The Importance of Long Term Goals for Your Practice

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Most solo attorneys operate with the business mantra of “just keep the lights on this month.” That’s a good place to start, but you need to set your goals higher.

Think about what you want your practice to be in a year, or two years, or hopefully ten.

If you start planning now, you’re 100% more likely to have the practice you want.

Don’t cheap out on equipment, hardware, etc.

I already wrote about the concept of spending money to make money. When you are investing in the physical components of your practice, don’t cheap out. When you are starting out, you want to make sure that purchases make sense, but you should not use that as a crutch or excuse to be cheap all the time.

For example, you’re planning on starting a firm and believe you need a new laptop. First of all, decide if you actually need a new laptop, or if you just want one. If it’s the latter, save the money and use it on something else important. Like a desk that doesn’t look like you found it on the street.

Assuming you actually need a new computer, look for something that fits your needs (not your wants) and should last for at least 2-3 years. Frankly, that’s on the low end, but that should be a minimum. If you have bad eyesight and need a larger screen, but it costs an extra $200, spend the extra $200.

I’ve seen new attorneys make that mistake, under the assumption of “well, in six months I’ll have enough money to buy the computer I really want.” First of all, in six months you will probably be more cash strapped than you are now. Second, what a terrible investment. Don’t spend $800 on a computer you will use for 6 months, when you could spend $1,000 for a computer you could use for 2-3 years.

Networking means establishing relationships, not having lunch once

Full disclaimer: there are plenty of people that I’ve had lunch with once. It happens. But the goal for meeting someone for lunch is to develop a long-term relationship, not just hitting them up once for business. I hate it when people do that. Roy hates it when people do that. It’s bad networking.

Whatever system you use for practice management, make networking part of that system. Make a reminder to follow up with someone in a few months. Even if the first time you had lunch was a painful bore, professional relationships (like any other relationship) usually take some time to build. Some of my most trusted colleagues are people that I thought were jerks or total zeros the first time I met them.

Here’s a great example: not thanking referral sources. It takes approximately 3 minutes to write a thank you letter or card. I do my best to keep a list of people I need to thank. When I have some free time, I write out a few thank you’s. When I’m on my game, I will send it within a day or two of receiving the referral—so the attorney will actually remember what I’m talking about.

To be fair, I send referrals to other attorneys because I think they are good attorneys. I don’t take referral fees and I don’t always get thank you cards. But chances are, that attorney expressed gratitude on more than one occasion in the past.

Make time to develop your preferred/ideal/desired practice area

I can think of at least fifteen reasons why you should not take any potential case that walks in the door. Here are a few off the top of my head: you might not be competent to handle the matter, you will spend way too much time trying to become competent, you will lose focus on developing your actual practice area of _________, you might be too busy handling an oddball case to take a case that you can and want to actually handle.

Of course, you have to keep the lights on. But running around handling seventeen different practice areas will ultimately result in a strange and probably unsustainable practice.

If your goal is to do estate planning but you need to handle DUI’s for now, then figure out a way to make time for estate planning. Maybe you want to pick up one client a month or slowly work on an estate planning blog. The important part is that dedicate time towards it. And the more, the better.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/3137422976/)

Practice Management

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  • Thomas Seeley

    Thank you for this, particularly the part about not taking every case that walks in the door. My former boss used to warn me about succumbing to what he called ‘Thursday Afternoon Syndrome.’ I recall the first time he described this ailment to me a few weeks after he had assigned me to defend a client in an obviously frivolous matter. I complained loudly as to why any lawyer in their right mind would take such a case. He warned me that it is very easy to take a accept business a Thursday afternoon when the client is willing to pay up front, you know you have to make payroll the next week, and haven’t had any money come in the door yet that week.

    I’d like to say I have not been afflicted with this malady, but if I’m being honest, I would have to admit that I have not had any bad strands of it, as of yet!