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Do you have questions about business for lawyers? As a lawyer, you may tend to do things by the book—and we can’t really blame you for it. Call it your DNA or the three years of full-time study it took to complete your JD. Still, with all of that time spent on education, there are some necessary lessons that law school just doesn’t cover.
You’re expected to present facts and interpret laws. Your clients count on you to be pragmatic and knowledgeable of government regulations and restrictions. But if you also have to run your own practice, you’re also tasked with entrepreneurial duties.
In 2019, the ABA reported that solo and small firms made up of nine attorneys or less comprised the majority of the legal profession. 63% of respondents were either solo (32%) or small-firm (31%) attorneys. In those circumstances, an esquire is also a business owner and a CEO. In other words, a person who runs the show while also managing a client caseload.
You didn’t automatically earn an MBA with your law degree. And many practicing legal professionals will readily admit that they are not as equipped to run a business as they are to represent their clients’ interests in the courtroom. Not to worry, we’re going to give you a crash course in business for lawyers courtesy of CEOs, start-up founders, and attorneys who have been in your shoes.
Take a look at the top five tips for business for lawyers:
Keep Track of Your Finances
It’s a lesson straight out of Business 101 but also a common practice that is often overlooked in the legal world. To be successful in your own firm, you must keep track of your finances, including both your costs and profits.
“As a lawyer that operates a business and also practices law, the value of a good finance and accounting background cannot be underestimated,” says David Reischer, Esq. Attorney & CEO of LegalAdvice.com. “It is very easy to lose track of money when revenue and expenses seem a mere sideshow to the task of operating a business.”
Reischer explains that keeping an eye on the money allows you to grow profit centers and reduce wasteful expenses. “A strong finance background will assist a business person to track conversions that are more likely to flow to the bottom line.”
Further, many law firms use preferred vendors throughout the discovery process to manage documentation and conduct digital forensics. It’s also common for corporations to partner with third-party agencies on certain projects. That being said, law firms tend to work with vendors they have a history with, while corporations will generally run any partnership through a procurement or bidding process. This will entail multiple agencies submitting proposals and estimates for the project. The final cost is not always the determining factor on which vendor is chosen, but it is a useful measure of savings on potential costs.
The phrase change is constant is especially true in the business world, but it can be equally appropriate for those in the legal field. Sure, it’s not every day that a precedent gets overturned or a law is repealed, but how your firm operates and colleagues communicate is ever-evolving.
“One of the biggest lessons lawyers can learn from the business world is adaptability,” says Chandler J. Esq, who runs and owns his own virtual law firm that specializes in intellectual property law. According to Chandler J., the narrative of old school brick-and-mortar firms is outdated, but many lawyers are still trying to fit that mold.
“The world of law is changing, and so is what people want out of law firms and lawyers. Clients don’t want to drive 30 minutes to consultations that can be done virtually; they don’t want to wait 30 minutes just to talk to a lawyer for 15. In today’s day and age, it’s all about convenience and relatability.”
One way that businesses embrace change is through learning and mentorship programs. While it’s easy to think that you know all you need to know after so much schooling, it could benefit you to team up with a mentor in or outside of your field. Doing so could help you gain exposure to new technologies and methodologies that you might not have had on your radar otherwise.
Put Customers First
While the customer may not always be right in business or law, their well-being should always be put first. And today, it’s becoming increasingly important to demonstrate genuine care for your client in the legal profession.
“As a CEO, I think that lawyers can learn to listen to the consumer’s voice,” says Martin Seeley, CEO at MattressNextDay. “Despite [a lawyer] having a stronger knowledge of what is right and wrong, it is still important to consider [a client’s] rationale—this can aid them in having the bigger picture and understanding the situation more.”
Zoi Jones, a personal injury attorney, and partner of Gonzalez & Jones APC, started using a modern scheduling platform and text messaging in place of the traditional use of secretaries. This offered a simple way for her to connect with her clients more personally.
“As a personal injury firm, our clients come to us injured, overwhelmed, and stressed. I started using Calendly so clients can schedule calls with me directly. We also implemented text messaging so that our clients can easily communicate with us.” Another way that Jones expresses her commitment to her client’s well-being is by sending out care packages. This is what the business world would categorize as a “surprise and delight” customer experience lever. It can be a useful tactic because, well, who doesn’t like delightful surprises?
Now, this may seem counterintuitive, as you typically bill by the hour, but productivity matters to attorneys too. And it may even benefit you more than the client.
It’s true that if you are a productive and efficient lawyer, you can save a client on billable hours, but losing out on a few hours now, can turn into having a client or positive referral for life. Not to mention, depression in the legal field is rampant, and burnout is a big part of the reason why. Investing in productivity coaching or tools can help you keep your efforts in check and, in turn, give you back some time for yourself.
Build a Brand
Retention and reputation matter in the legal field just as much as they do in business. But it’s —understandably—not commonplace for a law firm with just a handful of attorneys to also have marketing and recruitment departments. But consumer and employer brands matter more now than ever thanks to today’s review-based, web-first world. “I’m an attorney,” says Ryan Reiffert, “I think the biggest lesson from the business world is the focus on performance metrics and marketing. It’s not something they teach in law school at all.”
Building a brand and creating a persona is no small task. When starting out with marketing initiatives, it is important for you to think about who you are and the unique qualities you bring to the table. If you feel like you have enough on your plate already, consider hiring a marketing agency or professional to help define and communicate your consumer appeal. Once they get the ball rolling, it can be simpler to follow suit.
You might not have an MBA, but we know you have determination and drive. And when you apply those attributes while keeping an open mind, you are sure to find success.
Let’s take a look at several key steps and pillars or a quality growth strategy that any modern law firm should focus on to ensure steady growth.