By Julia Claire
Special to The Legal
In my law firm days, the lawyers and I snickered at the HBS management “tips” on the elevator “captivate” screens. Was the nation’s premier business school getting their material from kindergarten and Office Space? Now, managing business development and operations for Hire an Esquire — which helps law practices locate, manage and pay contract and local counsel — I
interface with an average of 10-20 law practices a day from solos to national firms. Equally simple advice seems to distinguish the thriving practice from the veteran lawyer still chasing $75 dollars in court.
From cold, introduced, conference, follow-up and customer satisfaction calls to coffee, in-person and virtual meetings, I have spoken with hundreds of key decision makers in both thriving and struggling practices. Patterns emerged differentiating the two, which taught three key lessons:
1) Dale Carnegie Was Right:
Many solos, founding or equity partners, and office administrators were friendly and personable — even when I was cold calling and they weren’t interested in Hire an Esquire. Quick chats with these decision makers generally revealed a bustling practice. They didn’t remind me that I was a “sales call,” although a certain kind of attorney did.
These attorneys expressed disappointment that I wasn’t a client or a referral and then volunteered that they didn’t have enough work, let alone anything to outsource. A few partners who begrudgingly took my call upon insistence of a client seemed equally desperate for business. Their tone made it clear that they were too busy to talk to me, but their words said that they didn’t have enough work for their full-time attorneys. Local counsel arrangements were reserved for law firms that would potentially reciprocate or send referrals. Like the many other people they come into contact with daily, I was also a potential source of recommendations and business. How many other prospective clients and recommendations did they regularly repel?
2) Work Smart and Delegate:
Talented support staff can impact revenues as significantly as associates. There is a wealth of business and tech savvy tucked away in law offices. I observed office administrators and paralegals proactively seeking out successful technology and business strategies to cut costs and increase business. Simultaneously, they deftly managed distractions and minor issues, freeing attorneys to focus on billable work.
Even the practices of charismatic lawyers suffered from poor organization and delegation. Although they frequently had more business than they could handle (hence why I was in their offices) they still wasted time on details their admin was capable of performing: the most basic decisions, managing the firm Hire an Esquire account, non-substantive communication with clients and filing. Files covered their desks and window ledges; frequent interruptions and unfinished or overdue tasks plagued their office. Rainmaking skills that could have resulted in a profitable practice and more leisure time were thwarted by micromanagement.
3) Technology is Your Friend:
Firms that marketed to the general public with clean, simple and sleek websites were busier than those with heavy homepage text and boxy frames. Law firms providing services to the general public that frequently popped up as Google ads were sufficiently busy and in need of extra attorney power that sometimes the office administrators excitedly called me back the same day that I sent an introductory e-mail.
By November, I used these initially unintentional discoveries to selectively target firms that were sufficiently busy to need our service. Requests for more information about Hire an Esquire jumped to ~30 percent from ~5 percent of decision makers contacted. Of those not interested, firms that stated that they were busy but preferred other systems to handle frequent work overflow went from ~12 percent to ~60 percent.
Lawyers know there are infinite exceptions to rules. Volume sales strategies require gross over-generalizations and practice management is a highly personal choice based upon equally personal values and factors. Still, I couldn’t help but repurpose the grueling hours I spent in “sales” for the benefit of my fellow attorney–entrepreneurs that wish to begin - or expand - a law practice.
*Top photo courtesy of the Zartorialist under the Creative Commons License http://www.flickr.com/photos/acousticskyy/4021374505/sizes/m/in/photostream/
Julia Claire is a co-founder of Hire an Esquire, which enables law firms and legal departments to locate, manage and pay local and contract counsel with ease online. In addition to practicing law, she has taught legal writing as an adjunct professor in Temple Law’s International LLM Program and as an online lecturer at Quimbee.com