Your Law Firm: A Vehicle For Entrepreneurial Success
As an owner or partner of a law firm, you simultaneously occupy
three important positions within your organization: the entrepreneur,
the manager, and the professional. The entrepreneur is the visionary,
the one who is always looking to the future and asking the questions
?" and "How can we
manager has a perspective that is more historical, examining successes
and failures and asking the questions "What happened
and "Why?" The professional tends to live in the present,
reacting to the daily demands of the practice.
Balancing these three roles is a difficult challenge, the importance
of which is often overlooked in the hectic day-to-day delivery of
services to clients. If you are similar to most owners/partners,
you are likely spending a disproportionate amount of your time in
the position of professional and overlooking some of the opportunities
that could be unearthed by focusing a bit more on the other positions.
It is my intention to provide an overview of where some of these
opportunities may be found and then examine them in greater detail
in future articles. To get the most from this overview, I invite
you to think of your firm as a business that provides legal services
and of yourself as the owner of this business, rather than as a
professional working in a practice. In other words, for these few
moments, be the entrepreneur and manager and allow the professional
to have a nap.
The first step in mining the hidden opportunities within your business
is to determine the kinds of opportunities you want to find. This
means reminding yourself of the reasons you started this business
in the first place. What did you hope to achieve, both personally
and professionally, from your law firm? The next step is to set
and write down these goals in a way that will allow you determine
the extent to which you are achieving them and the extent to which
you may have to refocus your efforts in particular areas. While
a comprehensive review of goal setting is outside the scope of this
article, there are a few tips to bear in mind. First, your goals
must be written down. If they simply stay in your head, they remain
conceptual and you will lack the commitment that comes with writing
them out. Second, your goals must be "SMART"; that is
specific, measurable, achievable, results oriented and time-bound:
- Specific: If the goal is not specific, you lack a target. "Improve
my marketing" is almost meaningless. On the other hand, the
goal "find 10 new clients who meet the criteria x, y, and
z within the next 4 months" is very specific, giving you
a clear direction for your marketing efforts.
- Measurable: Optimally, the desired outcome should be quantifiable
so you will know when the goal has been achieved or surpassed.
- Achievable: While being appropriately difficult and challenging,
your goals should also be achievable. If goals are too easy, they
will not move you outside your comfort zone and break out of old
behaviors and habits. If they are too difficult, they become demotivating
- Results oriented: A goal such as "I will reduce the time
I spend on administrative tasks by 25%" is result oriented.
A goal of taking a time management course is one directed to an
input that will then lead to a result. Focusing on results is
clearer and leaves you open to consider a wide range of approaches
through which the result can be realized.
- Time-bound: There is no sense of urgency if there is no time
frame. This is a formula for procrastination that will leave goals
Divide to Multiply
Once you have clearly articulated your goals, you need to take a
very hard look at your business to see where improvements can be
made. Frequently, business owners attempt to fulfill this step by
simply insisting that they need more or better people and that they
have to sell more. While this may be true, it is not terribly useful
from either a diagnostic or a strategic planning perspective. By
breaking the business down into its constituent elements, you will
be able to make improvements to each area that, when taken together,
will have a multiplier effect, resulting in dramatic results. For
this article, we will consider the areas of team, systems and marketing,
which comprise the major elements of any business. Frequently, finance
is considered a separate area, but we will not examine it in this
Leverage Through Your Team
The more you have qualified people do work that does not have to
be performed by you, the more you can focus on those important tasks
that do require your particular attention. The ability of your team
to do this is a function of both your leadership and the dynamics
within your team.
"Every executive, every manager, to fulfil the role,
must have a vision - a vision of where the organization will be
and what it will look like in the future. They must create that
vision and then share it with those reporting to them, if they
are to gain a high level of employee involvement and commitment
and attain a high level of productivity"
In considering the issue of leadership, one faces the question:
"Who is driving your business?" The future direction of
the business can easily become unclear in the face of rapid and
continual changes in the marketplace and as a result of the speed
of technological innovation. The small to medium size legal service
business can become particularly challenged in the area of business
development. The level of excellence in service demanded by the
client today increases as you meet her expectations of yesterday.
The need to continue to deliver a service that is better today than
it was yesterday will challenge the vision the leader creates and
the team receives. Low team moral, absenteeism, and resignations
are some signs that leadership has become overwhelmed and is in
need of repair.
As summarized in the following chart, there are very clear differences
between leadership and management. Partners in law firms, being
business owners who enjoy the services of staff and associates,
should be cognizant of these differences and commit to developing
and nurturing their leadership skills.
|Challenge status quo
||Accept status quo
|Focus on people
||Focus on process
|Inspire trust/encourage action
||Rely on control
|Create a long term vision
||Focus on short term
ii) The Team
A strong team is critical to achieving your goals. You will be able
to trust them to take things from your plate and to see them through
to satisfactory completion. However, all too frequently, business
owners use the word "team" to describe their staff, but
pay little attention to whether those people actually do function
as a team. A team is a group of people, possessing skills that are
complementary and who are committed to a common goal and approach
for which they are mutually accountable. The extent to which a group
does or does not act as a team can be a function of leadership or
of particular dynamics within the group that need to be examined.
