Wondering how to serve your clients while efficiently managing a small law firm at the same time?
We asked experts to share some helpful tips and insights:
Table of Contents
- Negotiate your rent
- Consider hiring a part-time paralegal, rather than a full-time one
- Avoid spending the money you receive as income on unnecessary “frills”
- Explore time-saving options
- Running a successful law practice takes discipline
- Devote your time and effort
- Develop a strategic plan to attract and obtain new clients and stick to it
- Case management software is very important
- Organize your mail
- It’s essential to establish a positive work environment
- Staying organized is an obvious tip on managing a small law firm, but it’s no cakewalk to implement
- Balance is key to managing a successful small law firm
- In managing a small law firm, leveraging technology to compete with bigger law firms is a must
- Streamline as much as possible
- Utilize a phone answering service
- Technology is your friend
- The key to running a small law firm is taking yourself away from working in the business and moving towards working “on” the business
- Retainer agreement
- One of the biggest challenges facing small law firms is keeping clients happy
- Another important factor in successfully managing a small law firm is ensuring efficiency
- Staff turnover
- There has to be a personal touch with clients
- Running the firm like a business
- Frequently Asked Questions
- How can I stay current with trends in the legal industry and changes in the law?
- What strategies can I use to market my small law firm?
- How can I measure the success of my small law firm?
- What are the best practices for handling client intake and consultations in a small law firm?
- How can I ensure data security and client confidentiality in my small law firm?
- How can I manage and mitigate risk in my small law firm?
- How can I improve time management and productivity in my small law firm?
- How can I build a strong referral network for my small law firm?
- How can I create a unique value proposition for my small law firm?
- How can I incorporate diversity and inclusion into my small law firm?
- What are some strategies for growing my small law firm?
- How can I establish effective collaboration and teamwork in my small law firm?
The secret to managing a small law firm is to keep your overhead low.
This may mean saving money on small things that add up. You know you will have the constant overhead of rent so you mine as well make the most of it.
Negotiate your rent
When you are negotiating your rent, negotiate to include in your rent a full-time receptionist. Consider renting out a portion of a building, rather than the entire building.
Be sure you know what is included in your rent, such as a copier machine, fax line, fax machine, landline phone, wifi, utilities, etc.
Consider hiring a part-time paralegal, rather than a full-time one
Avoid spending the money you receive as income on unnecessary “frills”
Resist the temptation and keep it simple. For example, you don’t “need” metal business cards. Yes, they may be cool, trendy and set you apart from others, but keep in mind the original purpose of a business card is to share your contact info. You really can do this by ordering 500 or more paper business cards at a time from VistaPrint (don’t forget your coupon code).
You may be able to get by on reams of textured paper as opposed to expensive, thick, resume type pre-printed stationary. You don’t “need” raised writing on your office stationery.
You don’t “need” pre-printed self-addressed envelopes as long as you know how to make your own and still look professional. Do you really need a postage meter machine when stamps.com is available at your fingertips for a small monthly fee? You can save more money buying stamps online than by spending your time physically driving to the post office buying them.
Same for office supplies. There is no need to physically go to Staples if they have a free delivery to your office. Have you considered a business membership to Costco? These types of memberships can save you lots of money and maybe worth the membership fee.
Explore time-saving options
When you weigh the amount of time it takes to drive an hour to the courthouse and back to the office to file a document, is it cheaper to have a courier do this, or you (considering your hourly rate). And remember you don’t have to hire a part-time courier that is on the clock even when he/she isn’t running errands.
A courier service that bills per trip may be exactly what you need. Don’t forget to call around to get the best price; check their references to ensure the quality of their work.
Running a successful law practice takes discipline
Living below your means takes discipline. But you will no doubt reap the benefits when you enjoy taking on a few clients that you can spend the time you need on their cases, rather than spread yourself thin by taking on too many clients. Quality is better than quantity when it comes to clients.
