Throughout my years managing office business centers I’ve witnessed the start up of many small law firms. Some have become great success stories, others fizzle out. But what makes the difference?
Of course, nothing can overcome a lack of skill or an unwillingness to “show up” and aggressively represent clients, but the following are some of my reflections on the characteristics which have made for successful clients.
These characteristics fall into three categories: capital preservation, strategic, practice based marketing and attention to office management and IT applications.
Many new firms underestimate the time lag between landing the client, billing the client and actually receiving payment. While it is important for attorneys to maintain an image appropriate to their profession, until a firm has established a track record of regularly flowing receivables, keeping fixed overhead costs in check is imperative.
Managing overhead costs is especially important to firms in such specialties as litigation. The variable costs for undertaking litigation matters can add up quickly. Never mind the potential for hundreds of billable hours , the costs of filing fees, material production, process service, overnight delivery and other fees can easily become invoices to the firm in the thousands of dollars. I find that the firms with dedicated administrative assistance tasked with regularly tracking and invoicing time and costs and consistently communicating these charges to the client increases the firm‘s long-term viability, not to mention their client’s satisfaction and ability to pay in full.
I recommend to all my solo attorney and small firm clients that they contract for the minimum space commitment they require. This can include working from home and contracting for conference and meeting room time, knowing that as business builds the ebbs and flows of capital can be managed until receivables prove consistent. The coveted corner window office will likely be available when conditions are right.
Strategic, Practice Based Marketing:
Solo attorneys and small firms with a clearly defined area of expertise, interest and skill are the ones I’m most likely to see succeed. One reason is that they are able to engage in focused marketing efforts and garner the most confidence in their clients. Regular and targeted marketing including direct mail campaigns, speaking engagements, courting media attention, and of course, maintaining a strategic presence on the internet are a hallmark of successful firms. Trying to represent all matters for all people creates confusion and, I think lessons marketing options.
The aforementioned typical marketing techniques often cost money. In today’s economy little works better and is less costly than good old fashioned networking. In the office business center industry, we witness this first hand on a daily basis. The collegial relationships that frequently develop within the confines of an office business center provide ready access to attorneys representing other practice areas and result in strong networking relationships, lucrative to both parties. I personally have witnessed this many times: real estate attorneys networking with those that specialize in estates and trusts, family law attorneys working closely with forensic accountants and criminal defense attorneys utilizing the services of the private investigator down the hall are just some examples.
Office Management and IT Applications:
While I’ve seen plenty of “old school” attorneys develop successful and lucrative practices, my experience is that the success of the solo attorney or small firm doing business within my business centers is related to the willingness to embrace the assistance and technologies made available to them. Small firms are especially disadvantaged by lack of personnel to provide “back up” when key staff are unavailable. It is important to make up for this deficiency, not by working 24/7, but by using office resources to make clients feel comfortable that although the attorney is not in the office, they are in fact, “on the job.”
Those firms that commit the financial resources and time to incorporate networking technologies, file management systems, on-line research tools, E-fax, WAV files, and scanning equipment, just to name a few, are those that are more flexible and readily able to respond to both the requirements of the job and the client. Every firm needs to routinely “audit” the availability and potential benefits of new technologies and work with trusted staff to routinely implement, even small technology changes geared at increasing flexibility and efficiency.
About The Author
Managing Partner, Sacramento & Corporate Development
Tracy has 20 years of experience in the OBC industry and is a licensed Real Estate Broker in California. Tracy has helped guide numerous legal firms as an office business center operator. She has a B.A. in History from U.C. Santa Barbara.