A law firm isn’t a “practice”: it’s a professional services business, and should be run like one. But when we start our small firms, most of us don’t put nearly enough thought into learning how to really run a business. Worse, we don’t want to ask for help, because we fear being seen as not successful enough (and therefore, by implication, not good enough) if we do.
So how do we set out to learn how to better manage our businesses? We get past our reservations and get advice from our peers and from experts.
To start with, set your pride aside long enough to ask small firm lawyers you trust for specific, actionable advice on how to address key issues or problems you’re facing. A couple of years ago, I found myself in a group of lawyers openly discussing things like when to hire staff, how to predict and manage cash flow, what technology infrastructure to use, and how to manage client intake, without worrying about how it made us look that we didn’t already have all the answers. We didn’t judge each other: we just learned from each other. If you have, or can form, an “advisory council” like this, great, but you can get the same information from one-on-one discussions, too.
Lawyers can also benefit tremendously—as I have—from a knowledgeable business coach. I don’t recommend hiring a generalist. We face unique legal and ethical strictures around marketing, finances, and how we deal with clients: trust accounting, non-solicitation rules, and confidentiality requirements, for example. We need coaches who understand those rules and how they affect everything we do, so we can grow and improve within those limits. If you want to give your business an overhaul, or get vetted, non-anecdotal advice quickly and efficiency, (good) coaching is a great option.
You’d be surprised how much we have to teach each other. Having a mindset of active growth will improve both our bottom lines and our job satisfaction.
Mark Gabel, principal attorney at Gabel Law Firm, is an employee’s HR lawyer. He represents employees, especially professionals and executives, in disputes and negotiation with their employers, including litigation and arbitration, and negotiating severance and employment contracts. He can be reached by visiting gabel-law-firm.com/contact.
Don’t go it alone: If you are a solo or small firm attorney seeking peer advice and guidance, consider joining BASF and its vibrant solo/small firm community and listserv. To find out more, contact Leonard Lun, Membership Director, at email@example.com.