Depending on what city you set up in, starting a new law firm can feel like swimming in shark-infested waters. A lack of market need and strong competition accounts for 61% of start-up failures while advancing technology renders many established law firms on the brink of obsolescence.
Most growing legal firms will grapple with the same questions: Where can I find more customers? When do I hire? How do I compete with Big Law?
Here are 8 bases to cover if you are a growing legal firm:
1) Specialize Where You are Strongest
An appetite for growth and a strong work ethic are essential for development but they demand focus. Solo or small team law firms should pick one area of specialization to capture a reasonable market share. The tendency for new lawyers is to accept as many contracts as possible to get cash flow moving. Unfortunately, this dilutes your authority and reputation.
Being a jack of all trades and a master of none is the image you achieve. This creates a barrier between you and the most lucrative contracts because your reputation won’t garner the notoriety or impression needed. Specializing in one or two related fields allows you to build rapport, authority and make noise in a smaller room.
2) Draft Your Roadmap to Success
The consistent advice to all start-ups and growing firms is to create plans. Starting without a plan offers no clarity to the team and little credibility to potential investors. Any solid business plan provides answers including:
- Who are you? Who are your team, what is your expertise, what is your message? What do your website and branding say about you? What do you do differently?
- When do you need to hire? When and who will you hire? What type of lawyers and support staff will you need?
- What is success to you? What is the vision guiding you and how will you achieve this? Be specific and clear because intangible metrics don’t work.
A plan ought to have many more variables, but these questions set ground rules and guide decision making.
3) Trim the Fat from Your Processes
Whether you are by yourself or with partners efficiency makes all the difference. Once you have gotten up and running, assess your systems and find as many places to streamline as possible. Bring in Loio and other providers to reduce the time lost to inefficient tasks such as contract preparation and proofreading.
Every hour you can save is an hour to put toward business development or billable time. Conservative estimates suggest at least 20% of leadership time should be devoted to business development. Efficiency is a huge hurdle for growing enterprises as the battle between compliance, due diligence, and income generation is finely poised.
4) Stay in Tune with Customers
How do we get customers? Firstly, you must deliver expert service. If you don’t, no advice guides will help you. Go the extra mile, stay late, be personal and do the unnecessary. Clients remember.
Secondly, to be seen in your market, you must be visible. Locating physically and digitally where customers are is essential. Have an address shows up in proximal Google searches, sponsor or attend events you know your clients will be at, ask clients for referrals and digital reviews, contribute to debates on blog forums, LinkedIn, or in person. Stand up for people where possible. Good and bad news travel.
5) Hire with Growing Intentions
Hiring as a growing law firm can generally be broken into two streams – hiring support staff and hiring lawyers. There are several rules of thumb to abide by when hiring both.
- A) Hire proactively. Waiting until the last minute may seem frugal but pressurizes the new hire and trainer leading to short-cutting the onboarding process. You inevitably pay in the long run.
- B) Hire people you can work with. Building a team needs people of a similar mindset. Teammates need to think like you. They shouldn’t always agree with you but should be equally hungry for success.
- C) Hire with intention. Are you hiring to shed non-billable hours? What is the most optimal way to generate more revenue? Outsourcing may just be the right answer to reduce the distractions of administrative work.
6) Invest in Marketing
Law firms have a strange tendency to think they don’t operate like ‘standard’ businesses as there will always be a demand for legal services. However, you do not exist in a Blue Ocean. There are competitors and when there are competitors, the argument to choose your services over theirs needs to be made.
Establish a clear and strong identity that exemplifies what you do and why you are the best at it. Create a website and sales materials around this to develop your sales funnel. Each channel you have is a voice for your firm and needs to deliver a clear and inviting message. Finally, do SEO right. SEO can be the difference between languishing out of sight in an internet search and being right out front for potential clients.
7) Adopt Technology Where Possible
Between machine learning, AI, automation, and the internet of things, our rate of learning and optimization is accelerating beyond imagination. One of the biggest secret weapons for growing practices to make up ground is early technology adoption.
Professional companies give you back hours of your time in efficiency. The likes of LawPay handle your billing practices while others can help you systemize signatures and valuations. Technology infusion is going to continue to grow and those who deny it will be left behind by the industry.
8) Acknowledge Mistakes and Ask for Help
Entrepreneurs of all profession adopt a crusading mentality that it is them against the world. They think asking for help shows weakness or gives away their advantages and that everything needs to be done perfectly. Don’t fall victim to the erroneous mentality.
Acknowledge and rectify mistakes as early as possible. If not, they build up. Ask mentors and established professionals for help before you need it. Many of your peers can open doors to critical advice or business opportunities.
Legal services disruptions in 2021 have given cause for optimism for new and growing firms. The enforcement of digital offices, redundancy of the high-priced office real estate, and availability of talent play right into the hands of the aspirational firm.
Undoubtedly growth is a daunting task right now but attending to the bases of this guide and acknowledging how the market has tilted back into your favor means that success is possible.