A Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney. Sponsored by LexisNexis Firm Manager

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1 A Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney Sponsored by LexisNexis Firm Manager

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3 The current legal economy sees more law graduates than available positions, and an increasing number of seasoned legal professionals who are exiting large law, either voluntarily, or otherwise. This in turn is leading to a common trend: the era of the new solo and small firm practitioner. Make No Mistake: A Small Law Firm Is a Small Business Unfortunately for the vast majority of attorneys, running a law firm business wasn t covered in law school. Wearing a lot of hats is tough, and solos can find themselves at the end of a long day wondering where their time went and worrying about what didn t get done, and why they aren t where they think they should be professionally. Not prioritizing the firm as a business (or having the proper tools to do so) can often be the hidden reason that attorneys don t reach the levels of success they re capable of. However, it can be learned. Survive and Thrive with Advice From Those Who ve Done It Our contributors include three solo and small-firm attorneys who ve found the balance between the practice and the business of law. They are: Bradley Randall, JD, from The Randall Law Firm, PLLC in Phoenix, AZ Penn Dodson, JD, an attorney at AndersonDodson, P.C in New York City Attorney Glen Malia with Malia Law LLC, located in Cortlandt Manor, New York While not meant to be all-encompassing, the tips covered below can serve as a primer to help even the most overwhelmed attorneys begin seeing the practice of law as the running of a business, and get on the road to reaching their goals. LexisNexis A Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney 3

4 Setting Personal, Fiscal and Professional Goals By Bradley Randall To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, If you don t know where you re going, any road will take you there. That s why goal setting is paramount to success in the law and any other area of life. The process doesn t have to be complicated it just needs to be followed. Six practical tips: 1. Determine what you want. Is it more income? To expand your practice into other areas? The ability to spend more time with your family? 2. Dream big. Make sure it s a big enough goal or important enough to keep you excited and invested. It s always good to get some quick wins to build momentum, but too many goals go unaccomplished because they aren t big enough, and the goal setter loses interest. 3. Be specific. The more specific you make your goal, the easier it will be to visualize and take concrete steps toward it. For example, set financial goals after figuring out how much it would really cost to live the way you want to live. Don t set a goal to get more clients, set a goal to get 5 more clients a month. 4. Write down your goals and review them daily. A goal is really just a dream written down. Focus on results and don t let yourself off the hook. 5. Start with the harder things first. What are the things you re looking forward to the least? Take action to get them done right away, and the rest will seem easier. 6. Commit to your goal. Motivational expert Grant Cardone recommends taking 10 times the amount of action and effort you originally think it will take to accomplish your goal.

5 But don t let Cardone s message prevent you from starting your journey. You re not alone, and have something on your side that gives you an edge technology. Apps for smartphones and tablets have come a long way and there is an app for just about anything. Legal specific practice management has come a long way, too. A few benefits of using online practice management solutions are: Freedom to access your firm s information anytime, anywhere from just about any device Having your firm s information in one application, organized by client and matter More easily storing documents and sharing files Minimizing your dependence on IT services, since there s no installation, and updates just happen It s scalable when you need it, whether it s adding more users or more space to store additional data Knowing your data is safe in the cloud and backed up in case of a disaster. LexisNexis A Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney 5

6 When and Why To Get Help By Glen Malia Solo and small law firm attorneys often struggle with why and when they should bring people in to help, and the answers really aren t as hard as they need to be. First, the why: You bring people in to help you so that you can make more money than it costs you to pay for their services. Then, the when: You bring in people to help when you are doing lower-value work that someone else should and could be doing. It might sound counterintuitive, but the best time for extra help is right from the very start of your business. Many functions of a law office, like answering phones, can be outsourced at a reasonable fee. Your time is much too valuable to be doing things that can be outsourced. For those that need a specific trigger, look for the time when you re doing more of someone else s job than your own job of being a lawyer.

7 Common Excuses, Real Answers Here are some common traps that attorneys fall into; followed by the reasons they don t hold water. It s just me in the office, why should I pay someone else to do what I can do myself? It can be terrifying hiring staff or associates. If it s not done correctly it can really damage your law firm. The reason to do it is so that you can build a system-based business that you run and that doesn t run you, and so that your firm can be MORE profitable. And by profitable, I mean more money, more free time and less stress. I don t trust them to do it the way I need it done, so I do it myself Again, we come to high value work vs. low value work. All too often, it seems easier to hide behind the tasks you feel comfortable doing, but shouldn t be doing. It s easier to do it myself, what s wrong with that? If it s easier to do it yourself, it means your haven t invested the proper amount of time in your staff. It s critical you define the processes and procedures for them to follow so that it is impossible for them to do the job any way other than how you want them to do it. You need to also figure out how each new position will make you more profit (in either time, money, less stress, or all of the above). This is a critical step to enable them and you to succeed. LexisNexis A Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney 7

8 Setting Policies and Procedures By Penn Dodson We often hear the question, If it is just me or a few people in the firm, why does a policy and procedure manual matter? Because no matter the size of your firm, people respond well to structure and consistency. But first, let s break down the difference between policies and procedures. A policy is considered more external, i.e. one which might define the relationship with the client. A procedure is something that will apply more internally, i.e. one which would define the relationships and how things are done within the firm. The need for a policies and procedure manual is important, because if they re not written down, they really don t exist.

