how you want it to move forward, even the best ideas in the world can fall flat if your team — the people who have to execute it — does not buy in. Anytime I want to deploy a new procedure, I seek input from key stakeholders at the firm first.
5. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
It may sound like a cliche, but if I could go back and give myself any advice this would be it. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the finer details, but you never want to lose sight of your business’s bigger picture and purpose.
6. Pay Yourself Last
Always pay your people before you pay yourself, of course, but don’t forget to put money back into your business as well. Investing in your company early on is necessary to fuel growth. This means you may have to wait a little longer to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but you will be much more likely to succeed long term if you pay your business before you start to pay yourself.
7. Expect Double
Over the years, I’ve learned to expect things to cost double or to take twice as long as anticipated — or both. If you adopt this mindset, it will save you a lot of energy and frustration when it comes true.
To that end, if there is one thing I wish I knew before starting my firm, it’s that you get what you pay for. Many of the mistakes I have made have been because I thought I could find a cheaper way to get something done or do it myself. It ended up costing me more than if I had just hired the right people or used the right software in the first place.
8. Change Is the Only Constant
Being able to recognize changes quickly and coming up with a way to pivot is vital to running a healthy business. Change is truly inevitable, so be sure to anticipate it and use it to your advantage.
9. Respond, Do Not React
This is crucial when leading a team. A reaction is typically fueled by emotion or ego, whereas a response is a well-thought-out position that requires you to look at both sides of a situation before making a decision.
10. Do What’s Right
If you’ve made a mistake that you must make right, you must hold yourself accountable — even if it isn’t profitable. As a lawyer, you comply with ethics rules. Integrity as a business owner is just as crucial to creating and maintaining a law firm with a good reputation you are proud of. Apathy in the face of injustice is our worst enemy.
Starting a Law Practice and Finding Long-Term Business Success
When you are starting your own law firm, think beyond what it means to be a successful lawyer and consider what it takes to be a successful business owner. I selected these 10 tips to help you find the best ways to invest in your firm from the start and ultimately find long-term success. It may seem overwhelming at first, but managing my own practice and watching my business grow has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. Good luck!
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