Business

How to Manage a Small Law Firm, 20+ Great Tips

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:

Susan Williams

Susan Williams

Owner, Law Office of Susan E. Williams

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

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.

Angat Saini

Angat Saini

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.

Related: Why Is Work-Life Balance so Important in Today’s World?

Freddy Saavedra

Freddy Saavedra

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.

Gina Ventola

Gina Ventola

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.

Prioritize

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.

Andrew Legrand

Andrew Legrand

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.

Christopher Sands

Christopher Sands

Chief Operating Officer and Case Director, Hannon De Palma, LLC

Retainer agreement

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.

Darryl R. Smith

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

Eric M. Terry

Attorney/Partner, TorHoerman Law, LLC

Staff turnover

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.

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