Nobody starts a law firm on exactly the footing they expect. Even though some attorneys work an aggressive plan for establishing a new practice, there are always things left a slide; and, for some, practice management is thrust upon them. The absolute best time to settle your firm practices is at its inception. If you don’t, you’ll find that you’re making ad hoc decisions later, and often when you’re too busy to make them well. The blessing and curse of starting a law firm is that you don’t have a lot of clients; so, while you’re not making money, you do have time, time to implement and to learn your systems. If you don’t take advantage of that time, you’ll have to backfill later.
There are ebbs and flows in law practice; there are also times of the seasons. Normally, when you have a down month as a solo or small firm attorney, you’re getting jacked up on client development, in order to try to get those folks moving through the doors again. But, the summertime is a little different: the pace slows for almost everyone when the weather gets real warm; you’ll expect some downturn in client intake. With a release of some pressure, you’ll have some more time to do some things outside of the substantive practice. This is, then, in many ways, the perfect in-practice time to catch up on some of your lost projects.
If you didn’t do these things when you started your law firm, summertime’s a pretty good time to get them done:
Project 1: Draft a Business Plan. Even if you’ve been practicing for quite some time, it’s nevertheless a good idea to create and follow a business plan. Even if you had had a business plan from the beginning, you would have revisited it from time to time, in order to see where you’d need to reset your services. Drafting a business plan when you’re already in practice is a more comprehensive effort; but, it will require you to take a fresh look at your law firm management, and to analyze your prevailing practice settings on the basis of relative effectiveness. Here are some tips to get started.
Project 2: Draft a Marketing Plan. If you’ve never drafted and followed a marketing plan, you are more likely to waste your time in places, and to have only a fuzzy idea of what your efforts yield, in terms of client gain and retention. If you do draft a marketing plan, you can settle your options, and determine a methodology for figuring out what your return on investment is — if you can create a money spent (hard and soft costs) versus money returned (new client billings) analysis, that is best. If you don’t feel that you have the time to draft a complete marketing plan, though, instead create a ‘marketing platform’ = a list of the places from which you broadcast your message, and figure out what the ROI will be. If you have a marketing plan, and it’s not working, here’s how to fix it.
Project 3: Get Your Trust Accounting in Order. It is surprising just how many attorneys out there are not performing their trust account reconciliations appropriately. If you hadn’t learned the rules when you started, and if you never set up a process from the beginning of your time in practice, you’re likely to carry those initial bad practices through with you. Well, this would be your chance to reconcile your habits. Here are some tips to get started.
Project 4: Settle Your Client Intake Protocol. If you can effectively process new clients, it will have a positive effect across a number of areas of your practice management. If you do not have an effective intake form, now would be the time to create one, or to convert one that you have borrowed. If you do client intake right, it will help you immensely in at least a few specific areas (not an exhaustive list): You need to input the correct, holistic data in order to run useful conflicts checks. You won’t be able to determine the return on investment of your marketing efforts unless you know how your clients came to you. If you don’t know your clients’ preferred methods of contacts, you may be continually contacting them on lines which they ignore. (Intake, incidentally, is also a good time to inform your clients of the firm’s communication guidelines.)
Project 5: Take a Break. It’s summertime . . . make time to do something fun. Go to a concert. Host a barbeque. Get sunburnt yourself. Watch bad TV. Being a lawyer is a demanding job: Take some time for yourself, while you can.