Becoming a successful lawyer is one thing. It’s certainly a challenge and not one that everyone is fit for. However, there are even less people who manage to start their own successful private law firm. Is there some great barrier between a great lawyer and a great law firm owner? What are the traits, the skills, and the processes that get you over that barrier? There are a lot of different components and steps that can be argued for, but here are some that you need to nail down.
Plenty of planning
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you have, the ability to plan ahead, to set yourself targets, and mark out the steps to reach them is essential. To that end, you will want to stick to the ever-trusty tool that is the business plan. Depending on the industry and areas of practice you want to work in, the plan will change but there are great templates you can use to help you get there. What’s important, however, is that you don’t let the plan slow you down too much. Don’t get caught in the preparation stage for so long that you forget to launch. Take advantage of the momentum while you still have it.
More research than ever
Casework requires a lot of research and a lot of data processing. When you’re working for an existing legal firm, there’s often an infrastructure there to help you with that. When you’re on your own, however, you might find more raw data than you can ever handle on your own. Especially if you work with businesses and contract law, you will have contracts and iterations to continuously pore through. In these areas, outsourcing to legal assistants can help you cut down on the busywork. While having the stomach for research is essential as a successful lawyer, it can get in the way of the work that actually makes you money. Be prepared to delegate when necessary.
You might be good at working with clients on a one-to-one basis and understanding their needs personally. When you start your own practice, however, you have to pull the lens way out and examine what brings them to your practice in the first place. Your record and reputation (which we’ll cover more later) matter. But you need to consider how you bring leads to the firm in the first place. Website design, content production, branding, understanding market needs and more are all important. For instance, you can look at the article, “The Essential Qualities To Look For In A Lawyer”. Don’t just market what you think the clients want. Research what potential clients are being told to value and what competitors and others in the industry appeal to.
Money, money, money
A law firm’s responsibility is not just to represent clients well. It also has to run effectively, which means it has a responsibility to make money. It keeps the lights on, it keeps your team paid, it keeps the website online. Taking on cases will be the biggest part of earning money, but how you manage it is just as important. For instance, what do you do while waiting for a settlement to come through? Rather than throwing yourself into debt, it makes more sense to look at law firm specific financing. The piece “The Essential Guide to Legal Funding” highlights that using options that provide an advance that’s guaranteed, win or lose. Of course, making good use of legal funding means taking on cases that third-party funders are likely to think will see success from.
An eye for opportunity
Don’t assume that all your work is going to be the same, either. The best way to protect the livelihood of any business is to diversify. While sticking as close to your focus as possible, you want to look different opportunities to strike at. If you’re having trouble finding cases to start work on, for instance, then working as a contract lawyer in a long-term agreement with a business can help you tide over. Then there are shifting markets and global opportunities, like how 2007 saw a lot more attorneys outsourcing work in India because they spotted another chance to branch out.
Keep the reputation in mind at all times
If there’s one thing that your clients will look to more than anything, it’s your reputation. There are a lot of different ways your reputation can be affected, too. Losing cases isn’t necessarily the worst of those ways. You can lose a case and still come off it and still look good if you exhausted your arguments and innovated in your case work. Rather, it’s your reliability and your integrity that will cost you more often than not. Do reputable work, like taking on pro bono cases or working as a mentor for junior attorneys. Manage your reputation online, making sure that falsehoods or outdated information aren’t allowed to taint your public perception. Reputation is everything in law and yours is on the line as soon as your start your own firm.
Work on your relationships
Talking about mentoring hits on another important aspect of successful law firms. They recognize the importance of every relationship they forge and focus on building them. If you’re new to the game, for instance, the article “The Importance Of Mentors” shows that a more experienced, helpful colleague isn’t just good for helping to show you the ropes. They can serve as a contact years down the line. So does that old friend in law school who becomes a judge and that person you once represented that becomes an employer or a member of the board of directors of a prestigious company. Get in touch with old law school buddies. Keep in touch with old clients. Make use of every networking opportunity you have.
The biggest difference between working as a lawyer and practicing as a firm is the need to not only consider the same kind of work you’ve always done (and the newly heightened responsibilities over it). You have to be able to think like a business owner, not just a legal expert.