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August 2007

July 2007

Growing Your Firm

We are in the middle of a growth spurt at our firm. My brother, Mark, an attorney with 18 years prior experience, joined the firm March 1st. Our very first virtual law clerk, Brian, is taking the Bar at the end of the month and will be joining the firm in early August. Soon, we will be three attorneys.

Adding lawyers has advantages and disadvantages. On the downside, you have to find and sustain a workload to keep everyone busy. On the upside, there are more workers to fill in the gaps and provide value to the clients. Overall, growth is likely inevitable for any successful practice.

Thus far, we are holding our own during this growth stage. While we have settled a large number of litigation cases, resulting in a bit of a slow down period, the revenue has been sufficient to sustain the monthly overhead. The best news is that we can make the contingency fee cases move forward much more easily than we could before. One attorney can get consumed by a single case or two relatively easily. Two attorneys provide flexibility. One attorney can work on the “pay now” cases, while the other fills in the gaps.

There is an old saying that true entrepreneurs are never comfortable with the current state of their business. They are always on edge. They have always overshot their means. Necessity requires them to push beyond their present capabilities, strategies and possibilities.

From the moment I opened this firm, I have entertained what most people thought to be absurd. I have challenged myself each moment to make the next thing happen. On many days, the firm’s very survival depended upon obtaining what seemed to many to be impossible.

What you always need to remember is that other peoples’ sense of what is and is not possible is oftentimes what keeps them in place. And then there are those who have already built their businesses and law firms. Many of those people don’t want to see you succeed. They have created a myth of sorts. They tell a tale about how difficult it is to do this or that. The myth helps them keep people in place. They want to make it seem harder than it really is.

So go out into the world and make something happen for yourself. Forget the naysayers for just a moment. Remember that anything is possible. You can make it happen . . .

Ruining It For The Rest Of Us.

It is interesting, signing up a new client. Some clients, typically the ones who don’t have a tremendous amount of experience with legal services, are easy to deal with in many ways.  They appreciate what you achieve for them as long as you set expectations up front.

But, sophisticated legal consumers already believe that an hour of attorney time offers little, if any, value. In fact, they don’t even think of value any more. They just want to keep the bill under control and do so by berating the attorney when a bill arrives. Oftentimes, they delay payment to send a message of disapproval.

Many companies have become as cynical as the lawyers who have served them through the years. Oftentimes, they have used a variety of counsel through the years. Promises are made at the beginning of the case, which, of course, turn out to be non-binding. Little is said. The hourly bills come in month after month. Things seem great for a while. But nothing seems to be achieved and the end zone, wherever it is, doesn’t show up anywhere on the upcoming calendar.

Many clients agree to walk away from the merits of their case halfway through, purely on the prospect of never-ending hourly fees. Nothing truly is gained. The client is lucky to have covered their costs. More often than not, they are staring at a $50,000 - $100,000 legal bill, scores of hours in litigation support, and little to show for it.

I have to say that one of the most difficult things is attracting new sophisticated clients. They are the hardest to deal with. I can talk value all day long, but they know nothing but hourly billing. Some are converted and become great clients, but some are so engrained in habit that every conversation seems to protect themselves against the monthly bill. They don’t talk value; they don’t see value.

Beware of the client that doesn’t enthusiastically embrace the projected bill on defined deliverables. A client that has been burned too many times may never get to the point of understanding that legal services can provide real value.