I was speaking at John Marshall Law School recently, and a 3rd year came up to me afterward and asked, “If you were just starting out, what do you wish you had done?” Excellent question which I had never really thought about. I paused, and answered, and the list I gave her is the same list which I have here, after some reflection. My advice starting out:
Treat the law like a business
This came to mind immediately. It should come as no surprise given many of the topics I have addressed in past Third Thursday newsletters. The number one reason for the success of my firm is due to the fact that I treat it like a business. From hiring and firing, to measuring productivity to marketing, all these things contribute to a successful business. Remember that a law practice is a business. I am fond of saying around the firm, “We are in the customer service business, and our services are legal services.” Law practices are not successful solely because you are great lawyer. I know many great lawyers who were horrible business people. Several are subscribed to this newsletter and probably know I am talking about them! It doesn’t mean you need to run your business, but you must treat your practice as a business and have someone who can run your business. Even if you are an associate, recognize the law as a business and help your firm succeed, and you will succeed.
Keep a mailing list
There is no excuse for not having a mailing list. Check your ego at the door, most clients will not remember you in one month, one year or several years — unless you remind them. I have done great legal work for clients over the years. I have tried cases on their behalf where we have shared an incredible emotional journey. But, time goes on.
You most valuable source of new business is past clients. A mailing list is one of the easiest marketing things you can do. There are fancy programs which send emails, but a simple Excel spreadsheet is enough. Send a periodic email to your list, welcome a new staff member, celebrate an important victory, wish them a happy holiday. It doesn’t matter the reason you reach out to your list, just refresh their memory of who you are and how you can help them and their family and friends. You’d be surprised at how much of a dividend this simple trick will pay. The longer you are in practice, the longer your list will become. It is not even something you need to do, it is easy to delegate the mailing list to your staff. But start today!
Get an accountant to set up your books properly
I have addressed this issue in the past. My office grew and grew and grew, and we never had our books set up properly. Now that they are, I can’t imagine how I ever ran a business (remember point one above?) without this asset. I spent a lot of time and a lot of money fixing what had grown unmanageable over the years of neglect. It’s not too late. Get someone to get your accounts in proper operating order. Ideally, do this when you are starting out and it will save you a lot of headache in the future.
I am sure I would have come up with a longer list, but for off the top of my head, even with reflection, I am sticking to my list. If you have something you wish you had done when you started out, let me know!