5 Tips for Managing Your Small Law Firm Like a Boss
In law school we spent long, late nights studying contracts, practicing IRAC’s and outlining crim law. We weren’t learning about employee management, marketing, trust accounting, social media, or client satisfaction. Yet, here we find ourselves — growing our small business, running the ship — and we kind of like it (for the most part). Fast forward a decade of missteps, small victories and two kids — I’ve got a few essential tips to share that changed my practice (and my life).
Outsource: Boy did I resist this. I thought somehow by outsourcing I would singlehandedly be the cause of the downfall of our economy. Fortunately, I (a) got over it; and (b) was wrong. Outsourcing doesn’t have to mean shipping important jobs offshore (although that can be done too) but rather, employing local small business folks who care about you and your brand or using smart, affordable software. The 3 game-changing tasks I now outsource are: (1) HR; (2) Bookkeeping; and (3) Graphic/ Web design.
Human Resources: When we hit 5–6 employees I realized that there were a lot of tasks bogging me down and causing me stress. Outsourcing for me means freeing up space in my day (thereby having more time to bill and drive business) and no longer having to do the stuff I hate and am no good at. For as little as $400 — $600 per month, you can have your own dedicated HR professional who does everything from payroll processing (including PTO audits and benefit deductions) to employee on boarding, compliance, advising on new laws and regulations that impact your business, create/revise/present your employee handbook and standard operating procedures, and manage / assist with employee reviews and terminations.
Bookkeeping: For me, there’s no bigger headache than accounting. I really despise it and it used to take me forever. For a couple hundred per month, you can get an a really great accountant to manage your books making tax time a whole heck of a lot less stressful and providing you with monthly or quarterly reports to make financial planning a cinch.
Graphic/Web Design: This is important. Everyone cares about good design and everyone checks out your website before making the leap. You don’t need to use a firm that specializes in law firm sites (and may charge a ton of money). Besides, the website shouldn’t really be about you and your tastes anyhow — it should be about the client and what s/he needs. Early on I used (and would still recommend) websites like crowdspring to obtain high quality logos, web design and business card/letterhead design. You name your price, explain your project and designers from all over the world submit their work to you. Then you choose the winner. It’s that easy! Another option is to find a local designer whose work you like (or a few of them) and obtain a bid. Remember, your brand is a work in progress so choose someone you wouldn’t mind working with for years to come.
Best practice: Do not hire a designer until you’ve done some serious soul searching about who you are, what type of law you will practice, what type of client you want to attract and what message you want to convey to the consumer — unless of course you want throw good money after bad and redo your branding in a year.
Get Your Tech On: What’s the most time consuming tasks you do? What if you could leverage them to get ahead of your competitors?
4. There’s an app for that!: Seriously, there’s an app for just about everything we do. Aside from saving us time and money — we get the added bonus of being a whole heck of a lot more organized and having a little more in common with our clients (who have been looking at our profession for years wondering if we’ll ever stop killing trees or handwriting receipts). Some of my favorite apps that I rely on to run my practice are:
Glip (like Yammer or Slack) allows my team to communicate and collaborate with each other in real time — no matter where they are (and its free!) We can privately message one another or group message the entire firm. You can use it ‘in house’ with your current employees and/or add separate groups /teams such as contract attorneys or vendors. Note I love asana for managing and delegating projects non law related.
Canva makes you look like a design pro with an easy to use app (and web platform) for making FB, Twitter, Instagram or Blog images. This free graphic design tool is so easy to use you can practically do it in your sleep.
Drop Box Paper (like Google Docs) is a super easy way to collaborate (in real time) on a document without needing to have Mic Word on your phone or tablet or worrying that you’re saving over someone else’s edits/draft. I’m hooked.
My Case or Clio: If you don’t have a practice management software you are making your life way too complicated, cheating yourself on getting bills timely paid and probably pissing a bunch of clients off. A good, affordable software allows you to manage tasks, communicate with your clients, easily create bills, keep documents in one place, manage calendars etc.
Zapier: The best, ever. Zapier is a tool that allows you to connect apps you use every day to automate tasks and save time. So, for example: Use Zapier to auto archive / save faxes and voicemails your receive into Dropbox; turn messages into tasks; convert intake forms into contacts, or have your clients book appointments through an online scheduler that syncs with your practice management software. We are always discovery new zaps.
5. Be a Leader — Not a Boss: What’s the worst part about growing your business? Arguably, employee turnover. It costs money, it costs time, it produces frustration, it hurts your heart. Clearly a topic for a whole other blog but I’ll just make a couple humble suggestions here for keeping employees happy. (1) Resist your tendency to micromanage (it drives your team crazy and you can’t bill out those hours); (2) Encourage collaboration (they become invested in each other, more true to the brand and are less likely to come to you for every issue they need help with); (3) Perks. They don’t have to be expensive but can mean a lot to people. What if you had unlimited sick time or PTO? It shows you care about wellness and trust they’ll make good decisions; What about laptops instead of desktops? (so they can work remotely when they’re in trial prep hell or have a sick kid); How about you bring in lunch or snacks for those pesky weekly meetings?; How about encouraging MCLE on a particular topic that interests an attorney in your office? Think about it — your employee builds her confidence and depth of knowledge and you attract a new crop of clientele. Just remember, your not happy if your team isn’t happy (with a really big caveat that there are some people that are just not ever satisfied — and to those I say, see ya.)