To run a successful law firm– whether it’s a solo practice or a large firm– you’ll need to not only excel in the areas of law you’re practicing in, but also in all matters of running the practice itself. Running a legal practice comes with its own, unique set of challenges that even the most prepared lawyer setting out to start a new practice may find themselves overwhelmed with. I’m here to help make the job of running your law office just a little easier. Welcome back to Mike’s Office Management Tips.
You’ve established a new firm and are experiencing growth. The initial stress of wondering if you will make it gives way to the stress associated with managing a firm that consists of employees depending on your success to keep the doors open. You might feel alone in that stress, but know this is something all attorneys who run practices go through regularly. Our interviewees were gracious in sharing the things they’ve learned from running successful practices across the country in the hope that you can take these lessons and implement them to grow your firm to new heights.
Build With the Right Foundations
In discussing the essential building blocks for any law firm, Rob Sachs of Shrager and Sachs shares that “people, people, people,” are critical to any successful practice. Building relationships with those teammates is crucial to any long-term success. This starts with recognizing their talents and creating an environment that you love working in. Rob tells us he is “so incredibly proud of every person in my firm, and I brag about all of them to my clients every chance I get. Among my lawyers and staff, I’ve known one for my whole career (and she worked for my wife for a decade before my wife told me I’d be crazy if I didn’t hire her), and I’ve known another for over fifteen years, and she helped raise our kids while she was working her way through college. One of the lawyers was recommended by a defense lawyer who was probably the most formidable cross-examiner I’ve ever faced in trial. Even though we battled mightily, we have a long friendship and mutual respect that led her to introduce me to Theresa Blanco. It’s been a fantastic relationship ever since.”
As Rob puts it, “[i]n short, because I love my whole team, I love going to work. You need to really love what you do and where you do it. If you don’t, keep looking or create your own environment.”
Find What Motivates Your Teammates
Even if your firm is staffed with the best people, managing them comes with its own set of challenges. As Lin McCraw of The McCraw Law Group explains, “all employees have different needs that get fulfilled by work. Some need community, some need ego validation, some need to be a part of something bigger than themselves, some find value in the mission we have to help our clients in a real and tangible way, and some just need to matter. I try to figure out what the employee needs from work more than a paycheck.”
As Rob Sachs points out, you have to create the environment for your team. You have to make sure your teammates are receiving validation, whether it’s through recognizing their accomplishments regularly or, as Lin suggests, finding what makes them tick and want to go to work each day. Lin stresses the importance of “mak[ing] sure that the employee understands how their role in my firm fulfills that role for them.”
Constant Communication is Key
How do you find out what makes your teammates tick and how can you ensure your whole team is on the same page? Communication! Regular communication with your staff, through daily or weekly meetings, is absolutely crucial in any successful practice. In fact, Miranda Soucie, partner of Spiros Law, P.C., emphasizes getting your teammates on the same page each and every day. In her practice, they have, “each attorney mention three short daily goals that they hope to accomplish for that particular day. It’s a very short meeting. We get out what our goals are and move on.”
Getting your teammates’ goals for what they want to accomplish that day doesn’t just crystallize what each person is working on; it also creates, according to Miranda, “more open communication.” As she states, “I might mention one of my goals for the day, and then another attorney in the office has a thought about that goal. It actually has increased our communication and our productivity overall. We’ve been able to lessen the amount that you reinvent the wheel, communicate about issues in cases more, and have a better handle on what everyone is doing on a regular basis. From a management standpoint, it has been a game-changer.”
Culture, Culture, Culture
A similar theme through all of our responses about growing and managing a successful practice is to ensure your team is not only on the same page, but that everyone is aware of what the firm’s mission is. Of course, that might change over time. As John Bey of Bey and Associates knows, massive growth can lead to massive challenges. He states, “it almost feels like there’s a cultural change every ten new hires or so.” When John started his practice, “it started out with just [him], then next came a legal assistant, and then another attorney.” And as the firm grew, so did the need to think about the firm culture. John goes on, “[t]here was a time when we could push the firm culture by just going down the hall and having a conversation. The bigger we get, the more formalized that has to be. Those things have to be in writing, and it’s important to have morning huddle meetings so that we can express those values and make sure that we’re still client-focused in everything we do. And as you bring more people in, those people have their own experiences that they bring in, including the culture of other firms they worked at. So, it’s kind of like having a family dinner every night. You’ve got to work a little bit harder to remind everybody of what you stand for.”
Making It Work
The stress you have from merely practicing law is incredible, but adding the stress of managing and growing your firm in the right direction on top of that can seem overwhelming. While there are countless resources available for how to manage a business and particularly a law business, sometimes the countless resources lead to a “paralysis by analysis” for many lawyers. For instance, should you start with creating your own systems or lean on others to find systems to implement? And when you have those systems, figuring out how to document and implement them presents a whole set of new challenges. Our interviewees suggest taking a step back, focusing on the basics, and taking steps for which you (and only you) are responsible.
First, find employees you trust and create an environment you look forward to working in. If the firm is yours, then this first step is entirely up to you, and only you can do this! Then, figure out what makes those employees tick and focus on that to get “buy-in.” Getting “buy-in” can mean bonusing your employee, giving them daily praise, or just showing your employee how they fit into the grand scheme of the firm’s mission. But you can only get that information through constant communication—through daily or weekly meetings. These meetings ensure everyone is on the same page, and all the oars are rowing in the same direction. Once you’ve begun to experience growth, continue to reassess what culture you want your employees to work in.
These tasks don’t require you to figure out everything in one day. They merely permit you to figure out what you want your firm to look like and how to show your employees their role in the firm. The mechanics of creating systems, procedures, and ensuring follow-through on daily tasks are certainly important. However, no amount of procedures or systems can make up for lack of firm culture and a complete buy-in from your team. Creating a culture that you and your employees love is absolutely the first step to solid firm growth.
Thanks again to our interviewees for their input on the challenges we all face. To read each interview in its entirety, please visit:
Miranda Soucie: https://www.lawyerminds.com/interview-with-miranda-soucie/