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  Woman Advocate

How to Launch and Grow a Successful Litigation Firm

By Francine Friedman Griesing, Esq. – May 9, 2012

In January 2010, after nearly 30 years in practice, I launched my own firm with two colleagues. We have since grown in size and strength, and we are now a collaborative team of five lawyers. As we celebrated our firm’s second anniversary, I was asked to share my perspective on how to start and build a boutique law firm. In many ways, the challenges of doing so as a litigator can be particularly daunting—clients are often reluctant to select a sole practitioner or small group to handle significant matters. By facing and conquering this and other challenges, our group has managed to build a thriving practice in which each of us plays a vital role in our growth and success. We hope the lessons we have learned will help others take on this challenge and surpass their goals, as we have.

In today’s tough market, every lawyer needs to take responsibility for her own career. Many of the following tips, and countless others, can be found in Chapter 7 of The Road to Independence: 101 Women’s Journeys to Starting Their Own Law Firms, for which Griesing Law was a contributing author. The tips shared here don’t just apply to starting a firm; they apply to lawyers seeking to gain greater independence and professional satisfaction in any setting. If you set your mind on doing so, you can develop a prosperous practice within an existing firm, enjoying the benefits of greater control over and fulfillment from your professional life. Here are the essential steps to achieving that goal:

  • Become an excellent lawyer, consistently delivering personal attention and achieving results economically. Particularly for litigators, keeping a close eye on costs and assuring that clients appreciate the budget issues up front is key to avoiding misunderstanding and maintaining good client relations. Professional excellence is the beginning.
  • Take and maintain control of your professional life. Decide what type of practice you want to build, whom you hope to serve, where you want to practice, what you want to get out of it, and how you are going to accomplish those objectives. For example, try to differentiate yourself from the army of litigators in your community by developing a highly sought expertise in specialized matters or particular industries. Circulating an electronic newsletter on legal developments in your niche is an excellent way of keeping in touch with your clients and contacts.
  • Create a written strategic plan designed to accomplish the professional goals you set for yourself and follow your plan consistently. Your plan should have goals that challenge you without being so unrealistic that you set yourself up for disappointment. Also, set aside time each week to execute on the plan; if you do not act on it, it will not yield results. It will just gather dust.
  • Evaluate your plan often to assess its effectiveness in bringing you closer to your goals, and update it to adapt to changes in your circumstances or objectives. Not every effort you make to generate business or create relationships will necessarily accomplish your goal. It is important to monitor and take stock at least annually, if not more often, so you are directing your resources where they are producing the most meaningful results. For some of us, speaking and writing is effective while for others, it is an ordeal with minimal benefit. It is important to be comfortable declining invitations if accepting is not the best use of your time.
  • Surround yourself with people who support you unconditionally but care enough to tell you the hard truth. In addition to family and friends, assemble a range of people, in your organization and outside, who can serve as your professional cheerleaders, connectors, sponsors, mentors, and protégés. The team at our firm knows they can count on each other for meaningful advice and feedback. Launching a firm or growing a practice calls upon different skills than litigating a case, but both are enhanced when you are part of a collaborative team.
  • Become meaningfully involved in professional groups where you are likely to meet others who can guide you, recommend you, and encourage you. However, be sure to give at least as much as you receive. A common mistake some people make is to join many groups without becoming engaged enough in any of them to demonstrate expertise or develop valuable relationships. Another misstep is to seek advice from others without offering to do something in return. Failing to demonstrate that you appreciate what others do for you will discourage people from supporting you in the future.
  • Build a team upon which you can trust and rely. Then, empower your colleagues to advance shared goals. Working collaboratively brings out the best efforts in everyone. In a boutique firm, it is important that the lawyers are not distracted by competition to log in more billable hours or generate more business than colleagues. When all the lawyers in a firm, especially a new venture, share a vision of growing a successful practice, the team members are better able to increase the practice and serve their clients.
  • Treat people the way you want to be treated. As the founder of a firm, you will deal with clients, employees, vendors, and others. Without them, you cannot succeed and you should never forget that. Respond promptly, pay on time, and show respect to others. Even adversaries can become clients and referrals sources. Your reputation will follow you wherever you work and at every stage of your career, but it is especially valuable when the firm bears your name. Your actions and those of your team define your brand.
  • No one can take care of you if you do not take care of yourself. For the first several months after I started my firm, I could barely tear myself away from work for fear I might miss the call for the case of a lifetime. Eventually, working relentlessly without enough replenishment will take its toll on your performance. Take time to reflect, exercise, and eat well. You are your own brand. Make sure to nurture yourself so your brand flourishes.
  • Stay positive even when you are under pressure. Litigation is a contact sport and often a highly competitive and aggressive one. Without the support of an established firm backing you up, adversaries may try to exploit that you are on your own. Focus on remaining positive and strong even when adversaries or judges are hard on you. Clients expect their counsel to be in control. If you appear overwhelmed, stressed, or distracted your clients will lose confidence in you as their advocate.

During my thirty years in practice I have often wondered whether practicing law was right for me. This is especially true in the throes of high stakes litigation with unrelenting demands and a client’s interests on the line. Many have faced the same challenges. It was not until I took my future out of the hands of others that I looked forward to coming to work as a lawyer every day. You can enjoy that feeling as well if you assert control over your professional path by starting your own firm or building your own practice within your current setting. Good luck.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, law firm, starting a firm, strategic plan

Francine Friedman Griesing, Esq., is a founder of Griesing Law LLC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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