You can always make upgrades as your business grows, but you get yourself in a bind quickly if you are barely keeping your head above water with an unbearable high monthly overhead.
David H. Perecman
Lead Trial Attorney | Founder, The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.
It’s important to keep in mind that when you run a small firm, you should be prepared to go above and beyond to get the job done.
Devote your time and effort
Be prepared to work more than the average 40 hours per week as the balance between efficiently managing your caseload and overseeing your staff may require more time.
Develop a strategic plan to attract and obtain new clients and stick to it
Make building your client base a part of your regular schedule, and do not let it get lost amidst your daily workload. There should always be a strategic business plan and workflow system in place to keep the practice organized and moving in the right direction.
Manage your time efficiently and delegate the work that can be done by others. Make sure to regularly update your database and keep a list of forms that will be used regularly to ensure maximum efficiency and streamline your workflow.
Case management software is very important
Develop systems to make sure the information input is accurate, complete and regularly updated. If you take cases on retainer, make sure you received partial payment upfront to protect against a potential loss.
Get a bookkeeping program and install a time management billing system to ensure you receive regular payments. Establish a system to get paid and politely but aggressively follow it. Do not sign on new clients that cannot make regular payments unless the case is pro bono.
Organize your mail
Lastly, it might not seem important at first, but it is imperative to have a proper system in place to name, record and categorize all incoming and outgoing mail. If you can, scan your received mail into a case program so it will always be easily accessible.
Principal Lawyer | Owner, Accord Law
Owning my own law firm has been the most challenging yet rewarding professional decision of my life. If there are a few tips that I could share with aspiring lawyers who desire to own their own firm, they’re as follows: Foster a positive work environment, stay organized and maintain a balance between work and play.
It’s essential to establish a positive work environment
For Accord Law, I specifically looked for office space with lots of natural light and windows. When we first opened the shop, it was literally a room with one window.
I made it a point to look for an office that allowed my admin and I to be able to feel like we were outside while working. We have lots of plants and artwork that spark joy throughout the office as well.
Establishing a collaborative work environment is also key to maintaining positivity in a workplace such as this. I try to hold monthly team meetings to check in with everyone and clear the air if there is any negativity. As a result, our clients can feel our office is a happy and positive space – because it really is.
Staying organized is an obvious tip on managing a small law firm, but it’s no cakewalk to implement
One of the best things I’ve done at Accord Law is using whiteboards to keep everyone on the same page regarding priorities. We also make use of electronic calendars that we can all modify and see to make sure we aren’t double or overbooking client appointments.
Balance is key to managing a successful small law firm
Nobody’s a machine, and we need to first respect ourselves and understand our own needs in order to perform at our best. If I didn’t take the time to spend time with my kids and wife, I’d be miserable, and my productivity would suffer.
If I’m feeling stressed, I take an extra hour or two to take my son to kindergarten and have breakfast with my 18-month-old daughter and wife. Those two hours keep me sane and will lead me to a much more productive day. At the end of the day, if you’re not happy, it’s just not worth it.
Always remember that any form of employment is temporary — paycheques don’t follow you around after the end of your life, so make the most of it now while maintaining professional responsibility.
Balance isn’t easy — it takes just as much effort as it takes to start your own small law firm. When you achieve that balance, enjoy the ride.
Founding Partner, Saavedra Law Firm, PLC
In managing a small law firm, leveraging technology to compete with bigger law firms is a must
A small law firm can employ technology to outmaneuver its larger competitors. Take for instance automation. A small firm is able to develop, use, and deploy case management software to automate common documents.
In the personal injury space, our firm is able to automate letters of representation to the adverse and collateral insurance companies as well as demands for settlement. In the same manner, we automate complaints, summons, civil cover sheets, arbitration statements, and requests for jury trials with a series of keyboard strokes as opposed to drafting whole documents from scratch.
Of course, each document must still be reviewed and edited to the specific facts of each case, but large parts of each document remain intact.
