If you work in a small firm or solo practice it is likely that you don’t measure your performance. You may tell yourself that you are efficient and that you get a lot done because you are the boss and can cut right to the chase. You tell yourself that you “don’t need to measure things” or that you don’t have time.
The good news is that you are right about some of what you are telling yourself. You are focused much more on getting the core job done rather than pleasing a boss or senior partner. The bad news is that there are certain things you are much less efficient at, and if you don’t get them under control now, you will be throwing time and money out the window for years to come. Don’t be shortsighted and fearful. Admit that parts of your practice need improvement, get help and get to work on improving. Small changes can add up to huge results. Decide now that you will get your practice under complete control. Commit to having fun while you do it.
Time is money. Whether you pay yourself by the hour, the job/matter, or on contingency, you need to be as efficient and effective as possible. It will make you better at what you do and much happier in life. It takes time and effort to analyze your practice, implement procedures and get on track. Getting your firm firing on all cylinders is a lot of fun if you get away from the office and collaborate with someone. Getting important things done is actually hugely rewarding and can bring you immense joy.
I recommend that, to start, you get away from your office (and other obligations) and spend a weekend really thinking through your practice from start to finish. Here are a few potential areas of focus:
- What exact criteria make up your best (most profitable) cases and case types? You need to identify your ideal case criteria and develop a rating system for each case type. Make a decision whether you should withdraw from or decline cases that don’t meet your criteria. At the end of this process you should have a written memo that details the criteria of your best cases and criteria for cases you no longer want to take.
- Analyze where your best cases are coming from. Are they coming from a certain referral source? Is there a certain type of marketing that is resulting in the best cases? Whatever the answer is for you, develop a strategy for doing more of what is working and less of what isn’t. Developing a strategy doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process. It can be as simple as writing down what you know works and making a commitment to implement more of what is working and less of what isn’t. A crucial final step is to put your findings, reasoning and new plan into writing. You want to be able to reorient yourself to the plan periodically to see whether you are following it and whether it needs to be changed.
- Delegate. What can only you do in the office? Your staff can do everything you can do except for the core legal work. Do a thorough analysis of what only you can do. Make absolutely sure that only you can do it. Then, take inventory of all of the other things you are doing. You may enjoy some of these tasks and choose to continue doing them. However, most will be tasks you should delegate. Write a short outline/memo detailing which tasks you will delegate and which you will keep. The goal is to keep adding to the tasks you will delegate, and to make sure the tasks you keep are core tasks that bring you joy and financial reward.
- Develop a training outline and train your staff. Are you under the mistaken impression that you don’t have the time to train your staff? Well trained staff can do almost everything. Poorly trained staff are a nightmare. Don’t allow your staff to train you to do all of the things they don’t want to do or don’t want to figure out. They do this by coming to you with problems they seem “unable” to solve. If you are a poor manager, you will handle the task for them because, in the moment, you don’t have the time to train them. Train your staff to not just be problem identifiers but also problem solvers. Reward them with praise and other means so that they thrive on doing most of the hard and tedious work for you. Remember, training is not a one time lecture. It is ongoing, requiring continuing instruction, adjustment and reinforcement. An initial comprehensive training session is essential, but follow-up sessions and patience are just as important. The process should be fun and give you joy because the better you train your staff, the more tedious and unpleasant work is shifted to them.
- Are you a bottleneck? Does your staff have to wait on you to make decisions? Are there certain tasks your staff relies on you to do simply out of habit? Can you make a checklist that your staff can use to make decisions based on certain factors you have trained them to consider? Analyze whether you need to remove yourself from certain processes so they get done more efficiently.
- Is your office neat and efficient? If someone you respect comes to visit you in your office, would you be proud of the way it looks and runs? Are you proud of your organization? If not, organize your office and paper flow in a way that maximizes effectiveness and helps your staff get work done efficiently and methodically.
The time to fix things is NOW. If you know there is a problem, fix it. The time and money invested now is infinitesimal compared to the time and money that will be wasted over years and possibly decades of running your business inefficiently and ineffectively. Measuring your performance will be fun once you get your yourself and your firm firing on all cylinders.
I offer a 2.5 day intensive coaching and consulting session in San Diego designed to analyze critical aspects of your law firm. During the session I work with you to overhaul your practice and set in place practices that will transform you and your firm.