As we close out 2019 and move forward, not only into a new year but also, a new decade, it is an excellent time to reevaluate your strategies and goals for the business side of your law firm. In doing so, you may find that you are in great shape and need little if any changes in your game plan. However, most of us will find that there is room for improvement in our existing routines or a strong basis for a significant change in strategy.
It is easy to get consumed by the legal services we are providing to our clients and forget, or put off, any real detailed and purposeful look at how successfully we are managing our business. The task can seem a bit overwhelming if it is not something you do on a routine basis.
Here are some tips for being purposeful in your business plan for 2020.
One: Take Some Quiet Time to Reflect on Your Goals
Maybe you are practicing in a few areas of law and especially love or especially detest one or two of those. Consider the pros and cons of narrowing your focus to just those areas of law that are satisfying for you personally, or those that help you generate income to allow you to do other cases that may not be as profitable.
If you are starting to plan for retirement, you may want to consider ways in which you could bring on an associate to help shoulder the work load as you start to cut back. Likewise, if you are early in your legal career, maybe you have dreams of expansion of your firm.
Possibly your current caseload is out pacing your staffing and you need to bring on additional staff. Or, maybe you have a desire to downsize administratively and take on more clerical duties yourself. What will it take for you to make these changes to your firm?
Two: Plan Out What It Might Take to Accomplish Your Newly Identified Goals or Recommitment to Your Existing Goals
Adding a new paralegal, bookkeeper, or associate may be necessary in order to manage a heavy workload. Or eliminating an unnecessary, divisive, or unproductive staff person may be required. Whatever it is that you decide you want to work towards, identify what it is that you need into order to accomplish that goal.
Three: Do a Detailed Review of your Income and Expenses.
The business of doing business almost always comes down to the bottom line of finances. End of year financial reports are the perfect tool to reflect back on your income sources and your expenses. Review them carefully and make a list of what supports your plans and another of what may be unnecessary or out of line with your goals.
Evaluate how efficiently you and your staff are billing. Nobody wants to work for free. Make sure you are billing diligently to be fair to yourself and your clients.
Develop a budget that supports your goals and do your best to operate within the parameters of that budget. Be mindful and purposeful if adjustments are necessary. Do not ignore or abandon the budget.
Four: Track the Sources of Your New Clients
Develop a system of tracking the sources of potential clients. Then develop plans to optimize what is already working for you and to expand your resources in new ways.
Be mindful of whether you are better off managing your own marketing efforts or relying on others to do that for you. Most attorneys benefit most from spending their time providing and billing for legal services, while aligning themselves with resources that can help augment their client base.
Five: Evaluate the Quality of Service You are Providing
Do some objective reflection on how you are treating your clients and the quality of legal services you are providing to them. If you are coming up short in some areas, develop strategies for improvement. Of course, that includes returning calls in a timely manner and keeping the client apprised of the status of their case, but it also includes treating them with respect and appreciation for turning to you in their time of need. If you are dealing with a lot of dissatisfied clients, you are overdue for a change in approach to client interaction.
Six: Monitor Trust Funds Closely
You are not doing yourself or your client any favors by allowing them to become delinquent in payment of fees. It is part of your fiduciary duty to your client to manage their funds appropriately. That includes keeping them apprised of the status of their case so that they understand the reason why fees are accumulating and that they need to stay current to allow work to move forward; and it includes taking steps to avoid leading them down a path to bankruptcy.
Seven: Show Your Appreciation Regularly
Demonstrate your appreciation to your clients and your staff on a regular basis. Without them, you are doomed to fail. With dedicated and loyal staff and clients your job is easier and you will find that success comes to you more readily.
Eight: Develop a Strategy and Routine for Evaluating Your Productivity
Be purposeful in managing your business. Be proactive in developing strategies for success. Try to avoid situations where you must be reactive to avoidable circumstances. Evaluate your productivity regularly to keep your firm on track and avoid time consuming needs to fix what has gone off track.
Nine: Celebrate your Successes
Take time and make a conscious effort to recognize and celebrate your successes, and that of your staff
Follow these tips and you will find yourself prepared to boldly go forth and conquer the new year and the new decade with 20/20 vision for the future.
Jeanne, co-founder and managing partner of Divorce Lawyers for Men, is a successful civil litigator who has focused her legal practice on complex litigation, primarily catastrophic injury and wrongful death lawsuits. She has served as a member and Chair of the Washington State Bar Association Law Clerk Board, as a Thurston County Family Court Child Advocate, and as a founding member of the Thurston County Volunteer Legal Clinic.