Automating a practice is much more difficult at larger firms, which often have to deal with legacy software programs that aren’t programmed for automation and large numbers of staff that are reluctant to adopt a new way of doing things. Moreover, larger firms are often managed by attorneys who may have competing interests.
Automation may have significant appeal for an attorney that employs alternative fee arrangements within their practice area. That same automation may be seen as a threat by an attorney that seeks to continue relying solely on billing by the hour.
For attorneys relying only on billable hours, the more time they spend on a case the more revenues they are likely to generate. This conflict between different practice areas within larger firms presents an opportunity for smaller firms to outmaneuver their larger competition.
Technology, when employed properly, can be a strong tool for leveling the playing field between small firms and their larger competitors.
Practice Manager, Ventola Mediation
Streamline as much as possible
For example, there are technology solutions can combine tasks such as copying a new contact into your CRM.
Utilize a phone answering service
Just because you are wearing lots of hats does not mean one of them has to be a receptionist. Modern answering services can transfer calls to your cell phones so you don’t miss a thing.
In our practice, there are deadlines that have to be met. Recognizing that sometimes, the administrative work stops while meeting that deadline.
Technology is your friend
There are many software solutions that level the playing field for law firms. Whether you need to schedule a meeting with multiple parties, produce sensitive documents or even file a pleading with the Court, there are software options for all of these.
Founder, Spera Law Group, LLC
The key to running a small law firm is taking yourself away from working in the business and moving towards working “on” the business
When lawyers work on the business, they can focus on developing the policies, procedures, and systems that actually run the law firm. These parts consist of the marketing, sales, production, the people, the physical plant, and financial controls.
All of these parts need to have well-developed systems, to where a new employee can come in, read them, and understand how the business itself is run. It may sound easier said than done, but many successful lawyers subscribe to these tenets and have extreme success with them.
The lawyers who are stressed, feel like they can’t escape the rat race, and feel like their business runs their life, generally, do not follow these principles, and do not have written policies, procedures or systems for few, if any, of the above parts of the business.
Chief Operating Officer and Case Director, Hannon De Palma, LLC
As the COO of a boutique firm in Westchester County, I’ve found one critical factor that has led us to success. We decided to never again work without a retainer. To pull this off, the firm made this mission my sole responsibility.
The impact has been staggering. Most other law firms generally collect 30% – 40% of their billings and end up chasing the rest in collections. We’ve completely eliminated collections and collect 98% or more.
To pull this off, a key aspect has been technology. Our time is automatically tracked (instead of manually) so we never miss a second of billable time. We don’t need to rely on the memory of the attorneys or paralegals, I see their time logs instantly and can act on this moment by moment.
Darryl R. Smith, Esq.
Criminal Defense and Civil Litigation Attorney, Smith & Eulo Law Firm
The two major keys to successfully managing a small law firm are client satisfaction and efficiency.
One of the biggest challenges facing small law firms is keeping clients happy
A small law firm can only be successful if they maintain a steady stream of clients, and clients are only going to hire a law firm that has quality customer service, great communication, and gets successful results.
Law firms must make sure that every member of their team, from the partners to the support staff, puts 110% effort into making sure every client receives a great customer service experience and excellent legal representation in their case.
There are certain requirements that small law firms must put in place to meet this goal. First, owners must create high customer service expectations for all employees, by requiring all lawyers and staff to treat every client with the utmost courtesy and respect (even when clients may be angry or disrespectful).
Additionally, they must hire highly qualified lawyers and paralegals who are capable of aggressively, efficiently, and effectively handling each client’s case to get the best possible resolution and ensure a high rate of client satisfaction.
Another important factor in successfully managing a small law firm is ensuring efficiency
Clients often hire small law firms because they want more individual and personalized attention. These clients want to know that their attorney will work quickly and relentlessly to get the best possible resolution for the client. In order to do so, small firms need to have attorneys and support staff that are properly trained so they can produce the same excellent quality work as the big firms in less time and for a fraction of the cost.