9 How to Get Started It can seem intimidating to start a policies and procedures manual, but the most important needs usually present themselves in the form of consistent pain points. For example, if every day you re showing your admin how to do the same task, start there. Outline it, write it down, then be sure to ask for feedback along the way to verify you re explaining it in a clear and concise matter. Even if you have no staff, it s important to establish your system from day one. Time invested now will pay off huge the minute you hire your first assistant or admin. The key to making sure it works long-term is allowing for opportunities to improve on your process. Once caveat: take care not to allow TOO much input and constant changes, otherwise it could turn chaotic with too many generals. One easy way to avoid this is to add a suggestion box to solicit input, and then get buy- in from everyone else. LexisNexis A Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney 9

10 The Key Operations of a Successful Law Firm By Glen Malia First of all, what exactly is a successful law firm? The answer is simple: a successful law firm is one that meets the owner s professional, financial and personal goals. The key operations of a successful law firm involve one of the following three things. 1. Getting the client 2. Getting paid 3. Getting the work done Key #1: Getting the Client In order to ensure ownership (and accountability), it s important to define who within your firm is responsible for the following basic methods of client attainment. Lead Generation attracting potential clients Marketing defining your firms brand to attract the right clients Advertising how and where to bring awareness to potential clients Lead Conversion signing up a client This can be implemented within job descriptions and within policy and procedure manuals. From there, the importance of a system can t be overstated. Implementing consistent procedures for each function mentioned above to ensure quantifiable, trackable and consistent results. If this is outside anyone s particular comfort zone, this is where investing in an outside expert would help tremendously. There are lead generation and marketing firms by the thousands, and they don t have to be located in your city to work effectively for you. At the very least, it s smart to invest in a highquality web site, and learn the basics of blogging and social media. Especially in today s highly-competitive legal market, potential clients want to know a lot about their attorney and his or her expertise before picking up the phone. The web is the first place they will look.

11 Key #2: Getting Paid When it comes to getting paid what you deserve, it s again important to set policies and procedures to define who is responsible for processing payments, collections, and so on. Of course, the attorney is the main source for logging time & expenses, and there are plenty of software programs that make that job easier. Make it easy to get paid is another important step that some attorneys make harder than it needs to be. For example, accepting payment by credit card is worth the small percentage in fees you ll pay. Trust accounts are another way to ensure payment, and again there are several software programs available that help make that easier. Finally, accepting collateral is an alternative payment method that is becoming more common in today s legal economy. Key #3: Getting the Work Done When it comes to delivering high-quality legal services, it doesn t always have to be done by the attorney or, sometimes, by any attorney, as long as the attorney has oversight and the final responsibility for the end product. The power of leverage can work in everyone s favor. For example, there are plenty of services paralegals are capable of performing that will still give the client a worthwhile experience, because they will be resolved in a more expeditious manner than if you took them yourself and put them on the back burner. However, it s best to decide in advance who is responsible for these types of services, and define them specifically in job descriptions and policy and procedure manuals. Bottom Line: Solo and Small-Firm Success Means Following the Right Roadmap It doesn t matter if you re setting personal, fiscal and professional goals, deciding to hire help or not, or debating on finally defining policies and procedures: success can be attained when you duplicate the efforts of those who ve done it before. With the commonsensical advice of other solo small firm attorneys who have gone down this road, the time invested toward your business will reap you profit, whether that s making more money, getting more time with your family, or having less stress in your life. LexisNexis A Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney 11

12 About LexisNexis At LexisNexis, we are committed to helping you spend more time practicing law and less time worrying about the business of law. Running a successful firm means making the best use of your time and resources while reducing risks. LexisNexis helps you increase productivity and gain peace of mind with award-winning tools and expert support that enable you to efficiently manage your firm and your finances, so you can spend more time practicing law. To learn more, visit LexisNexis.com/LawPractice. LexisNexis Firm Manager web-based software is an easy, secure online practice management program made for solo attorneys and small law firms that enables you to be the lawyer you dreamed of being. To learn more, visit LexisNexis and the Knowledge Burst logo are registered trademarks of Reed Elsevier Properties Inc., used under license LexisNexis. All rights reserved.

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