Guess what lawyers, you are not just in the practice of law; you are also in the business of legal services. And I don’t mean that “the business of law” is pejorative or runs afoul with our professional rules of responsibility, which include the duties of loyalty, communication, financial integrity, confidentiality, diligence, competence, honesty and fairness. Lawyers usually think that, at the forefront, they need to be analytical and provide great advocacy, research and investigative skills. While all lawyers should have the 10 MacCrate Skills1 posted on their desks, lawyers also need to think about themselves as a small business and think about how to have long term successful working relationships with clients and how to attract the crème de la crème clients as well. Lawyers know that we can discriminate in selecting clients that we take on, so why not work to find and retain clients who appreciate our services for the long haul. Here are 7 habits of highly effective lawyers who run their practice like a business:
1) Good web presence. Your fancy degrees in your office may rarely get seen by anyone but your coworkers, so make sure your website and social media stay up to date with all of your achievements. If you can’t toot your own horn, no one else will either.
2) Maintaining your web presence. Downtime at work while waiting for clients to get back to you with information that you need to start billing should not be spent online gaming or shopping. Instead, write an article or blog post, ask for a testimonial/review from your client, reach out to a person/entity you are interested in working for and maintain that connection, peruse business/networking events for one to attend, use a connecting app to meet a new connection, check in with old clients/friends whom you haven’t spoken to in a while. All of the above are marketing types of activities that help you find 1 The Ten MacCrate skills include, the importance of solving your clients’ problems, legal analysis, legal research, factual investigation, communication, counseling, negotiating, litigation and alternative dispute resolution knowledge, organizational and managerial skills and recognizing issues and resolving them.
and meet new clients or get additional work from previous ones whom you like working for.
3) Get AV Rated or apply for SuperLawyers or another attorney award. When potential clients look you up, they like to see awards. Go to Martindale Hubbell, SuperLawyers, Top 10 Verdicts, etc. websites and fill out the applications or read the instructions on how you can get the awards or ratings. Then make an announcement in your newsletter, update social media and post the logo on your bio.
4) Networking is not a bad word. Every lawyer had to pass the bar, which took a lot of focused determination and introversion. Try turning that around to determined extroversion. Entrepreneurs have to have an elevator pitch and go to regular pitch and industry events. If you can’t make yourself be social at least once a week or something more than what you are already doing and, gosh forbid, go out and have fun, with a drink and talk to people, then your small business would fail.
5) Diversification is not just for investing. We all remember from our bar class when learning about trusts and estates that it’s best to diversify. Your time is like that too. You can’t just sit at your desk all day drafting letters and motions, unless you want to maintain associate or contract attorney status. You need to spend your time talking to people and building relationships, offering volunteering or pro bono work and creating content for your web presence. Rather than just writing, try shooting a video about the legal issue that you called about the most. Point new people to that video to save you time and save that potential client money on legal fees. They will likely appreciate the gesture and end up hiring you when they need real help.
6) Be more like your favorite business in pricing and refunds. If a client complains, do you act like some overseas call center personnel and hang up, do you say, “that’s too bad,” like you work at an airport retailer, or do you offer to make it right? Do you aim to offer a client satisfaction guarantee? Understandably, that’s almost impossible sometimes, but do you spin the goal of client satisfaction in a way that at least makes you someone your client will want to refer future business? Clients can be difficult, crazy, annoying and inconsistent, but try to think of yourself as the CEO of Zappos, who wrote the book, Delivering Happiness.
7) Team spirit. Do not treat people who work with you like they merely work at the same firm, rather, you work for the same team! I could not believe that I met a paralegal who said that her firm brought in expert coaches to teach only the “lowly” support staff how to deal with difficult people, and the lawyers did not have to participate! You can be both a zealous advocate and be professional to work with. Condescending, bullying and nastiness should be taken up with your therapist, not your colleagues. Finally, hazing stopped in college, grow up and treat younger lawyers with respect. High turnover rates do not help out your clients or your practice.
In conclusion, lawyers need to think about how they operate in a small business sense. Rather than watching an episode of Suits, try working on some of these tips in your free time to see an improvement in your professional life.
Suzanne Raina Natbony is a third generation lawyer, licensed in California, and practices in the areas of entertainment and healthcare law, with a private practice at the international law firm, Aliant LLP. She is also General Counsel of Beverly Hills Rejuvenation Center, a multistate franchising medical spa, with headquarters in Los Angeles and CEO of two startup companies, LawTake and Think Do It.