A well run small law firm can often outperform much bigger firms if they have experienced lawyers, highly trained paralegals, and support staff, and high-quality software and research tools in place to get the job done quickly and correctly.
Having this infrastructure in place ensures a small law firm will run at peak efficiency, which means casework is getting done properly and often ahead of schedule, and the client is getting the highest quality representation possible.
Eric M. Terry
Attorney/Partner, TorHoerman Law, LLC
Turnover of staff is difficult for any business; however, in a small law firm, it can have a crippling effect. As a result, you need to ensure that your staff is happy.
We do this by creating an enjoyable work environment where all staff are part of the ‘team’ and have opportunities to have ideas and concerns heard.
There has to be a personal touch with clients
Small firms can also handle a large volume of cases. In order to keep a personal relationship with our clients (most of whom don’t live in close proximity to our offices), we implement a variety of communication methods (email, phone calls, letters, blogs) to keep them informed of their litigation. In addition, we’ve made it a point that all calls from clients must be returned within 24 hours.
Running the firm like a business
While it seems like an obvious concept, many lawyers make terrible businessmen. We are constantly meeting in order to review the financial stability of the firm, and formulating plans to become more efficient at all levels in order to create long term financial stability.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I stay current with trends in the legal industry and changes in the law?
To run a successful small law firm, it’s essential to keep up with legal industry trends and law changes. To stay informed, subscribe to legal newsletters, follow legal blogs, and attend webinars.
Join local and national legal associations to network with other professionals and gain access to valuable resources. Participate in continuing legal education (CLE) programs to maintain your professional credentials and sharpen your legal knowledge.
By staying informed and proactive, you’ll ensure that your small law firm remains competitive and can adapt to changes in the industry.
What strategies can I use to market my small law firm?
Marketing your small law firm effectively involves combining traditional and digital strategies. Create an engaging website highlighting your expertise, services, and client success stories.
Optimize your website for search engines (SEO) to improve visibility.
Use social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with potential clients and demonstrate your thought leadership. Also, consider creating valuable content, such as blog posts or white papers, demonstrating your expertise and addressing your customers’ needs.
Remember to also leverage offline marketing strategies such as networking events, community engagement, and referrals from satisfied clients.
How can I measure the success of my small law firm?
The success of your small law firm can be measured through a combination of financial metrics, client satisfaction indicators, and team performance metrics.
Keep an eye on key financial indicators, such as revenue growth, profitability, and cash flow, to assess the financial health of your law firm. Monitor client satisfaction through feedback surveys, testimonials, and repeat business.
Assess your team’s performance by evaluating productivity, efficiency, and professional development. By analyzing these various factors, you’ll gain a holistic understanding of your firm’s success and areas for improvement.
What are the best practices for handling client intake and consultations in a small law firm?
Implementing best practices for client intake and consultation meetings can streamline processes and improve client satisfaction.
Develop a standardized intake form to gather important client information and identify potential conflicts of interest.
Train your staff to handle initial client inquiries professionally and empathetically, ensuring they feel heard and understood.
Schedule consultation appointments promptly and prepare thoroughly by reviewing case details and possible legal strategies.
Listen to the client during the consultation, provide honest assessments, and clearly state your fee and payment expectations.
Efficient intake and consultation processes are the foundation for a strong attorney-client relationship.
How can I ensure data security and client confidentiality in my small law firm?
Ensuring data security and client confidentiality is critical to maintaining the trust and complying with legal and ethical obligations.
Implement strong physical and digital security measures, such as secure storage of physical documents, firewalls, and anti-virus software. Use encryption and secure file-sharing services to transfer digital documents.
Train employees on confidentiality and best practices for handling sensitive information. Regularly update your organization’s security measures and protocols to respond to emerging threats and industry standards. Conduct audits to identify and proactively address potential vulnerabilities.
How can I manage and mitigate risk in my small law firm?