To determine whether you have a group or a team, consider the following
|Self-focused, hidden agendas
||Mutual goals, sense of purpose,ownership, unity
|Conflict escalates or is avoided
||Conflict resolution exists; constructive conflict
If you are seeking a team and find you have a group, begin attacking
the problem by asking yourself the following questions:
- Have I clearly articulated a vision that my people embrace?
- Have I shared a set of common goals for which we must all strive
- Are the rules of the game that is played in my business clear
and have they been communicated? Rules of the game are those things
that comprise the culture of the organization.
- Do we have an action plan for achieving the common goals?
- Do I support innovation and initiative?
- Do I have objective criteria and a systematic process for hiring
that increases the likelihood that each person I hire will accept
the vision, commit to the goal, and fit within the culture?
Leverage Through Your Systems
The last question regarding your team is an example of an area where
systems can have a dramatic impact on the success of your business
and on the time you are required to work in the business rather
than on it. To most powerfully leverage your time, your people,
and your resources, you ultimately want your business to be systems
dependent rather than people dependent. Your systems, taken together,
comprise "the way we do things here." It is often very
difficult for business owners to commit themselves to making the
operations of their business as systematic as possible. They feel
it is too "corporate" or that it runs counter to the frontier
spirit of the entrepreneur. In point of fact, by having systems
in place, both you and your team are free to be far more creative
and forward-thinking since time and energy need not be spent inefficiently
reinventing frequently performed functions. Here are some tips to
introducing systems to your business or enhancing the systems you
already may have in place:
- Create an organizational chart. Even if you only have a small
team, where individuals double or triple up on duties, it is critical
to have an organizational chart for each position, not
for each individual.
- List all routine activities within the organization
- Allocate specific responsibilities to each position.
- Document the how to's of all routine activities, with time frames.
If the "way your business does things" resides only in
the minds of you or your employees, then you have assets that are
walking out of your office every night. This means increased training
costs when there is staff turnover. It also means that you must
be more involved in operational details, thereby restricting your
own personal freedom.
Leverage Through Your Marketing
Marketing is that part of your business that will provide you with
the clients you wish to service over the course of your business.
The purpose of your marketing activities is to lower the cost of
acquiring new clients and to increase their lifetime value to your
business. To maximize the results you generate from the time and
resources you dedicate to marketing, it is important to approach
your marketing very strategically and methodically. This involves
three distinct steps.
1) Develop a marketing plan. In basic terms, a marketing plan answers
the following five questions:
a. Who are the clients and the potential clients that you are
targeting? This should be described in as much detail as possible,
combining both demographic and pyschographic information;
b. Where are they found in reasonable concentrations where I can
c. Why would they want to buy from me? This means being conscious
of those elements of your business, your services, and your expertise
that are unique.
d. What will be my offer to them?
e. How will I communicate with them?
2) Diversify your marketing. Many lawyers tend to rely on what
I call the diving board marketing structure. Their marketing platform
is supported on one end by only one or two marketing activities.
Frequently, these are activities that require the lawyer's personal
participation. This approach to marketing is inherently unstable
and does not provide predictable results. A more powerful approach
is to use a table structure where the marketing platform is supported
by a large number of legs. This can involve strategies to increase
the number of leads, techniques to convert more leads into clients,
and ways to encourage clients to consult with the law firm on a
larger number of issues. Not all such strategies will require your
ongoing involvement. The trick to ensuring you are using the right
strategies on an ongoing basis is to test and measure each approach
and use only those that consistently provide a positive return.
In this way, your marketing shifts from being an expense to being
3) Have a disciplined approach to customer service. 68% of customers
that cease transacting with a given business do so because of perceived
indifference. By committing to superior and creative customer service,
you can achieve long-term client loyalty and create raving fans.
Raving fans are those clients who are so delighted with your service
that they sell for you. Raving fans are created not by simply satisfying
their needs and meeting their expectations, but by constantly exceeding
Legal services businesses face all the challenges of any other business.
However, it is arguable that the owners/partners of such businesses,
being so busy fulfilling their client work, are more challenged
than many business owners in finding adequate time to dedicate to
their roles as entrepreneurs and managers. This makes it all the
more important for you to take a rigorous approach to developing
your team, to implementing operational systems and to pursuing marketing
activities. If you do, the goals that you hoped to reach by creating
a legal services business in the first place will more quickly be
within your grasp.
About The Author
Warren Coughlin is a lawyer, entrepreneur and business coach with ACTION International, the world's largest business coaching organization.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.
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