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Simple Tips For A Small Firm Owner

by Alexa Drago on May 4, 2015

By Guest Blogger, Catherine Chan
(reprinted from LawWeek, Feb 16, 2015)

CatherineSmall firm owners have to wear many hats, among them: business promoter, manager and senior attorney. Each of those roles requires the development and refinement of distinct skill sets.

In 2004 I began a solo practice specializing in immigration law. In 2010, I hired my first associate attorney. Since 2010, the firm has grown to include three active attorneys (including me), three paralegals and a receptionist. We strive to continue to grow our capacity to help more people.

Sometimes I’m asked by new attorneys to talk about my firm’s path and to offer tips for firm growth and development. The truth is that small firm ownership, management and development is not easy. Most small firm owners just went to law school; they lack an MBA. An MBA might help with the business side of things, but it is not required to apply some common-sense principles. Here are four top tips I’ve learned over the past ten years while developing a solo practice into a small firm.

First, everybody loves customer service. If you don’t feel a good communication with a prospective client, trust your gut. Don’t hire them. For the clients you do hire — it’s not just them hiring you — you must offer that constant winner: customer service.

Clients feel they receive good customer service when the people in your firm are happy to see them, glad they called and are eager to find a response to their important question. Customer service includes the aim of providing satisfaction to the client in their purchase of your legal services. Of course, a firm can’t guarantee results. It can, however, work passionately and competently for a client’s cause, case or position. A firm can prioritize client communication and listen to the client’s questions and concerns. At the end of the day, all our clients want to be heard. We win their  loyalty and referrals by graciously and faithfully complying with that request.

Second, hire and empower the best team of professionals available in the market that you can afford. As a small firm owner, you do not have the luxury of acting only as a senior associate in your firm. You have to concern yourself with the task of raising revenue to sustain the firm and to grow it. Therefore, you need key team players that are competent, motivated and able to deliver  consistent and accurate products.

The firm owner can and must do many things to support and maintain a great team. You must strive to provide a workplace that is relaxed, calm and supportive. You must provide your team with responsibility and challenges. This includes providing opportunities for their self-promotion and growth — you are well advised to encourage it and invest in that for your team members. A firm  can encourage its team’s growth and knowledge through providing and promoting a generous CLE budget, including for the support staff. The firm can allow for work-from-home opportunities,  mental health days and maternity and paternity time. The firm should encourage work-life balance in word and in deed. The firm should also create opportunities for advancement of  team-members as individuals and as ambassadors of the firm. The betterment of your team in practically any dimension adds measurable value to your firm. Individuals are motivated to succeed  and to shine and to grow. The firm always wins in turn. A good plan is to provide guidance and avenues for your team to succeed, attach recognition and reward and relax antiquated notions about productivity and value.

Third, identify your niche, study it and specialize. Firms can grow and add practice areas according to their goals and growth. It may be advisable, however, especially for small firms in the early stages of growth, to pick a niche and to specialize in that. Simply put, it’s easier to study one trade carefully than to attempt to study a few trades sporadically. Next, commit your intellect, passion and dedication to your expertise. Achievement and success are positively correlated with your commitment and devotion.

Fourth, you must passionately love and respect your firm and your practice. When you love something passionately, you are grateful for it, you are mindful of it, you pay it respect and admiration, you pay it kind and tender attention and you work to keep it and increase it in order to continue enjoying it.

If you are passionate about the law, you study it, you hold it in reverence, you strive at sharpening your skills, you accept challenge and responsibility and you positively promote your profession. Instilling passion in your work can affect the outcome of your cases and your practice — whatever your field, whomever your client, whatever the cause.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed trying to run a small firm. The world of unknowns, risks and fears looms large. But risk is inherent in business, and fear is not conducive to success. The unknown simply is waiting to be discovered. A small law firm filled with passionate professionals committed to their service and their trade stands poised to succeed in the
law and in business.

— Catherine Chan,cchan@chanimmigration.com

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