Busy Times Could Mean Diminishing Returns….What Are You gonna do About It?

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The phone is ringing, you have to be in court in 10 minutes, your secretary is preparing a motion that has to be filed today and you’re in the dog house because you told your wife you have to work for the 5th Saturday in a row just to keep your head above water. This is the not so atypical day of a solo practitioner. In tough economic times, lawyers often find themselves with an onslaught of new business. Misery begets misery. When people go broke, they get divorced, file bankruptcy and get behind the wheel after a few too many drinks, aggravating your already dizzying schedule. Plus, as the holiday season winds through, consumers are miraculously propelled to execute those resolutions that were left over from last New Years. Suddenly, it seems like you need an extra 50 hours per week (and a bigger lobby) to handle the increase in business. Is it a blessing or a curse?
Conceptually, more business seems like a great idea. In reality, more business is only as good as your ability to absorb it. If business increases disproportionately to your ability and willingness to scale your resources, the blessing of increased business is a curse in disguise. What seems like the makings of a lucrative year, can actually be the precipitant of harder work with less profit. Growing your law practice does not mean that you have to be miserable. As a small business owner, you must identify tools and approaches to scale your law practice, while maintaining a balance in life. So, here is the first suggestion in a three part series on How to Achieve Quality of Life While You Scale Your Law Business:

1) You’re not the best at everything – Too many lawyers follow the adage, “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.” In fact, the most successful business people and lawyers (and even politicians) are those who are able to identify their own limitations and seek out people and solutions to address them. Be open to the possibility that your internal process for delivering your core service could be done more efficiently and productively. Be open to ideas that your staff has to streamline processes and allow them to take tedious tasks off your plate. Further, seek out third party providers who are in the business of delivering business processes at a fixed price. These fixed price services, like legal process outsourcing, are easy for you to evaluate, reduce the time necessary to manage a huge staff and only thrive by identifying the most efficient and high-quality way of delivering the service. Let someone else do the work so you can get to sleep at night.

Part II

Earlier this week I provided my thoughts in the first of a three-part series on avoiding diminishing returns during an uptick in business. In my post I stressed the importance of identifying aspects of your business process that you can outsource to fix your costs and reduce your work. But, there are other ways to ease the pain and strain of increased business so n an increase in business doesn’t drive you or your business to the edge.
So, here is my second tip in the three-part series:

Embrace technology – Many lawyers fail to utilize technology to create efficiencies in their practices simply because they are intimated by it. You should embrace technology. You might have to spend a few extra hours getting up to speed on how to use another web application, but that extra time now can save you dozens of hours per month later, enabling you to grow your client base and revenue without sleeping in the doghouse. Identify the least efficient and most time-consuming parts of the delivery of your core service and find technologies to streamline those processes. If you find that processing and sending mail out on a daily basis is taking a huge amount of staff time, then look into mailing equipment. If you find that you are a slow typist, research a good voice recognition software to speed you up. I could make a list of many more, but you get the idea. Technology is your friend…treat it like one.
Stay tuned for part three in the series on how to prevent the increase in business from diminishing your returns.

Part III

Over the last week I have suggested that by embracing technology and outsourcing you can insulate yourself from diminishing returns in the midst of an influx of business. Here is part III in my three part series on how to keep your head above water when business is great:

Under-promise and over-deliver – When you are overwhelmed with work you need to set expectations accordingly. Don’t tell your client that you can have the documents done in three days, even you think you can have them done by then. Tell your client five days. Then when you deliver the documents in three days, you look like a rock star. Generally, clients don’t care when you say you will deliver your work product. They only care when you don’t deliver your work product when you said you were going to. Set rules for you and your staff on when particular types of legal work will be turned around and what should be communicated to clients. As work picks up, you can easily change what you communicate to clients, giving you and your staff some more leeway to work in a little work-life balance. Keeping you and your staff motivated and energized during peak periods, reduces burnout, prevents turnover, and provides a great environment in which to scale your business.

If you truly want to scale your law practice, you have to remember that you are a business person as well as a lawyer. You have to be proactive in identifying solutions to problems, especially those problems that jeopardize your ability to grow your business. When you’re so busy that you are suffering diminishing returns, you must use technology, processes and approaches to take advantage of peak periods to set the plate for when business lulls.

The Total Practice Management Association (Total PMA) is dedicated to the advancement of Solicitors, Legal Executives, Paralegals and other legal support staff in their struggle to build and manage a profitable practice without sacrificing their personal life.

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