‘If you keep on looking in the rear view mirror, man,
you will drive off the road and keep on going.” ~ David Lee Roth
(Note: It’s a long post but hope you find it has value).
In all the years I’ve been a lawyer and associated with lawyers, one truth remains the same (well for all humans, really), we are creatures of habit. Lawyers are more so, though, because we live in a professional world of associations and a society micromanaging our every move, instilling fear we will make mistakes that will cost our clients, impact our professional reputation or get our licenses yanked. There is comfort in knowing that if what we did has always worked well, certainly it will continue to work today and most likely tomorrow. At the very least, we’ll make it work, right?
People don’t want to change. Our habits are like our most comfortable pair of jeans. But the truth is most of us don’t look as good in those comfy jeans as we did 20 years ago. Am I right? Styles have changed, our figures are different, the jeans may even be threadbare, ripped, or out of style. But we get stuck in the past, reminiscing, re-living “the good ol’ days.” The reality is we are exaggerating the good ‘ol days in direct proportion to our fear of the future and the changes we secretly know we need to make.
I would never advocate changing what you are doing just because of trends, technological or otherwise. However, the truth is what got you where are you are today cannot be the sole driving force for where you will grow tomorrow. That is IF you want to grow (and in many a lawyer’s case, survive.) You can’t put pedal to the metal and hope to navigate the hair pin turns of the future if you are always looking in the rear view mirror. You will crash and burn. Technology, especially, moves at warp speed impacting every aspect of your practice. This includes the rules of professional conduct. And it proves over and over, again, that nothing is static – not how we attract clients, not what satisfies clients, and especially not how a law firm must operate behind the scenes or comply with the RPC. What you see in your rear view mirror will not prepare you for what is coming ’round the next bend in the road.
I’ve talked to too many lawyers who drive their practices solely through the rear view mirror. They talk of their glory days and either are unaware of the changes happening in the profession or are in denial. But either way, they are stuck and the world simply will not wait on them anymore. What I see even more is not just denial that things are changing, but lawyers actively seeking out reasons why they can’t and shouldn’t change. To these lawyers, cloud services are fraught with peril. They will focus on hacking and potential loss of confidential information. Yes, it happens but do the pluses outweigh the minuses? Absolutely. The alternatives are not even acceptable to more and more courts. To these lawyers, clients who don’t want the billable hour, well, they are clients who are not worth having. Really? Of course not, but these lawyers don’t want to investigate changing their pricing and services because it means change. It might mean a temporary or permanent change in profit margins. A change in profit margins might mean having to change the way the old brick and mortar office is run. It might also mean an increase in profits. These same lawyers don’t need or want to learn e-discovery. Well, think, again. It is already being determined that regardless your experience or competence, failure to have an understanding of ediscovery and metadata can be deemed unethical. That’s right, unethical. (Shameless plug: Solo Practice University has two courses on e-discovery and our newest sponsor, Logikcull allows you to play in their sandbox for free!)
There are a handful of lucky solos and small firms that continue to grow in spite of themselves. Chances are it comes purely from circumstances beyond their control, a touch of luck rather than a clear cut proactive growth strategy. But there will be a time they will hit a wall and need to rethink how they are growing. True sustainable growth is primarily driven by a willingness to embrace change.
6 Steps to Help You Move Forward.
“Learn from the past, prepare for the future, live in the present.”~ Thomas S. Monson
Unless you are prescient, not every single thing you did when you opened your solo/small firm practice was 100% spot on. You may have had great mentors and more experienced attorneys guiding you to flatten out your learning curve. You may have had a strong network to help get your first clients in the door. However, whatever worked for you then may not necessarily continue to work moving forward. Take the time to map out how you got from point A to point B. Know what contributed to your current success and what was a mistake and detracted. Build on the good, discard or change the bad. Dust off your original mission statement, keep the core principles if they still hold true for the future, edit and revise accordingly. Then slowly start renovating your practice.
If you don’t know why you are doing something in your practice other than ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ you’re in trouble. Hands down the biggest stumbling block to growth is failing to ask yourself the tough questions. At least once a month you have to have a conversation with yourself (if you’re a solo) or your staff or mastermind group. Ask yourself ‘Why do we still do (blank) this way”. ‘Why aren’t new clients calling?’ ‘Why did our biggest client leave us?” “Why do we spend 50% of every dollar earned on overhead?” “Why are receivables so high?” Why, why, why. If you don’t answer these questions, you can never grow because you refuse to identify and openly acknowledge there is a problem. If you are willing to honestly answer the questions, you can eventually identify the primary issue. Once you identify the issue you are one step closer to solving the problem.
The Universe of Ideas is Infinite.
Your practice is only limited by your thinking. Never sit back and rest for long. Continually look for better ways to run the office, represent clients, manage your accounting, process payments, etc. Blue sky your ideas. Don’t limit yourself to what’s always been the accepted method. Especially in the legal field where technology is having the greatest impact because we were so far behind other industries, recognize that the role of the lawyer is changing. Therefore, how you functioned as a lawyer ten years ago will look radically different than ten years into the future. Start changing today.
Recognize Technology in the Law Firm is Dynamic, Not Static.
Technology can be your friend or your foe. Friend if you embrace it, nurture it, grow and evolve your practice as it grows and evolves. Foe if you ignore it exists because eventually clients will also ignore you exist. Do a regular technology review (or audit) and update to stay on top of the changes. It will ultimately reduce the cost of running your practice which will give you more freedom to innovate in how you deliver your services. This isn’t rocket science. Getting started is the greatest challenge but it’s got to be done.
The World Waits for No (Wo)Man
Just as you hit your stride, the clients are coming on a regular basis, you can pick and choose who to represent, the floor falls out from under you. Well, it’s actually more subtle than this. The reality is, the more secure you feel as a lawyer, the more complacent you get about what’s going on around you. When you ride high, you are less inclined to take notice of subtle changes in client behaviors, the overall legal market, demographics, economic trends. You either feel sated and don’t care about LegalValueFirm, Traklight, Legal Zoom, Wevorce, Shake, Lawdingo, LawTrades, and countless others or, worse, you don’t even know what or who they are and the problems they are solving for your potential clients. This is rear view driving. Time to get your eyes on the road ahead of you.
If You Could Re-Write The Script of Your Law Firm….
All entrepreneurs should do this, not just lawyers in solo/small firm practices. It’s a tough question and a difficult rewrite sometimes. Ask yourself, “Knowing what I know now, if I were to start my own solo practice today, what would I do differently.” Then ask yourself, “Am I where I wanted to be today? If not, why?”
Too many lawyers live in yesteryear. You can’t keep practicing law the way you ‘have always done it’. You can’t build today’s practice looking in the rear view mirror. There is only one time, and one time only, that you should be looking in the rear view mirror. It is to see what you’ve done wrong, where you’ve possibly failed, so you don’t continue this practice or process into the future and guarantee future failure. Otherwise, keep your eyes on the road in front of you.