Columbus, Ohio –
As I write this it is 9:45 pm on New Years Eve. My fiancée is working, and my plan is to stay in. I have poured a small bourbon (neat).
Since 2019 is nearing an end I wanted to provide you all with some insight into my first year (okay 7 months, but who’s counting) of law practice management. In May of 2019 I decided to take the plunge into solo life after 5 years at a law firm. The law work itself has not changed much, but everything else has. My responsibilities have changed. I wear all the hats now. I also find that I work no more, I am much happier, and I have not gone broke.
I would like to share with you 5 law practice management decisions that worked in 2019 and 5 regrets:
5 Key Decisions in 2019
1) Going solo
Well, this is an easy one. In 2019, I decided to open my own personal injury law firm. My new solo practice has benefited me financially and emotionally. Although there have been some struggles (it is not all roses) I could not be happier with my decision heading into 2020. I find that I have more motivation, I care more about my clients and my cases, and I have less stress and drama to deal with (less – it is still there). Financially, my firm has turned a small profit in just 7 months with future growth expected.
2) Keeping Overhead Low
I scrimped and saved before starting my firm and I have been very frugal thus far. I am not stressed about money because my overhead is so low. I really searched to find the lowest cost office space (accounting for location and condition), equipment, and office supplies. I have delayed hiring staff (though I anticipate doing so in 2020) and upgrading in some areas until necessary. None of my clients have been disappointed upon seeing my office. The space is professional, recently renovated, well maintained, and perfect for my needs.
3) Opening a Business Credit Card
Although I had savings, I did not want to go spending it all. So, yes, I have borrowed some money in 2019. One of the things I did right before opening my doors was to obtain credit from a local credit union. The interest rate is low and I have personal contact with my banker. She went to my ribbon cutting event and sent me a holiday card (I was touched). I did not need all the credit, but it was nice to know it was there and that someone had me covered while my expenses exceeded revenue in the short term.
4) Using a Co-Working Space
Okay, I already mentioned my office. But, I did not tell you that it is a co-working space. Yes, you can do it too! It works, even for lawyers. There are some pros and cons, but overall, my choice of office space was the best decision that I made in 2019. Why? Because the cost is low and the resources provided are high. I have a reception area, a private office with a door and a window (a first for me! I was so excited), multiple bathrooms, kitchenette, 2 conference rooms, mail, utilities, janitorial services, and high-speed internet all included in my rent. Sure, I could have worked from home, but I would not have the same productivity or peace of mind. Plus, I have a place to meet clients!
5) Getting a Virtual Receptionist
I was not sure if I should hire someone part time to help me out or do ALL of the work myself. I did it all at first. And it was possible, but tough. I found that I wasted a lot of time answering the phone. I got a lot of sales calls. These were distractions that cost me hours of work time. Eventually I saw no choice but to get some help. I had heard of virtual receptionists, and I decided to try one out with a free trial. *Whew* I am glad I did! That same day, I experienced a wave of relief wash over me. I was going out of town to NYC for a week, and I was so stressed about work. But, knowing that someone was taking my calls was a huge relief.
5 Regrets in 2020
1) Using Google Ads
I have lost more money than I care to admit with google ads. I hired someone for a couple of months and have managed a google ads account on my own. However, I have not retained a single client from google ads. I should note that I have not given up entirely on google. I plan to implement a new strategy in 2020. I will keep you updated.
2) Major Life Events
I rescued two adorable black lab mix puppies and proposed to my then-girlfriend all in the same month of opening my doors. Wow! What was I thinking? Each of these were wonderful events, but I regret that they all occurred simultaneously. This put a lot of pressure on me in the first days and weeks of practice. I worked from home a lot to care for the pups, and this decreased productivity and caused some resentment. Don’t make the same mistake I did!
3) Not Networking Enough
I networked a ton in 2019. More than I had in the previous 5 years of law practice at my old firm. But, I regret not making more networking calls to other lawyers and other professionals. I regret not setting up more networking coffees and lunches. It is tough to make room for networking. As an introvert, it is emotionally/physically draining at times. But, this is the number one way to bring in new business as a solo practitioner, and it’s not even close. It is low cost. It only costs my time and occasionally buying lunch or coffee. And, I get a lot out of it. Networking has been the most reliable source of new business.
4) Not Enough Blogging and Social Media Work
If the number one source of new business has been networking, the number two has been social media. Again, it is low cost. Mostly just your time. I have dabbled in Facebook Ads, without much return. But, regular social media activity has produced clients. My friends and family are my champions, so of course they want to help me by referring clients. But, without a social media presence they may forget what I do. They may not realize that their friend/coworker/client needs my help. With a social media presence, I am top of mind with my champions. And I am gaining more impressions and actions from people who did not know me before I started my law firm. I recently hired someone to manage my social media accounts. I will keep you updated on the results.
5) Not Sticking to a Schedule
I am a type B personality. Prior to starting my firm, I never had my day planned out. Now that I am on my own, it is more important than ever that I plan my time. I find that without a good to-do list and a schedule I am completely lost in the wind. This never happened at my old firm. I showed up to work, I was told what I needed to do, and I did it. But now I need to figure out what needs to be done, and more importantly when it needs to be done and in what order. Planning, lists, schedules, accountability, and reassessment are essential.
I hope you enjoyed my article. Reach out to me if you want to share ideas about law practice management or if you have any personal injury referrals.