This is the next post in my discussion on why attorneys should start their own law firm in 2015. My last article looked at why the state of the legal profession necessitates the starting of one’s own firm. I’m going to use this article to look at a big mistake that many attorneys make when starting up – the failure to leverage their most valuable asset. Wondering what the most valuable asset is in any new law firm, regardless of the practice area? Take a look in the mirror and you’ll see your most valuable asset looking back at you, just like this guy is doing:

Man looking in a mirror

You’ve got it. Your most valuable asset is…….YOURSELF! Many attorneys have traditionally been able to get by without leveraging their own efforts and abilities. As I mentioned in my last article, however, the legal profession is changing quickly and a great number of lawyers are finding themselves left behind. This is something that is already happening. Over the last year I’ve been having an increasing number of attorneys call to inquire about our lawyer website design services who tell me about how they have traditionally done fairly well but that their firm is now failing. The best advice for any attorney starting his or her own firm is to understand the value of your own abilities and that you can unlock that value by leveraging your abilities properly. Let’s take a look at what this means.

Attorneys unlock the value of their abilities by doing things for themselves

You’re starting your new law firm. You have no money, no clients, no reputation, no contacts or referral sources, and……….well, nothing of value to your office. This can, and should, leave you nervous and biting your nails just like this woman:

Woman biting her nails

You need to get as much value as you can out of the one thing that you own – yourself. You do this by doing things for yourself rather than making the common mistake of thinking that you need to have things done for you by others. This is a mistake I see new firms making all the time. Here are some common examples of this mistake:

  • New lawyers with no clients hire a part-time employee (sometimes a relative) to help answer the phones, file documents, etc., even though the lawyer has few, if any, clients
  • New lawyers often hire a third-party service, such as Ruby Receptionist, to answer their phones rather than taking their own calls directly
  • Many attorneys starting up try get an intern or contract with a law student to assist them with drafting motions, etc.
  • Many pay others to draft website content, such as blog posts, for them rather than doing it themselves

I see new firms doing these types of things all the time even though they literally don’t have clients or work to do. This means that the lawyer is twiddling their thumbs while others are doing his or her work for them at a cost. Gee…….I just can’t figure out why many new firms have difficulty building up some working capital in the operating account.

When you’re just starting out then, with the exception of a runner service, you need to be doing things for yourself. I understand why many start-ups feel they need these services/assistance. One feels that they just started, clients are going to come rolling in, and they’re going to be so busy building their empire that they need this help. The problem is that such thinking is putting the cart before the horse. Many lawyers who take this approach find, after time, that they don’t have an empire, they don’t have as much money as they want, and they feel as if they are struggling to get their practice out of first gear. These struggles can often be traced back to not leveraging themselves in the beginning, both for the reasons explained above as well as the reasons explained below. Want your new firm to be successful? Then roll up your sleeves and be prepared to do the dirty work.

Lawyers who do things for themselves will have a more efficient law office in the future

Nothing kills a law firm’s profits like having employees and staff who do things improperly and inefficiently. It’s your job, as the boss, to make sure people are doing things correctly. So ask yourself the following question – how are you going to train and supervise people in tasks that you haven’t performed, on a regular basis, yourself? The answer is that you’re not. I’ve consulted with a number of firms that have a history of having employees “figure things” out that the attorney doesn’t know how to do. This can include administrative office tasks, legal tasks, as well as other things which come up around the office. This creates a situation where the employee comes to them and say that “task X” was completed in two hours but the attorney has no frame of reference for knowing if that was a reasonable amount of time for it to be completed. If you think you’re going to be profitable without a deep and hands on understanding of what your employees do then you’re about as right as this person’s math skills:

woman with bad math skills

Want to be the successful attorney that people look up to? Then you need to be hands on and understand that you are going to leverage your own skills and abilities. Consider the following if you’re just starting out:

  • There should never be an administrative task performed in the office that you haven’t performed yourself at some point
  • When a new legal issue comes up, you should be the one research it and write the brief, don’t try to outsource it
  • You should be writing your own content for your blog and not outsourcing it

Why do you feel so many attorneys try to leverage others before they leverage themselves? Chime in through the comment form below.