The Magic Numbers I Wish I’d Known as I Started My Own Firm
I started my own law firm largely because no firm was doing the types of law I wanted to practice: What I’ve come to call periphery family law and estate planning, excluding probate. Those specific interest areas spurred my curiosity about setting out on my own, but what cemented the idea was the support and encouragement of friends and mentors. One said quite plainly, “You will never regret working hard to put profits directly into your own pocket,” and she was absolutely right.
These mentors gave me check lists and must-dos that they found from other solo practitioners who had gone before them. I looked over their lists, ignored the items that were cost-prohibitive (like hiring a full-time secretary), and got underway. I dove in based on another gem of a tip, “Get busy finding clients and doing the work, set up your systems later or you’ll never end-up taking your first case.”
Now in year three and with more than one hundred cases under my belt, I have been approached by newer lawyers asking me for tips. This is still a learning process and the chief piece of advice I give is to make sure you have mentors who will answer your questions and lend you their keen insight. My other chief recommendation? Know your numbers.
80/20. This is the proportion of time you will want to allocate between working on client matters and growing your business. I heard it broken down like this: Mondays are for working on internal-systems and administrative tasks to keep your firm organized; Tuesdays through Thursdays are devoted to client matters; Fridays are for marketing to find new leads.
6 months. This is the length of time it took me stop using savings to support myself. I wasted considerable time mapping out monthly goals and what minimum payments I needed to stay out of the red, but back then I had no idea what my case load was going to look like. While it was important to know exactly how much I needed to earn each month to keep the lights on, I should have been more patient with myself. Give yourself six months to see where the tide takes you, and map your yearly goals and future projections only after you have done at least half-a-year of work.
1/6s. Six slices to a pie-chart is an easy visual. This pie-in-the-sky is what I mentally picture when I am considering spending money on a form of advertising. It helps put my marketing budget (or in the beginning, my credit card charges) in some semblance of order. Many of the networking events I attended crammed social-media down my throat. I felt panicky about not posting on facebook at a high-traffic times or not blogging on Avvo. Thankfully, I calmed down and got real. We are in a referral-driven industry, and only some of lawyers’ leads are generated from social media. Luckily, word of mouth costs nothing but elbow grease and a steadfast dedication to your professional reputation.
Here is my pie-slice marketing budget: 1/6 on announcements to family and friends–I chose the post-card route, other friends kicked-off their solo practice with a ribbon cutting. 1/6 on online-presence and social media. 1/6 on traditional ads such as yellow pages, with and understanding that the return is low. 1/6 on bar associations and MCLEs. 1/6 on complimentary industry groups like financial advisor lunches and meetings of CPAs. Finally, the last 1/6th of my marketing budget is devoted to a structured weekly, category-exclusive, business referral group (these include Rotary, Kiwanas, Lions, BNI, Le Tip, TEAM, and some Chamber of Commerce small-groups). Spending too much money or time in any one slice is not healthy for the overall stability of my firm.
1 hour. I religiously devote one hour in the morning to working out or at least taking a walk around my neighborhood every morning. I also devote one hour before I go to sleep to not check my email or do anything work related. This sounds intuitive, and these precious personal hours are not easy to carve out as a solo. I’ve learned that I do a better job helping my clients if I am refreshed and alert when I am working on a case.
I would love to know what magic numbers help guide other veteran solo practitioners out there! Please share your tips and suggestions for other topics below!
This blog post was authored by Anna Howard. Anna Howard, improving the lives of Californian families, one well-crafted legal document at a time.