Warren Zevon sang about sending “lawyers, guns and money” to get him out of a tight spot. But right now, it’s lawyers who are in a tight spot. It’s getting harder to make it, every single day. The economy sucks, and given the idiots we put in Congress, that isn’t going to change any time soon. Between the plethora of young lawyers looking for jobs, and the older lawyers clutching their jobs for dear life, it’s a jungle out there.
If you want to survive, you need to know the law, the practice and the business. If you don’t know the law, go become a politician, used car dealer or waitperson and get out of our way. For the rest, here are some survival tips:
- Understand your client. Your law practice consists of clients needing you to solve their problem. So, you need to understand your client, understand their problem and understand what it is that you bring to the solution to their problems. Then you make a decision as to whether you can help them or not. If you can, the rest is law and business. I you can’t, help them find someone who can.
- Get good at marketing. Finding the clients that need you to solve their problems requires a way to let them know about your ability to help them. This is marketing. (Sales is related, but different.) Marketing is like being a lion. If you like eating gazelle, you need to learn how gazelles think, where they go and how to approach them. Get it wrong, and the lion starves (and gets eaten by hyenas). There are professionals that can help with this, but if you don’t understand the basic premise, you can waste a lot of money, time and opportunity (and likely starve, but, hey, it’s good for hyenas).
- Be money smart. Unlike the government, to survive financially you need to earn more money than you spend. Obviously, that means you need to know how much you spend and how much you earn. It’s called accounting, and there are specialists that can do it for you, but you’d better know as much about your own books as they do. Income is pretty clear, but costs are often hidden or delayed, and can kill your business. (Are those the hyenas circling?)
- Think in terms of processes. The process you use in your practice will determine your costs. Do you need people or technology (butts in cubes or virtual receptionist)? Which file management system is affordable and efficient (file clerks versus the cloud systems)? How do you communicate with your staff and clients (meetings versus email versus textng)? You need to understand and adapt your practice processes to the methods that work for you, your staff and your clients, and also enable your business to survive.
- Mind the machine. The most important key to survival is taking care of the central machine. It does no good for your practice, your marketing or your business if the central machine doesn’t work. The rest of the system demands its optimum performance, so it must be maintained, upgraded and kept in top form. You are the central machine, and you must be responsible for making sure you are working to your highest level of performance. Vacations, rest, mind-clearing distractions, relaxation, relationships. These all play a part in keeping the machine healthy. The rest is meaningless without it.
Remember, weak lions are hyena prey.
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at Attorney at Work.