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A few weeks ago, we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of our law firm. It was a wonderful event with more than 100 of our friends and past clients. As I approached the stage to address the audience, I was overcome with nostalgia. How did we create this amazing and productive community of lawyers, legal assistants, support staff, and clients, all working together as one successful unit?
The synergy of the event was inspirational. I was proud to say the least. At that moment, I realized that I could do more. I believe there are far too few resources directly addressing the nonacademic trials and tribulations facing new and solo lawyers.
Whenever possible, I encourage up-and-comers and established attorneys to mentor the next generation of legal trail blazers. Insight from experienced attorneys provides the foundation for the lawyers of tomorrow. With that, here are 11 pieces of advice that I wish someone had given to me before I launched my own law firm.
1. Focus your ideas to a single, important area of passion.
You are not all things to all people. Decide on your niche, then narrow your focus and broaden your appeal. I decided to focus on one area of law from the start: immigration law. I didn’t know everything about immigration, but what I did know was that I wanted to become the ultimate expert in one area – and be the best at it. I was tempted to take other cases, but I stuck with only one. I wanted to own that space. If you don’t focus, you will never reach success.
2. Be yourself, be proud – and be original.
If your competitors are doing it, don’t. Stand out from an overcrowded marketplace where so much of the marketing and products look the same. When I started, every lawyer was advertising in the Yellow Pages, radio ads, and billboards. They landed clients from referrals and networking. I didn’t have the money or time to wait for clients, so I did what others refused to do. I decided to be the best lawyer on social media. I started a blog, a YouTube channel, and built the world’s largest Facebook community for lawyers. I engaged with clients, taught them about immigration, and spread free content. Why? Because no other lawyer did.
3. Build a team you trust, and do it early.
Don’t hire an employee to fill a position. Employ a person to be part of a team that will help to build your business. Make it your family. I hired my first employee within the first year of opening my law office. I couldn’t afford her. But I had the vision that if she helped me, I could do other things. She freed my mind and allowed me to leap to the next phase. Hire smart and trust your intuition.
4. Be responsive and over deliver – each and every time.
Time is the most precious commodity. When delivery is expected Friday, show up Thursday afternoon. Return calls and emails immediately. From the beginning, I made it a priority to be responsive and to always be available for my clients and my team. I have my emails connected to my phone, I use automated response systems, and I’m text friendly with my clients. The biggest complaint about lawyers is their lack of prompt communication. If you ignore your clients and prospects, you will fail.
5. Say thank you. And say it a lot. (And actually mean it.)
Tell your clients and employees how much you appreciate them. Better yet, do it the old fashioned way: take pen to paper and write them a note, send cookies, give more time off, hug them, and be sincere in showing your appreciation for them. Be kind to your team and clients, and you will create a law firm that is also a family. Who doesn’t want to come back to a family every day?
6. Always be consistent.
Make sure your law firm has a consistent look and feel. A client must get the same flavor from everyone within your organization. Always. We emphasize the importance of our receptionist answering the phone the same way every day, every time. We make sure the lawyers treat the clients the same way, email them consistently, and update them the same way every time. Consistency is powerful.
7. Be helpful. Give first and ask later.
Don’t ever hard sell. Instead, solve problems. Satisfy wants. Do what is truly best for your client. Instead of selling legal services, we started being useful. We gave away tons of content for free, such as videos, podcasts, articles, and iTunes applications. If our clients could benefit from it, we provided it. This is backdoor marketing, and it is incredibly useful.
8. Break out of your comfort zone.
Never accept the idea that this is the way you’ve always done it, so it has to be the right way to do it. Don’t accept that a new ideaor technology could never work for you. We try new things all the time, such as podcasting, video productions using iPhones, mentoring, learning how to edit images for our Facebook page, and starting a new blog. When you stop being innovative, you will stop growing – and your firm will start declining.
9. Plan ahead for financing.
How will you finance your business growth plans for 2015? If you can’t fund growth from profits, investigate options for outside financing, such as loans. Track spending and plan smart for any future advertising and promotions. Law firms fail because of poor budgeting. We track and use analytics for finances on a weekly basis, and we always know what comes in and what comes out. Tracking weekly reports of money is a key factor in the growth of any law firm.
10. Build relationships and your platform from day one.
If you don’t have an audience and a support network, you will not build a business. Start building an email list right away. Begin connecting with your peers and referral sources online. Be helpful and provide value all the time, without giving a second thought to selling. Start thinking about a lead generation system early in the process, so you can capture every lead. We set up systems to obtain email addresses from site visitors, and we use a monthly email newsletter to connect with our list. We engage with our Facebook visitors every day, and we respond to tweets and Instagram messages. Never stop building relationships. Your best clients come from people who trust and follow you.
Bonus Tip: Remember to smile.
Ditch the theory that people hire you because of price, product quality, or the law school you attended. They hire you because they like you. People buy from people they like and trust. Be friendly and helpful. Smile a lot. Ask clients about their family, kids, and problems. Remember names, events, and milestones. Be comforting and compassionate, and let your kindness move someone. Simply put, show people you care.
There’s a quote that I’ve come to love, and it is this: “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.” You hold the power to do anything you want to do. Reach for greatness and don’t be afraid to take chances. Break outside of your comfort zone and bring an element of humanity to everything you do. Before you know it, you will be writing your own piece called “10 Things I Learned About Building a Successful Law Firm in 10 Years.”