One of the many things I have learned as a result of starting my own law firm is that one of the most important questions every law firm should be asking is how many clients they want at any one time. At every other law firm I have worked, and every other hourly billing law firm I have worked, my overall workload was generally one and a half to two times what could reasonably be handled on a task basis. By task basis, I mean that I had enough time to manage the cases by identifying client goals, obtaining necessary information, and providing recommendations to the clients about strategy and budgets. Perhaps most importantly I mean actively putting a fully documented strategy in place and managing the virtual workers, and the clients to execute the strategy with me.
My law firm has exploded these last six months. I still am signing up something between two and five new clients every week off the Internet. Some of them are five figure to six figure clients but my local business all of a sudden has exploded. I must now be on the appropriate level of local consciousness, that people are thinking of me first when they need a lawyer. This includes other lawyers in town as well as the community at large.
This is a bit strange since I’ve done almost nothing locally to grow my practice. My practice has become regional, national and on the domain issues, international. Now, all of a sudden, people are calling and knocking on my door at a rate that I quite simply cannot handle.
I have my brother Mark joining me in less than thirty days. He’s an attorney with twenty years experience. That is going to be welcome reinforcements. My law clerk that’s been with me for two years graduates in and begins employment in May. He will be a welcome reinforcement as well.
But here is my point. I now have the same feeling in my gut I had when I worked for those traditional hourly billing firms where I knew I could not provide true service and value to each and every client. For the first year and a half, I have largely felt like I can provide legal advice in a relaxed and managed manner. My client base was always within ten to fifteen percent of optimal. Now, my client base is at least two times optimal. And I know it. I can see on the ground the difference between how I was managing cases with less clients, than I am able to do now. I have been apologizing to my clients and letting them know about the reinforcements that are coming. They have been very understanding thus far.
Having seen both sides of the practice, I have to say that one of the most fundamental flaws of hourly billing firms is the propensity to attempt to service more clients than is reasonably possible. Their drive to ensure that every hour of everyday is billable creates a mandate that everyone needs to be "choking on the fire hose." When firm business is down lawyers don’t know what do. Many just kick back and relax, try not to say anything that would trigger the next avalanche of workload. Others go out and try to drive new business.
This moment of relaxation where you are not under any stress to have something out by noon is the time during which a lawyer can really be a lawyer. Firms need to be encouraging those necessary gaps in workload where goals can be defined and strategies can be set and executed.
In order to do this, law firms will have to accept less hourly revenue. There will be many days when lawyers are going to spend five or six hours doing other tasks which feed into client service. Law firms are welcome to charge more by the hour in order to make up for this revenue. Clients would not mind paying more dollars for less hours that are more strategic.
I am so looking forward to having additional lawyers arrive at the firm. I desperately want to get back to that point where I can pick up the phone and call a client just to find out how they are doing. I look forward to the day when I can contact the client just to see how the last project we completed was working out. I know that my clients want this as well.