Law Firm Management: Run a law firm like a business
By Christopher Earley
I am a recovering lawyer. Sure, I’m still a lawyer, but I now handle very few cases (and soon will handle none), because I discovered I enjoy building a business more than building a case. The more I take off the lawyer hat and focus on the business side of law, it has become painfully obvious that law school falls short in failing to teach its students about the business of law. This is a terrible omission, because unless attorneys seek out this information, we do not appreciate the basic nuts and bolts of running a business.
What exacerbates the problem is that many lawyers consider themselves different from other service providers. But that is not true. We are in the business of converting legal problems into legal solutions. We are therefore no different than other service providers. And similar to other professions, the more tightly the business is run, the better. There are practices all law firms must engage in to ensure that the business is running as efficiently as possible.
Marketing is of intense importance. The main focal point of any business is to attract customers. Without customers, there is no business. It is impossible to practice law without clients walking through the front door. Many lawyers advertise, but too few pay attention to marketing metrics. They spend money on advertising, but fail to track the money spent. They have no way of knowing if a particular marketing campaign is actually bringing in clients. The key to marketing a law practice is to make it a habit to never spend a dollar that can’t be tracked. Tracking phone numbers allows a firm to tie a campaign to a specific phone number. Not only the number of leads can be tracked, but also the quality of those leads. Knowing numbers such as the cost to acquire a lead, the cost to acquire a client, and the conversion percentage of wanted leads are essential numbers that a law firm must have command over in order to determine whether a marketing campaign is working. More marketing money should be allocated to campaigns that work and conversely, spend should be reduced or eliminated for underperforming campaigns.
Having command of the numbers is essential for marketing, but also for running a firm. A strong business knows its numbers inside and out. Large corporations are instructive because they are run by the constant observance of metrics. Numbers are what drives everything they do. A law firm should be no different. Understanding key numbers promotes growth and reduces inefficiencies. Knowing the average value of a case, the percentage of revenue dedicated to payroll, and the average length of a case are just some of the crucial numbers needed to run a successful law business.
A well-run law firm also makes certain that only the best people are hired. Always hire slowly and find the very best applicant whenever filling a seat on the bus. The more diligent and careful the hiring process, the better. A great business can’t be run on the backs of average employees. Before hiring, I recommend that the firm have an organizational chart that can serve as a visual guide to the structure of the firm and the various seats within it. Once a superstar is hired, make sure they are properly trained and onboarded in order to ensure that they can flourish in their new role.
Finally, have systems and processes in place. Each and every law firm must run on systems. Processes such as how to open and sort mail, how to handle a deposition, and how to communicate with clients should all be systematized. Nothing in a law firm should ever be done randomly. The more efficient the law firm’s systems are, the better and more smoothly the business will run.
Christopher Earley is a Boston personal injury attorney and author who focuses his practice on the representation of the seriously injured and their families. His firm website is www.ChrisEarley.com.