Have you ever heard the phrase “work on your business not in it?” I’ll explain more about this concept below, but I want to start by saying that for a lot of lawyers calling a law firm a business is a big taboo.
Why is it such a no-no for us to admit that practicing law is a business? Our clients pay us plenty of money, so it’s not an optics problem. Clearly, they’re aware that we’re in it to make a living and not out of the kindness of our hearts. So why is calling it a business so bad?
As I see it, in any business there are two major aspects, “making the widget” and “working on the widget business.” In this case “practicing law” and “working on your business.” Working on the business could include the mechanics of running the firm but it can also include generating work. For most of us, especially the small firm owner, you can’t shovel coal if there is no coal to shovel. Further, you can’t do the work of practicing law if there is no one there to reconcile the IOLTA account, run payroll or send out bills at the end of the month. There is practicing law and there is everything else that they don’t teach you in law school. Yet, they’re inextricably linked.
I do think many attorneys spend the lion’s share of their time practicing law, a tiny portion of their time on the practice, and an even smaller sliver of time trying to improve it. However, not spending any time on the law practice can cause the system to suffer. I love talking about law firm management with other law firm owners. Some practitioners I meet have not updated their phone system in 20 years, and they’re still sending faxes through an antiquated fax machine. When we fail to update our infrastructure and work on our business, that hurts productivity. Moreover, it is commonly accepted in the business world that creating efficient processes leads to an increase in the bottom line.
Although we are used to thinking about legal processes, it is less common that lawyers consider business processes. Lately, I have been trying to embrace this new concept by making an effort to streamline different processes in my office such as the phone intake, the initial client conference, job interviews and onboarding new employees. More streamlined processes lead to predictability for employees, which sets them up for success. Predictability leads to efficiency, and efficiency leads to an increase in the bottom line.
How can you be more mindful of improving your business? What processes have you put into place in your practice that have either improved the quality of your work or increased your bottom line? Send me an email and let me know ([email protected])! I would love to hear from you.
Jessica Markham is the owner of Markham Law Firm, a family law firm in Bethesda.