As an owner or partner of a law firm, you simultaneously
occupy three important positions within your organization:
the entrepreneur, the manager, and the professional.
The entrepreneur is the visionary, the one who is always
looking to the future and asking the questions "What
?" and "How can we
manager has a perspective that is more historical, examining
successes and failures and asking the questions "What
?" and "Why?" The professional
tends to live in the present, reacting to the daily
demands of the practice.
Balancing these three roles is a difficult challenge,
the importance of which is often overlooked in the hectic
day-to-day delivery of services to clients. If you are
similar to most owners/partners, you are likely spending
a disproportionate amount of your time in the position
of professional and overlooking some of the opportunities
that could be unearthed by focusing a bit more on the
other positions. It is my intention to provide an overview
of where some of these opportunities may be found and
then examine them in greater detail in future articles.
To get the most from this overview, I invite you to
think of your firm as a business that provides legal
services and of yourself as the owner of this business,
rather than as a professional working in a practice.
In other words, for these few moments, be the entrepreneur
and manager and allow the professional to have a nap.
The first step in mining the hidden opportunities within
your business is to determine the kinds of opportunities
you want to find. This means reminding yourself of the
reasons you started this business in the first place.
What did you hope to achieve, both personally and professionally,
from your law firm? The next step is to set and write
down these goals in a way that will allow you determine
the extent to which you are achieving them and the extent
to which you may have to refocus your efforts in particular
areas. While a comprehensive review of goal setting
is outside the scope of this article, there are a few
tips to bear in mind. First, your goals must be written
down. If they simply stay in your head, they remain
conceptual and you will lack the commitment that comes
with writing them out. Second, your goals must be "SMART";
that is specific, measurable, achievable, results oriented
- Specific: If the goal is not specific, you lack
a target. "Improve my marketing" is almost
meaningless. On the other hand, the goal "find
10 new clients who meet the criteria x, y, and z within
the next 4 months" is very specific, giving you
a clear direction for your marketing efforts.
- Measurable: Optimally, the desired outcome should
be quantifiable so you will know when the goal has
been achieved or surpassed.
- Achievable: While being appropriately difficult
and challenging, your goals should also be achievable.
If goals are too easy, they will not move you outside
your comfort zone and break out of old behaviors and
habits. If they are too difficult, they become demotivating
- Results oriented: A goal such as "I will reduce
the time I spend on administrative tasks by 25%"
is result oriented. A goal of taking a time management
course is one directed to an input that will then
lead to a result. Focusing on results is clearer and
leaves you open to consider a wide range of approaches
through which the result can be realized.
- Time-bound: There is no sense of urgency if there
is no time frame. This is a formula for procrastination
that will leave goals unrealized.
Once you have clearly articulated your goals, you need
to take a very hard look at your business to see where
improvements can be made. Frequently, business owners
attempt to fulfill this step by simply insisting that
they need more or better people and that they have to
sell more. While this may be true, it is not terribly
useful from either a diagnostic or a strategic planning
perspective. By breaking the business down into its
constituent elements, you will be able to make improvements
to each area that, when taken together, will have a
multiplier effect, resulting in dramatic results. For
this article, we will consider the areas of team, systems
and marketing, which comprise the major elements of
any business. Frequently, finance is considered a separate
area, but we will not examine it in this article.
The more you have qualified people do work that does
not have to be performed by you, the more you can focus
on those important tasks that do require your particular
attention. The ability of your team to do this is a
function of both your leadership and the dynamics within
"Every executive, every manager, to fulfill
the role, must have a vision - a vision of where the
organization will be and what it will look like in
the future. They must create that vision and then
share it with those reporting to them, if they are
to gain a high level of employee involvement and commitment
and attain a high level of productivity"
In considering the issue of leadership, one faces the
question: "Who is driving your business?"
The future direction of the business can easily become
unclear in the face of rapid and continual changes in
the marketplace and as a result of the speed of technological
innovation. The small to medium size legal service business
can become particularly challenged in the area of business
development. The level of excellence in service demanded
by the client today increases as you meet her expectations
of yesterday. The need to continue to deliver a service
that is better today than it was yesterday will challenge
the vision the leader creates and the team receives.
Low team moral, absenteeism, and resignations are some
signs that leadership has become overwhelmed and is
in need of repair.
As summarized in the following chart, there are very
clear differences between leadership and management.
Partners in law firms, being business owners who enjoy
the services of staff and associates, should be cognizant
of these differences and commit to developing and nurturing
their leadership skills.
|Challenge status quo
||Accept status quo
|Focus on people
||Focus on process
|Inspire trust/encourage action
||Rely on control
|Create a long term vision
||Focus on short term
ii) The Team
A strong team is critical to achieving your goals. You
will be able to trust them to take things from your
plate and to see them through to satisfactory completion.
