As the owner of a new legal practice, you’re an important part of the broader legal industry. The legal services market is predicted to be worth over $1 trillion by 2025, growing steadily year over year—and representing a ripe opportunity for your new practice to capture a share of the revenue.
But while the market is sizable and your opportunities far-reaching, you need to be ready for the challenges you’ll inevitably face.
We consulted a number of experts about these challenges and how to overcome them. Learn about:
- Hiring: Avoid pitfalls with a smart hiring strategy
- Lightening the administrative burden
- Client acquisition: Overcome setbacks to grow faster
Let’s take a closer look.
1. Hiring: Look past pedigrees to find the best fit
One of the first steps in building your firm is hiring your team. As the foundation of your practice, your team is your best shot at securing and retaining clients, driving revenue, and growing your firm. But hiring is costly—and the cost of turnover, even higher. That means you want to get it right the first time.
According to Marc Ian Prine, a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology, new firms trip up most often when evaluating candidates.
“Small firms get caught up with the resume and pedigree on resumes instead of thinking about what success looks like in their own environment,” he explains. By hiring based on pedigree instead of the needs of your firm, Prine argues that new firms see lower productivity and higher turnover.
To avoid falling into this trap, Prine suggests identifying the core competencies needed for each role you’re looking to fill before you consider any candidates. Think about the non-technical components of the role and how the environment of your practice will impact each individual’s success working with you.
Are you in a small town where community connections are important? Are you in a big city where someone with a background in agricultural law might not fit in? Do you require experience working with specific software? Consider these things when you’re fleshing out the requirements of roles you’re filling—and document them so everyone on the hiring team can follow the same guidelines.
Prine also recommends developing detailed and standard interview guides, writing sample prompts, and creating standard role-play scenarios to ensure all candidates are being evaluated based on the same criteria.
By standardizing your hiring process, you can focus on how each person will perform in your firm’s environment. And with an emphasis on skills instead of pedigree, you have a better chance of assembling the best team for your particular practice.
If you can hire well the first time around, your team will be more productive, save you the added costs of turnover, and ultimately help you with recruitment as your firm grows.
Want to streamline tedious time-tracking and billing?
Learn about software integrations that can improve your bottom line.
Administrative burdens: Use technology to lighten the load
As of 2019, 40% of an attorney’s time is spent on activities other than the practice of law. The reality of starting a firm is that you have to take on many administrative tasks: filing paperwork, searching for files, managing invoices, communicating with your clients—and not necessarily working billable hours for them.
See how MHP&S Law increased their billable hours by using an app integration to look for not just phone calls with a client, but also SMS texts, internal team messages and file-sharing tasks regarding that client, and even video meetings held to discuss the case.
“In a professional industry like law, where time is money, any hour that is not spent on a revenue-generating task represents wasted effort,” writers Thomson Reuters.
Though there’s no way to make the administrative burden disappear, there is one way to minimize it and get back to your practice: technology. There are a host of solutions that can help you do things like stay compliant, store all of your firm’s information digitally, and empower you to provide the best client experience—all in a more efficient way. (More on these below.)
What’s more, adopting technology isn’t just a smart business move—it’s actually part of the Bar’s requirements. The American Bar Association requires attorneys to stay current with technology as part of their commitment to clients. According to the ‘Duty of Technology Competence‘ rule, “to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”
To date, 38 states have adopted the rule, proving that the legal field is constantly evolving. As a new firm owner, the best thing you can do is stay ahead of the curve.
And the numbers show that firms are doing so: in 2019, 64% of large law firms and 42% of mid-size law firms used technology to replace human resources.
Pro-tip: Technology can help not only with administrative work, but also with transitioning your firm to a more remote-friendly culture. You can use video conferencing to meet with clients and your own team, film depositions, and more—all while saving on travel costs.
There are several tools that firms are adopting that can significantly lighten the administrative load, like law practice management software, internal communications platforms, eDiscovery software, and time-tracking tools.
When you use these tools to manage your administrative needs, you’re increasing productivity by reducing the time spent on repetitive, time-consuming tasks. Finally, technology solutions can contribute to greater client satisfaction by helping you:
- Build a well-connected team: With an internal communication platform, your team can work from anywhere and respond to client requests faster:
- Be more prepared: Using eDiscovery software, your team can better serve your clients by collaborating on case strategies and carrying out investigations more efficiently.
- Safely store documents: Robust storage solutions help you and your clients feel at ease knowing their data is safe, and even if there is a glitch along the way, you’ve covered your bases.
Selecting the right technology solutions and implementing them when your practice is in its infancy will reduce the administrative burden and save you time and resources.
3. Client acquisition: Use marketing to drive new business
With your team in place, your next task will be securing clients. But finding time to do so can be tricky. As Debra Pickett, the Founder and Principal Consultant at Page2 Communications, points out, the dilemma of prioritizing finding new business is a struggle for firms of all sizes, but it’s “particularly tough for those who don’t have the scale of a larger firm.”
And the numbers show the dilemma is real: 30% of small law firms say that they face a significant challenge in acquiring new business. However, “fewer than 3-out-of-5 small law firms say they have either implemented or even crafted a plan to address their business development challenges, leaving much of this pain and need unaddressed.”
A lot of this inaction can be attributed to a lack of resources when compared to a more established practice. In addition to this challenge, new firms also face existing competition in the market “in the form of other small firms, large firms, and ‘DIY sites’.”
The good news is, you can get ahead of these two contributing factors—limited resources and existing competition—by prioritizing client acquisition early.
“Lawyers often say that marketing is their least favorite part of their work; after all, they chose law school over business school for a reason,” says Pickett. And while lawyers are “generally very skilled at assembling and analyzing large quantities of detailed information, when it comes to making marketing decisions, detailed information is hard to come by,” she says.
How to acquire clients without focusing on marketing…
See how Paragon Legal acquired clients by making improvements to the client experience.
“Lawyers simply don’t know how to evaluate different marketing tools and strategies and often don’t market themselves at all, hoping that good work and strong relationships will carry them,” she explains.
But the reality is, it’s tough to grow any business without some form of marketing or a solid client acquisition strategy. Thankfully, acquiring clients “doesn’t have to be complicated or need the work of an expensive consultant,” Pickett says. All it requires is careful thinking, planning, analysis, and decision-making—things you’re already skilled at as a lawyer.
As a first step, Pickett recommends narrowing your marketing messaging. This allows you to “communicate more deeply with one segment of the market rather than trying to reach everyone,” she says. You need to understand what makes you unique, what work you do best, and who might be looking for your services.
With your messaging established, you can then focus on developing your marketing strategy. As a Thomson Reuters’ study points out, “At the end of the day, attracting new business is about connecting with potential clients wherever they are through an integrated marketing strategy, whether on a firm’s website, through an advertisement or reading an online review.”
By using marketing strategically to drive new business, you can attract clients that are aligned with your core message and strengths. In Thomson Reuters’ 2019 Report on the State of U.S. Small Law Firms, they shared that “acquiring new client business was routinely cited as the most significant challenge faced by [small firms], and for nearly every segment, focusing on client relationships and business development was identified as the single most important factor driving positive outcomes.”
Overcome these challenges to achieve success in your legal practice
When you open your legal practice, nothing is more valuable than your time. As Thomson Reuters puts it: “There is a correlation between a focus on two simple, bottom-line goals—overall profits and client satisfaction—and success.”
The less time you spend on hiring and turnover, client acquisition, and administrative needs, the more you can spend practicing law, which is the best way for you to drive profits, improve client satisfaction, and set your legal practice on a path to success.