When you’re a young lawyer starting out, you’ll need big dreams—and a solid plan—to compete with the many Goliath firms out there.
We chatted with Sean Martin from MHP&S Law in Tennessee about how the face of legal practices has changed, how small firms can get a leg up on larger and wealthier firms, and a few tips on providing top-notch service for legal clients by using technology.
How do you change a business that’s steeped in tradition?
Of course, when you’re working in one of the oldest industries in the world, adopting new technology is easier said than done.
Unless there’s a (very loud) demand for it.
Customers now have a desire for real-time updates,” says Sean. “They don’t want to wait for a letter to come in the mail four days after the hearing. They want you to be texting them while you’re in the courthouse.
With food delivery services and next-day delivery for online shopping, the expectation now is for instant answers and instant services. And that change will be driven by a new—well, new-ish—generation of lawyers.
“I’m 45 and I don’t feel that old—but our mentors, our judges, and the senior members of the bar, they’ve been practicing law in the traditional fashion for their entire career for 40, 50 years,” says Sean.
“And they don’t perceive a need for change because it’s worked so well for 50 years, so we don’t get too much past ‘Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The problem is, it is broken, and they just don’t realize it,” says Sean.
“They’re bloated, they’re heavy with staff, heavy with these silly processes. It’ll just take time, like anything else.”
Learn how law firms can use social media to build stronger client relationships.
Tech-friendly law firms? Yes, they do exist
Sean’s been practicing for about 20 years now, and he still remembers what it was like when he went out on his own 15 years ago.
“I didn’t have the money for anything. I didn’t have an office. I didn’t have an assistant. I barely had a printer. I was working out of my condo!” he recalls.
Having to be so acutely aware of your budget and resource constraints is never fun, but it gave Sean a clear idea of what he needed (and what he didn’t need) in the tech tools he would use.
In the old days, I remember thinking, ‘Why is this so expensive? Why does it take 500 bucks and half a day to get somebody in a tool belt to come to our server room and do something in there to set up a voicemail… every time we add a staff member?’
That’s why he decided to go with a cloud communications tool instead. No on-premises installations, no extra fees going to IT for things that people should be able to do themselves, like setting up voicemail.
Using your personal cell phone—while hiding your personal cell number
When Sean tells people about RingCentral, he usually talks about one thing. “It’s the main selling point to every single lawyer I talk to,” says Sean.
So, what is this selling point?
“It’s, ‘You don’t have to get another cell phone.’”
Really! Why’s that?
Well, because if a call comes in through the RingCentral app, Sean knows automatically that it’s a business call.
There’s immense freedom in that,” says Sean. “Like I got blown up over the weekend on two cases, and I was able to ignore them because they weren’t mixed in with my personal texts. So that barrier that RingCentral offered was great. I don’t like giving out my cell phone number to anybody.
Over time, Sean found that he liked the distinction of having a personal line and a business line. So, he started moving his old clients over to the business number he got with RingCentral.
Work—and invoice—from anywhere
Working remotely is especially useful for smaller firms because for a lot of solo lawyers or practitioners, if they’re not working, they’re not earning.
“If you’re not actively doing something for a client, then there’s no revenue being generated,” says Sean. “So that person needs to be able to work on Sunday morning, and even if they don’t have an office, they need to be able to work from wherever they are.”
That’s why everyone at Sean’s firm has phones, laptops, and iPads for their day-to-day work. This way, they don’t have to use their paid time off if they can just take their gear home and work from there. “They have lives and responsibilities, and it doesn’t always center around their office downtown,” says Sean.
Better communication, happier clients, more time billed
With a growing firm and client base, MHP&S Law is the perfect example of how small businesses and legal practices can punch above their weight and give their clients a level of customer service that people would normally expect from larger organizations.
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