However, all too frequently, business owners use the
word "team" to describe their staff, but pay
little attention to whether those people actually do
function as a team. A team is a group of people, possessing
skills that are complementary and who are committed
to a common goal and approach for which they are mutually
accountable. The extent to which a group does or does
not act as a team can be a function of leadership or
of particular dynamics within the group that need to
be examined. To determine whether you have a group or
a team, consider the following chart:
|Self-focused, hidden agendas
||Mutual goals, sense of purpose, ownership,
|Conflict escalates or is avoided
||Conflict resolution exists; constructive
If you are seeking a team and find you have a group,
begin attacking the problem by asking yourself the following
- Have I clearly articulated a vision that my people
- Have I shared a set of common goals for which we
must all strive together?
- Are the rules of the game that is played in my business
clear and have they been communicated? Rules of the
game are those things that comprise the culture of
- Do we have an action plan for achieving the common
- Do I support innovation and initiative?
- Do I have objective criteria and a systematic process
for hiring that increases the likelihood that each
person I hire will accept the vision, commit to the
goal, and fit within the culture?
The last question regarding your team is an example
of an area where systems can have a dramatic impact
on the success of your business and on the time you
are required to work in the business rather than on
it. To most powerfully leverage your time, your people,
and your resources, you ultimately want your business
to be systems dependent rather than people dependent.
Your systems, taken together, comprise "the way
we do things here." It is often very difficult
for business owners to commit themselves to making the
operations of their business as systematic as possible.
They feel it is too "corporate" or that it
runs counter to the frontier spirit of the entrepreneur.
In point of fact, by having systems in place, both you
and your team are free to be far more creative and forward-thinking
since time and energy need not be spent inefficiently
reinventing frequently performed functions. Here are
some tips to introducing systems to your business or
enhancing the systems you already may have in place:
- Create an organizational chart. Even if you only
have a small team, where individuals double or triple
up on duties, it is critical to have an organizational
chart for each position, not for each individual.
- List all routine activities within the organization
- Allocate specific responsibilities to each position.
- Document the how to's of all routine activities,
with time frames.
If the "way your business does things" resides
only in the minds of you or your employees, then you
have assets that are walking out of your office every
night. This means increased training costs when there
is staff turnover. It also means that you must be more
involved in operational details, thereby restricting
your own personal freedom.
Marketing is that part of your business that will provide
you with the clients you wish to service over the course
of your business. The purpose of your marketing activities
is to lower the cost of acquiring new clients and to
increase their lifetime value to your business. To maximize
the results you generate from the time and resources
you dedicate to marketing, it is important to approach
your marketing very strategically and methodically.
This involves three distinct steps.
1) Develop a marketing plan. In basic terms, a marketing
plan answers the following five questions:
a. Who are the clients and the potential clients
that you are targeting? This should be described in
as much detail as possible, combining both demographic
and psychographic information;
b. Where are they found in reasonable concentrations
where I can reach them?
c. Why would they want to buy from me? This means
being conscious of those elements of your business,
your services, and your expertise that are unique.
d. What will be my offer to them?
e. How will I communicate with them?
2) Diversify your marketing. Many lawyers tend to rely
on what I call the diving board marketing structure.
Their marketing platform is supported on one end by
only one or two marketing activities. Frequently, these
are activities that require the lawyer's personal participation.
This approach to marketing is inherently unstable and
does not provide predictable results. A more powerful
approach is to use a table structure where the marketing
platform is supported by a large number of legs. This
can involve strategies to increase the number of leads,
techniques to convert more leads into clients, and ways
to encourage clients to consult with the law firm on
a larger number of issues. Not all such strategies will
require your ongoing involvement. The trick to ensuring
you are using the right strategies on an ongoing basis
is to test and measure each approach and use only those
that consistently provide a positive return. In this
way, your marketing shifts from being an expense to
being an investment.
3) Have a disciplined approach to customer service.
68% of customers that cease transacting with a given
business do so because of perceived indifference. By
committing to superior and creative customer service,
you can achieve long-term client loyalty and create
raving fans. Raving fans are those clients who are so
delighted with your service that they sell for you.
Raving fans are created not by simply satisfying their
needs and meeting their expectations, but by constantly
exceeding those expectations.
Legal services businesses face all the challenges of
any other business. However, it is arguable that the
owners/partners of such businesses, being so busy fulfilling
their client work, are more challenged than many business
owners in finding adequate time to dedicate to their
roles as entrepreneurs and managers. This makes it all
the more important for you to take a rigorous approach
to developing your team, to implementing operational
systems and to pursuing marketing activities. If you
do, the goals that you hoped to reach by creating a
legal services business in the first place will more
quickly be within your grasp.
Warren Coughlin is a lawyer, entrepreneur and
business coach with ACTION International, the world's
largest business coaching organization. Contact Warren