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A holistic approach to running your firm

By Sara Sawyer
Manager, Small Law Firm Marketing at Thomson Reuters

We know you’ve got the art of practicing law down to a science. It’s what makes you the successful attorney you are today. However, if you own a Small Law Firm, you have many other needs to balance every single day to run a profitable business. With administrative tasks, marketing, project management, billing, and much more, your actual practice may be vying for your attention.

What if you could streamline your business processes without sacrificing the time and quality your practice delivers to your clients?

When you have disconnect within your business processes, feeling overwhelmed is natural. Balance can seem as though it’s so far from your reach.

At Thomson Reuters, we understand the complexity that goes into practicing law and running a business. That’s why we spent decades on research and development of an integrated system to streamline your practice with your daily business tasks.

Grow Your Business

Let’s imagine – or possibly you don’t need to because this is something you’re experiencing right now …
You’ve opened a new practice, or you broke away from a larger firm to start your own. You now need clients. You’ll need to align your expertise with those who will benefit from your counsel. In other words – Business Development.

Once you find prospective clients (or they find you), you’ll need to convince them you’re the right lawyer for them. You’ll develop your own story of why they should hire you instead of another attorney, pitch them on your services, and propose an attorney/client relationship that might continue longer than the initial matter.

When they agree to your representation, you’ll begin a case file and start to work their matter. You’ll provide them with periodic updates and set expectations for results. Your goal is to quickly respond to their needs while ensuring their information is safe and secure. By providing them with the outstanding service they deserve, you’ll have a better chance of retaining their business in the future. Possibly you represent your client with a labor and employment matter; then, a couple of years later, they start a new business. You can now help them with their employee benefit plan and compliance.

While compliance with FinCEN rules will be a multi-departmental task, it will present particular challenges for a bank’s customer relations and marketing departments next year. The issue of privacy, for example, could strain client relationships, as a client may find the greater depth of questioning obtrusive. “Say there’s a person who comes in to open an account for a commercial enterprise,” Rowe says. “Now they’ll need to provide all of this information that we always tell people not to give out, because of identity theft concerns.”

Practice Law

Now, with your new matter, you get to do what you do best – practice law.

At the beginning of any matter, you’ll carry out the intake and due diligence. You’ll want to know the basics of the situation, the facts, the parties involved, and the controlling law. But you’ll also want to know whether this will be a good matter to take. Will it be profitable for your firm, and what are the likely outcomes?

Once you’ve assessed the matter, you’ll produce the “lawyer work product” documents. You’ll conduct research, build your arguments, and file your motions. Or, if it’s a transactional matter, you’ll draft your documents, find good clause language, proofread, review documents, and negotiate.

During this time you’ll need to make sure the information related to the matter is organized and progressing according to the legal calendar and the client’s expectations to avoid any unwanted surprises that could lead to malpractice.

As you move further into your representation, if you’re engaged in litigation, you’ll have to deal with discovery and any trial prep necessary, including finding experts, taking depositions, culling through reams of data, and building your case.

Alternatively, you could be be negotiating or finding alternative ways of settling the dispute for your client that gets them the best resolution possible.

Run Your Firm

Your hard work is paying off and you’ve been providing stellar service to a growing portfolio of clients! Although this is excellent news, you still have the day-to-day realities of running a small business waiting to be managed.

As your business grows, client management becomes vital. You need to respond more quickly, research and draft on the road, and have access to key file information anywhere and at anytime.

With the start/stop nature of work and pressure of clients to respond quickly, it’s increasingly harder to keep up with tracking your time. In order to get paid faster, it’s critical to swiftly and accurately bill your clients.

As your firm grows, hopefully so does your staff, whether they're consultants or on your payroll. You have an accountant, as well as a couple of full-time staff: an office manager and paralegal. These hires require HR fundamentals. Employee handbooks, employment contracts, and other staff management tools are necessary to ensure you’re covered and they have consistent and meaningful work.

Manage Your Finances

On top of everything you’re already doing, you’ve also got to manage the firm’s finances to ensure you get paid this year and are in a good position for next year.

One facet of your finances is your original fee negotiation and structure. You determined a fee arrangement in your initial client conversation and intake. To negotiate that fee effectively, you need to know approximately how long this type of matter takes, what your competitors might charge, and how much your prospective client is willing to pay. You’ll also need to know what your tolerance level is for pre-bill adjustments and write-downs. A matter budget helps with this. It’ll provide you with a better understanding of how long it takes to work a specific type of matter, the cost to produce the outcome your client is looking for, and a means to responsively update your client on their matter progress.

Finally, you have basic business finance to deal with. You’ve got to file your taxes, pay your bills and staff. Knowing your financial health is good, but leveraging real data on matter profitability, write-downs, and other business metrics is really about mapping out the future of your firm.

But technology and the necessary infrastructure to keep it secure and up to date can get complicated. Change can be overwhelming. But with your clients’ expectations for quick responses (like their latest phone app) and worry-free security, it’s imperative to find a solution with an eye to the future.

The Modern Practice is a holistic approach to running your Small Law Firm to look as though you’re a Large Law Firm. Our cloud-based integrated system provides you with everything you need to be business savvy: accurate, timely, secure, profitable and perceived by your clients as a firm that “has it together.” Get the online reviews you deserve. Run and grow your firm with confidence and swagger.