“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.
Susan Cartier Liebel is the Founder & CEO of Solo Practice University®, the only educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students designed for those who want to create and grow their solo or small firm practices. A coach/consultant for solos and small firms, an attorney who started her own practice right out of law school, an Entrepreneur Advisor for Law Without Walls, an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law for eight years teaching law students how to open their own legal practices right out of law school, a columnist for LawyersUSA Weekly, the Connecticut Law Tribune, The Complete Lawyer, and Law.com, she has contributed to numerous online publications such as Forbes.com, legal publications and books on this topic as well as the issues facing women in the workforce. She speaks frequently to law schools and professional organizations around the country on issues facing solos, offering both practical knowledge and inspiration