MLR

Run your law firm like a business

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Most attorneys have one primary focus: serving their clients.

Whatever their branch of law – be it criminal, civil, family or real estate – they typically choose a field that peaks their passion and interest. They keep up to date with changes in law and find solutions to client woes.

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Like many entrepreneurs, attorneys learn there is a lot involved in running a practice once they set up shop. To succeed, a firm must be efficient and profitable in addition to serving clients.

Cultivation and retention of a solid client base is also critical. Two areas to look at while building your business model are internal operations and marketing.

Efficient internal operations, essential to profitability

Unless you are a natural administrator, many lawyers struggle with internal operations. Of course, client files and notes are up to date, but what about billing and bookkeeping? As with any system, the way to be successful is to set it up right the first time.

Make the best use of computerized systems to be sure that billing information reaches the billing clerk in a timely fashion. Set a schedule for bills, and make sure they are sent out on time. Lagging bills will impact your cash flow since there aren’t many clients who will call to inquire about how much they owe you.

Trusted employees are essential to your practice, especially if you employ paralegals or associates who prepare some of the casework. While it is hoped they will complete their work quickly and accurately, you need systems in place to monitor their progress. Timelines for client cases can help keep everyone on track by providing deadlines and monitoring work flow. Shared tools like Google calendars can help the staff keep up to date on pending events and work in progress.

Time management is one of the most difficult areas for attorneys. With a multitude of client cases at various stages and new problems or complications popping up daily, keeping on top of workload is a feat in itself.

One way to improve effectiveness is to build in time buffers. Pace yourself by scheduling work out as far as possible and then building in blocks of time for emergencies or delays.

Stress is caused by schedules so tight they squeak, and anything unexpected causes a huge problem. If you find yourself caught up, get started on next week’s work. Remember too to build in company events and down time to build the team and boost morale. Something as simple as a shared monthly meal can create goodwill and a great sense of cooperation among staff members.

Reputation, the key marketing ingredient

Some pundits try to apply the concept of branding to people and the services they offer. Really it’s just about your reputation as an attorney.

When seeking a lawyer, many people ask around to find out who is considered “good.” What does good mean for your type of practice?

It can be mounting a successful defense, negotiating a settlement or handling transactions in a timely manner. Figure out what your clients value most about your services, and be sure to communicate that in your marketing efforts.

Now that lawyers are allowed to advertise, having a website is essential. Beyond talking about your services, you can host an informative blog. Based on your type of law and its typical client issues, a blog can cover the basics as well as make you appear more approachable and caring. Some attorneys even prepare or link to e-book publications that discuss issues in depth.

Another benefit of a website is that clients are better prepared at first meetings, which can streamline the process.

An important aspect to reputation is standing in the community. Visibility is a good thing, and many successful attorneys are involved in charitable activities. Depending on your target clients, sponsor Little League teams or small business workshops. Health causes such as Run for the Cure are highly publicized, for example. Run yourself or sponsor a runner.

Pro bono work is another way of giving back. Many lawyers find a keen sense of satisfaction in helping worthy clients who are unable to pay.

Involvement in local, state and national associations is an effective way to build your reputation. This type of engagement benefits you in other areas, such as keeping your knowledge up to date and helping you cultivate a network.

On the local level, it is of benefit to know competent attorneys in other fields of practice for referral purposes. This is a tangible service to offer your clients. If you don’t handle real estate or divorce, know someone who does.

Owning your own practice is a rewarding and exciting endeavor. Applying a little business savvy will make it more enjoyable and successful.