Managing and mitigating risk in your small law firm requires proactive planning, regulatory compliance, and insurance coverage. Create a comprehensive risk management plan that identifies potential risks, assesses their impact, and outlines mitigation strategies.
Ensure that your law firm complies with all legal, ethical, and regulatory requirements by keeping abreast of changes in the law and maintaining open communication with your staff.
Obtain adequate professional liability insurance to protect your firm in the event of a claim or dispute. Regularly review and update your risk management plan to address evolving risks and ensure the long-term success of your firm.
How can I improve time management and productivity in my small law firm?
Improving time management and productivity in your small law firm includes setting priorities, utilizing technology, and streamlining processes. Encourage your staff to create daily or weekly task lists, prioritizing critical activities. Implement time-tracking software to monitor work hours and identify inefficiencies.
Use legal matter management software to automate repetitive tasks and reduce administrative burdens. Promote a culture of continuous improvement by regularly assessing and improving processes to maximize efficiency.
By focusing on effective time management and productivity strategies, your small law firm will be better equipped to provide quality services to its clients.
How can I build a strong referral network for my small law firm?
Building a strong referral network for your small law firm involves cultivating relationships with fellow attorneys, clients, and other professionals in your community.
Join local bar associations, legal organizations, and community groups to expand your network and connect with potential referral sources. Offer reciprocal referrals to other professionals to show your willingness to support their businesses.
Maintain close relationships with satisfied clients who can become valuable referral sources. Engage with your network regularly through events, social media, and email updates to stay top of mind and demonstrate your commitment to the legal community.
How can I create a unique value proposition for my small law firm?
To develop a unique value proposition for your small law firm, you must identify your key strengths, understand your target clients, and differentiate yourself from competitors.
Assess your expertise, experience, and services to determine what makes your law firm stand out. Research your target clients and their specific needs to tailor your services accordingly.
Set your firm apart from the competition by highlighting unique offerings, such as personal attention, expertise, or innovative technology solutions.
Clearly communicate your value proposition through marketing materials, website content, and client interactions to attract and retain clients who recognize the distinct advantages of your small firm.
How can I incorporate diversity and inclusion into my small law firm?
Incorporating diversity and inclusion into your small law firm involves proactive recruitment, inclusive policies, and ongoing education.
Develop recruitment strategies that attract diverse talents, such as targeted job postings and partnerships with organizations that support diversity in the legal profession. Create inclusive policies that promote equal opportunity and accommodate various needs, such as flexible work arrangements and parental leave options.
Provide diversity and inclusion training to educate your team about the importance of a diverse workplace and reduce unconscious bias. Encourage open dialog and solicit feedback from your team to continually improve your firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts and create a welcoming and supportive environment for all.
What are some strategies for growing my small law firm?
Expanding a small law firm requires strategic planning, market analysis, and resource management. Start by assessing your law firm’s current strengths and weaknesses and determine your long-term goals and vision for growth.
Examine your target market to identify expansion opportunities, such as untapped client segments or emerging practice areas. Develop a detailed growth plan that outlines the necessary resources, staffing, and marketing efforts to support your expansion.
Monitor your firm’s financial performance to ensure profitability and healthy cash flow during the growth process. Regularly review and adjust your expansion strategy based on feedback, industry trends, and the evolving needs of your business.
How can I establish effective collaboration and teamwork in my small law firm?
Fostering effective collaboration and teamwork in your small law firm includes clear communication, shared goals, and a supportive work environment.
Create open lines of communication and encourage team members to share ideas, challenges, and successes. Develop shared goals aligning with your firm’s overall mission and ensure all team members understand their roles and responsibilities.
Create a culture of support and recognition by acknowledging individual and team accomplishments and offering constructive feedback for growth. Utilize project management tools and video conferencing to facilitate collaboration and streamline workflows.
By fostering a collaborative and team-oriented work culture, your small law firm will be better equipped to deliver exceptional service to its clients.
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