It’s the time of year for New Year’s resolutions. Well, since this comes out in mid-January, it is the time when many New Year’s resolutions have already been made and broken. But with the new year ahead, it is an appropriate time to reflect on your law firm and the goals you have for the year. So instead of calling your plans for the year resolutions, let’s frame this discussion as goal setting. If you really want to be effective at setting goals, enlist others in your project, and set a review date a few months down the road to see how you’re doing on your plans partway through the year.
Rather than drafting goals for you, we will cover some broad areas so you can create your own law firm’s goals for the new year.
MARKETING AND CLIENT DEVELOPMENT
Marketing and client development, for most law firms, is an ongoing process. It seems like you have to market all the time because the return on lawyer marketing efforts is often more long term than immediate.
We will assume for the purposes of this article that you have the basics down. You have a law firm website that directs others to your physical office, provides the law firm phone number and lists some areas of law of your normal practice. We assume you have claimed the Google My Business profile for your current address, and we assume you have invested time in training your staff how to positively deal with potential new clients who call.
This year, consider adding to your client outreach efforts by selecting a few targets for individual, one-on-one focus. Who is your ideal potential client? Design your marketing efforts to appeal to that client profile. For firms representing primarily individual clients and fewer long-term clients, target your best sources of referrals. Given the last couple of years, you may not have had as much personal contact with some of your good referral sources as you previously would have enjoyed. Invite them to lunch as a thank you, but also ask how you can help them with the clients they send now. Maybe a brochure or something similar would be helpful – perhaps they just need some of your business cards. You never know unless you ask.
Determine your goals for client development for the year. Maybe you’ll have lunch with a referral source every month, or maybe something else entirely works better for your practice. Other items to consider include freshening up your law firm website and posting new content, working on an improved social media strategy, reviewing the thank you letter you send to those who refer cases to the firm or other actions.
Nobody likes to make a mistake. Lawyers, by our nature, are often critical of even the smallest mistake. But sometimes, it is OK to dwell on the past and look at previous shortcomings. With the legal profession, if a mistake is made, we tend to focus on fixing it. When that is done, however, there is more work waiting for you. Look at your lowest moments in the past year and see if some changes should be made to prevent the problem from cropping up in the future. Hopefully, there were few low points.
It takes a bit of courage but asking a sample of your clients (after the representation is concluded) what they thought of your services and where you could have improved will provide you with information that is literally unattainable anywhere else. If you don’t have a mechanism now for obtaining client feedback, you should strongly consider adding that to your list of goals for the year, even if it’s just simply having your staff call 10% of clients a month after their file closes to see if they will agree to a short interview about their experiences as a client. Simply ask a former client what the best and worst things were about the firm’s representation in their matter. Most will appreciate that you asked.
COPING WITH CHANGING TIMES
A profession that is guided by legal precedent from the past has sometimes proven to be challenged by dealing with rapidly changing circumstances in the world today. Some very large law firms have even hired directors of innovation to push their firm forward with needed changes. There is significant agreement that there are generational differences in how individuals respond to certain marketing outreaches.
Precedent and inertia are powerful influences to keep things at the status quo; however, every type of business today, including law firms, is dealing with rapid change. Reflecting on where you want your practice to be at the end of the year and after five years is a good way to prioritize what changes you want to approach first. Many individuals now expect more and different things in client services from every professional service provider. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this space, you may really hate videoconferencing after the last two years, but you may have some clients who would greatly appreciate not having to drive to your office for short meetings or who still have concerns about in-person meetings.
A PRE-YEAR-END CHECKLIST FOR SOLOS AND SMALL FIRMS
Attorney Megan Zavieh shares some ideas in “A Pre-Year-End Checklist for Solos and Small Firms,” posted on the website Attorney at Work. Although the author focuses on limiting ethical risks, her sample list of key business areas and suggestions for reviewing are useful for any type of solo and small law firm business reassessment, from financial planning to improving client services. If you have never done a review of your business operations, Ms. Zavieh’s short outline is an excellent starting place.
ABOUT LAW OFFICE TECHNOLOGY
Proper use of technology can yield great benefits. Your staff has likely communicated to you what hardware should be replaced, but technology is not always a solution to every problem. Many law firms invest in the proper technology but then fail by not providing appropriate training for the staff and lawyers on how to get the most benefit out of the technology.
If everyone in the office is working on old computers with delays, crashes and other problems, the firm clearly needs to consider investing more in its technological tools. Inexpensive computers have about a three-year lifespan before their performance starts diminishing. More expensive computers can go a bit longer. Contact the OBA Management Assistance Program staff for assistance with law office technology information.
IMPROVING THE CLIENT EXPERIENCE
Lawyers focus on the legal issues about their clients’ matters, justifiably so. But as many have observed, what causes clients to return for more legal services or to refer your law firm to their friends and acquaintances is often not so much the result but how the clients feel they were treated during the representation.
Invest some time in examining the client experience you provide and improving it. Do you provide appropriate handouts? Many individuals prefer to watch videos instead of reading text. While I haven’t seen it happen extensively yet, I still believe it will be common in the near future for law firms to have a library of videos recorded by lawyers in the firm. These videos will explain simple, legal concepts about representation and will be hidden behind a firewall and reserved only for the law firm’s clients. A few years ago, that would have cost many thousands of dollars to produce. Now, almost every lawyer carries a mobile phone capable of recording high-quality videos. This does not mean that everyone can record professional-quality videos with their phone. Proper attention to good audio and appropriate lighting is critical. Just remember, there’s no such thing as a great video with the sound so weak you can’t understand it without effort.
We all appreciate what we like when we are receiving professional services from another. Being on time for client appointments, avoiding interruptions during a conference with a client and giving clients plenty of time to ask all their questions are great starting points for good client relations.
Some law firms are providing extras that clients do not expect and therefore greatly appreciate. I once saw a lawyer discuss how he sends boxes of chocolates personalized with his law firm’s branding to new clients. Family lawyers have long provided blank calendars to their clients in high-conflict divorce cases so the client can easily document each problem on the day it occurs. This cuts down on “billable” calls to the law firm about relatively minor items.
You and your clients are the experts on how well your law firm provides legal services. You already have many goals and deadlines related to your current client files, but it’s important to represent yourself and your law firm as well by taking the time to consider what changes and improvements you can make each year.
Now that you have finished reading this column, it is up to you to pick the first items you want to review and improve. For most of us, we have more things that we would like to accomplish than time to accomplish them. But consistently making positive changes on a regular basis will yield great benefits in the future. It’s like the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Mr. Calloway is OBA Management Assistance Program director.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — January, 2022