The Best Advice I Ever Received
By Tanya Witt
The Witt Law Firm
I sought out successful law firm owners and asked them, “What is the best advice you have for running a successful practice?”
I also asked these owners and myself “what do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your practice?”
These are the five best rules I learned:
1. Define success. Success means different things to different people. Determine what a successful practice means to you so you can work toward that goal. For some attorneys a successful practice may mean working on cases they find interesting or in which they believe. For many, defining success will involve setting financial goals. It may also mean a firm that can help support charities that matter to you. Some attorneys may also seek a firm where they can wear jeans when they do not have to be in court or play a little ping-pong (more on that later).
2. Invest wisely. The funds you spend wisely will come back to you. Create an organization of which you will be proud. Larry Weisman, a principal at Goldberg Weisman Cairo, said reluctance to invest in a practice gets in the way of success. Larry recalled when attorneys were hesitant to purchase fax machines because they were a significant investment. Trying to pinch pennies on important items can be a real impediment to a successful law practice.
There are blogs about starting a practice on a shoestring and that is a viable option for some attorneys. But many practices require a certain level of investment for success. If it stresses you out to spend money up front, it could be difficult to own your own practice. If you want to be paid for all the hours you work, owning a practice may not be for you. You may be happier and more successful working for a firm.
Wasteful spending is detrimental to a firm. The best way to assess whether spending is wasteful is to track the return on investment. By tracking the return on investment, you may make adjustments where needed.
The cost for common business expenses can vary significantly. It is not always true that you receive a better product or service just because you paid more. Negotiate the best terms you can.
As a firm owner, you are able to purchase the equipment that you believe will benefit your practice. I recently switched from a PC to a MacBook Air since I bring my laptop home at night and on weekends.
I enjoy the mobility of the ultra-thin, extremely light MacBook Air that also powers on and off much more quickly than the PCs I have owned.
Of course, as the owner of the practice I spent a number of evenings and weekends working on and overseeing the transfer from a PC to a Mac.
Speaking of Apple, Chicago boutique firm Edelson McGuire received national attention when it purchased iPads for all of its attorneys and staff. Jay Edelson strives to empower the attorneys at his firm to run with a case and compensation is based upon performance. Edelson McGuire also has a board room table that converts to a ping-pong table. A game of ping-pong no doubt boosts morale and energy.
3. Every client is a golden opportunity. Every client and potential client is important to your practice. It is our professional obligation to provide excellent legal services to every client.
A nice perk is that satisfied clients often refer future business to us. One attorney pointed out that even a client that you think may not have been fully satisfied with your firm’s services could send a big case in the future. If you feel a client may not be fully satisfied with your firm, work to improve that. Keep providing excellent service until the case is resolved or your representation concludes even if your client may be demanding or difficult at times.
4. The right attitude. The most successful firm owners are those who believe in their practice and enjoy growing and managing it. The first requirement for the right attitude is to be sure that owning a practice is a great fit for you.
Not everyone values the responsibility and satisfaction that come from starting a practice. If, however, you are the type of person who appreciates the opportunity to create and grow a business and who can work well independently, you may have what it takes to own your own practice.
As Larry said, think of your practice as a great place that can do well for its clients. Then back up that attitude with hard work and, when necessary, long hours. Larry cautioned that if you think you are just going to squeeze a few bucks out of the practice that is what will happen.
5. Be collegial. “Be sure to have a network of brilliant colleagues that you can turn to when you need assistance with strategy, sympathy and celebrating,” said Alia Caravelli of Blair Caravelli Law. Have a network of attorneys to turn to when you encounter a novel issue. This network can be attorneys down the hall in your suite or attorneys on the ISBA Listserv. Give back by being a resource for these attorneys and others. Deanna Blair, Alia Caravelli and Jeff Kroll have been particularly helpful to me.