According to the American Bar Association, 30% of respondents to a 2018 survey are sole practitioners and 29% are in firms of 2-9 attorneys. Small and solo law firms have been a successful form of business for more than 500 years. Knowing how to manage a small law firm leads to success.
One key element of a successful law firm is not doing what everyone else is doing. You have to step out from the crowd to get above average results. Let’s look at the key elements needed to run a small law firm.
Keep Overhead Low but Don’t Be Cheap
You want your office to be as cost-effective as possible, but don’t let savings jeopardize the professionalism of your practice. Start with the office location. Select a location that is cost-effective but convenient for clients and not far from court.
If you find an ideal building in a prime location consider purchasing instead of renting. You can help cover your mortgage by renting out extra office space to complementary businesses such as a CPA, real estate agent, or attorney with a niche practice. For instance, if you practice in the area of family law, one of your office space rentals could be a source of bankruptcy leads for attorneys.
Avoid spending money on frills. Instead of purchasing expensive business cards from a high-end printer, order cost-effective but professional looking ones from a mail-order company such as Vista Print.
Professionally printed letterhead and envelopes are costly. Purchase quality bond paper and print your letterhead and envelopes on your printer as needed.
Don’t spend money on renting a postage meter. Instead, purchase a postal scale and stamps. You can purchase office supplies from a mail-order company such as Quill or use a local office supply. Patronizing local small businesses can be good for business because they are a source of business referrals and networking.
While it is good to be cost-effective, don’t be cheap. Purchase a quality printer that also can serve as a fax machine and scanner and make sure you have computers and software that is up-to-date. Purchase quality furniture and decorate using local artists. Your lobby sets forth the first impression of business success.
How to Manage a Small Law Firm
It is important that everything about you, your office, and your staff is professional. This does not mean you have to wear designer suits or you have a strict dress code. It means your conduct, the way you manage the client’s privacy, and the manner in which you deal with your staff and the client.
Professional Handling of the Initial Consultation
Give the potential client your honest legal opinion of their case and tell them what you can do for them. Let them ask questions and provide honest answers. If they want to proceed, have a retainer available for them to sign.
Introduce new clients to any staff they may be dealing with in the future. Be polite and professional when dealing with staff in front of clients.
Staff Your Office
You need someone in your office during regular business hours to answer phones and deal with clients who walk in the door. They can answer non-legal questions, schedule appointments, get retainer agreements signed and accept fees on your behalf.
For a solo law firm hiring only one staff person, a paralegal is a good choice. A legal secretary will demand a lower hourly wage, but will not have the training to provide a full range of support that the paralegal will.
Legal secretaries do not perform substantive legal work. They are trained to serve in the clerical area of a firm, typing correspondence, maintaining calendars, scheduling appointments, and other general office duties.
Legal assistant and paralegal are interchangeable titles. They are professionals trained to perform substantive legal work. The paralegal can conduct legal research and analyze it. They are able to prepare pleadings, legal correspondence, and write briefs for the attorney’s signature.
The paralegal is a major asset to an attorney because they can carry a vast portion of the substantive work required in a law office. They typically perform the same functions as newly barred attorneys. The difference is they are unable to sign pleadings and cannot appear in court.
Because a small firm does not have the resources a large firm does, a competent paralegal is a major asset. In small law firms, a paralegal’s duties may also include general office management. They can perform the general secretarial duties plus the paralegal duties, allowing the attorney time to meet with clients, appear in court, and network.
Run Your Office Like a Business
In addition to legal work, time must be devoted to the general operation of the business. Even with a strong paralegal running your office, you need to check on the workflow, procedures, and finances. Communicate with your staff to make sure the workload is not overburdening the staff, which could lead to missed deadlines or poor work quality.
Create an Office Procedures Manual
This is an often-overlooked must-have in any office. You have only you and your assistant, so why do you need a manual? One reason is to make sure the office is being run the way you want.
It is a good idea to work with your staff in creating a manual. It should include the process for handling specific calls, documents, and general office procedures such as opening and distributing mail, how to answer the phone, how you want to receive messages, and more.
When creating the manual make sure you include everything from the most minor procedures to the more complicated. Simple steps can be overlooked, such as when opening the office turn off the answering service. Once created have someone who is not familiar with the procedures test the instructions and give feedback.
Once the manual is written and tested, be sure to review it periodically. Technology changes, steps are adjusted for more efficiency, and the manual should reflect those changes. This is imperative in case staff calls in sick or moves on to another position.
Hang a Branch Out
The answer to the question of how to manage a small law firm is simple. You need to treat and manage it like a business. Good staff and business sense will allow you to “hang a branch out” and start your own small firm.
For more information check out the rest of our website.