Lifestyle Law Firms

Kathy Fortin

January 29, 2018

Many small laws firms are uniquely “lifestyle firms.” The characteristics are as varied as each of the firm’s founders. One firm may choose to run an office where casual attire and a dog or cat in residence is normal, while others might be more formal. Many lawyers appreciate and enjoy the benefits they derive from spending their professional life in an office that provides a work-life balance.

A lifestyle law firm does have its drawbacks. Despite hard work by lawyers and staff, a casual approach to management of finances and staff can take its toll. It is easy to understand how this occurs. A starting solo practitioner soon develops the need for a legal assistant. The client list grows, something every lawyer wants, and then the need for paralegal help or an associate develops. The firm may expand to several lawyers and paralegals, a receptionist and a bookkeeper. If regard for systems and procedures has been loosely attended to, what results are inefficiencies, loss of productivity and missed opportunities for profit.

Often, after years of stumbling along, many firms realize their relaxed approach to the office or law firm has resulted in a lax approach to management and planning, goal setting and attention to financial issues. Such actions result in a firm that is not reaping the desired rewards from everyone’s contributions. The approach has affected revenue generation and lost productivity. In our consulting work, we hear many founders say they have known for some time they needed to tighten up their methods. The admission usually comes in this form. “I am working harder than ever and so is everyone else, but the bottom line is still the same.”

We provide this advice:

“While a lifestyle firm may have advantages, it still requires strategic planning. Taking an organized approach to management practices, such as financial goal-setting, tracking financials monthly and communication with everyone in the firm is vital.”  The idea is that everyone has their eye on the same goals and do everything in their role to reach the goals set.

Our advice to small firms wanting to do better, whether financially or managerially, includes the following:

  1. Develop productivity goals and expectations for everyone in the firm. Most employees desires to know what is expected of them. Human nature makes us want to strive to meet expectations.
  2. Establish written policies. An Employee Manual and Office Procedures Manual are invaluable. Theses tools make it easier for new employees to assimilate and reflect that the firm is paying attention to its employees and values an employee’s need to know how things are done.
  3. Attend to firm revenues. Assess how the firm can do better in such areas as billing, collections, pricing of services, etc. A few tweaks can result in new profits.
  4. How well does the firm want to do? Set a number and create projections, starting with the goal and then what it takes for everyone to meet it.
  5. Hold regular meetings with all firm members and communicate with them on important firm issues.

 

These are some of the more common areas where firms can make improvements that will benefit lawyers and staff. Law firms with relaxed cultures can be great places to work. Providing excellent client service can result in the all-important employee satisfaction. Yet, remember, the small law office is a business and requires attention to certain business principles.