The New Year is the perfect time for a fresh start and to put a new plan in place. Here are a few tips on law office management to help you get started.
One New Year’s resolution is to cultivate a positive work environment. As long as you have to work, make your office a place where you and your staff enjoy spending your days. In times of financial difficulties, raises and bonuses are often not options. What else can you do to show appreciation to your attorneys and staff? How about flexibility in work hours and location? Or enjoying inexpensive office celebrations such as cupcakes for Valentine’s Day or giving small gift cards to employees to recognize birthdays or firm anniversaries? Even sending out “atta guy” or “atta gal” emails to show appreciation for going above and beyond. Many employees will say that a pat on the back is as meaningful as a financial contribution especially when they recognize the tough economic times some law firms are facing.
Learn about social media. A blog is nothing more than a law firm newsletter on line. Tweeting is an even shorter version of your newsletter. There’s more to it than that, but not much. You can spend a little time reading some articles about whether social media is right for you and then ask any 14 year-old that you know to help you set up a blog site and a Twitter account.
Give your client something to take home. In the long ago 1990’s, Lawyers Mutual was recommending that lawyers give their clients a file folder to take home from their first meeting with the lawyer on their new matter. This would give the client a place to keep all important papers and would be a tangible reminder of the service the lawyer or law firm was providing. In the January issue of an ABA publication, Law Practice, the Director of the Alabama State Bar Association’s Practice Management Assistance Program, Laura Calloway, made the same recommendation. Laura’s point is that when you buy a flat-screen TV, buyers have something they can see, touch and enjoy when it comes time to make their monthly payment. But with legal services, the bill comes and the client wonders what they are paying for. She suggests that even in a paperless office, you would do well to order a folder with your law firm name and contact information on it, along with copies of relevant materials. You should include your engagement letter, Frequently Asked Questions, and any checklists that will help your clients navigate the legal process. Laura also reminds lawyers to get the bill out as soon as possible after your services are completed. Your client is most willing to pay when they feel the greatest sense of value received.
Build relationships. Get out of the comfort of your office and start meeting people. Join your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary or Toastmasters club. Keith Ferrazzi in his book, “Never Eat Alone”, describes networking as “connecting – sharing my knowledge and resources, time and energy, friends and associates, and empathy and compassion in a continual effort to provide value to others, while coincidentally increasing my own. Like business itself, being a connector is not about managing transactions, but about managing relationships.” His book is an interesting study on how to incorporate networking into every aspect of your life. Put it on your reading list.
Hire a CPA or financial auditor to conduct yearly reviews of your financials. Every quarter, the North Carolina State Bar website reports lawyers who have lost their law license because of mismanaging client money. Sometimes the losses are shockingly small –lawyers have been disbarred for a $500 irregularity in their trust account. If you don’t have the expertise to conduct a financial audit, hire someone to handle it for you. The cost of saving your law license is priceless.
Hire a coach, attend marketing classes, hire a marketing consultant or join a legal marketing organization. Check out these websites: lawmarketing.com, sugarcrest.com, altmanweil.com, therainmakerblog.com, or myshingle.com. Join the weekly “law firm marketing success” mailing list at lawyerbizcoach.com and receive a free 45-page law firm marketing plan. The Legal Marketing Association (legalmarketing.org) is a national organization with chapters in Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh. You can attend meetings as a guest if you don’t want to commit to membership. With a coach or staff member charged with marketing, you’ll have someone to help you develop your strategy and hold you accountable for implementing.
The New Year is a perfect time to strategize about ways to manage and market your practice that fit your law firm culture. The practice of law is a profession, but a law firm is a business and effective law office management is an essential element to keeping your law practice strong and growing.