Whether you’ve just started your own law firm, or whether you’ve been going solo for years, running a legal practice on your own is no small feat.
In addition to meeting your clients’ legal needs, you’re responsible for all of the billing, accounting, marketing, and administration tasks that come with running a law firm (or any business) as well.
With day-to-day pressures, it can be difficult to prioritize changes or additions to improve your business in the long term. However, there are small investments you can make now that can bring big benefits for the future of your law firm—and your legal career.
Here are 15 useful ways to invest in your law firm’s future right now, based on some of our most popular posts from the Clio Blog.
1. Read a book
As a solo lawyer, you may not be able to go off-the-grid for a week-long reading binge like Bill Gates does, but reading books is definitely an underrated way to get inspiration and new ideas to help improve your law firm.
Start with one book, and set a goal for how much you’ll read each day (or week). Even if you only find time for a few pages a day, you’ll get through a few books before you know it, and you never know what ideas you may come across.
Check out this list of the best books for lawyers, as recommended by lawyers and legal professionals, if you’re stuck on what to pick. It includes books about business, mental health, and more.
2. Try out a new app
Even as a busy lawyer, you spend more time on your phone than you think. U.S. consumers spend 5 hours per day on mobile devices, and British researchers found that a group of U.K. university students used their smart phones roughly twice as much as they estimated.
What does this mean for the success of your solo practice and your legal career? Instead of spending that time on social media, it might be worth spending some of that time on apps for your business. There’s Fastcase for legal research, Evernote for organizing your notes, Clio for managing your practice on the go, and many more capable of meeting the specific needs of your business model and practice area. Explore some of the options on our list of the best apps for lawyers.
3. Make sure you’ve got the tech you need
Despite all the fuss over technology, having tech isn’t necessary for modern law firms to succeed—having the right tech, however, is crucial.
The amount of software to choose from can be overwhelming, so it’s important to do your research and choose tools that work for you. If you’re short on time, we’ve put together a list of essentials that you can use as a starting point.
4. Tweak the way you get things done
Reassessing and optimizing your business processes may not seem like a “quick” undertaking, but by keeping your long-term goals in mind and taking a consistent, iterative approach to optimization, you can make big changes before you know it.
Take Palace Law, for example. The firm is currently on version three of its client intake process: What started as a paper-based process became one based in Google Sheets and Clio, which became one that incorporates document automation to automate the client intake process from start to finish. In 2017, they saw a 76% increase in year-over-year revenue in just 3 quarters, which Palace Law attributes to changes in its client intake.
Want to see how they did it? Read their story here.
5. Automate your client intake process
While there are many processes you’d like to automate in your solo practice (faster invoice creation, anyone?), client intake is a top contender. As a first—and with few exceptions, non-billable—interaction that you have with clients, an automated intake process is a welcome time saver.
Bonus: If done right, it’ll be a professional, painless process that will leave a good first impression on your clients, making them more likely to refer friends and family to you down the road.
To get you started, here are three ways to automate your client intake process.
6. Invest in your education
Law school may be over, but the business of law and the world of legal technology are always changing. To hear about new ideas and tools for improving your practice, spend an hour attending a webinar, spend a day at a local bar association event, or take a trip and spend more than one day at an event like the Clio Cloud Conference.
What you learn may be more rewarding than you think: Just look at how Chris Trebatoski has doubled his law firm’s revenue, largely due to learnings he picked up at the Clio Cloud Conference.
7. Reassess your hourly rate
Whether you’re just starting out, or whether you’re a seasoned attorney, knowing what to charge can be difficult. As a solo, you can ask what others in your area are charging at bar association events, but you’ll also need to consider your business goals, your expenses, and the number of billable hours you expect to book. You need to charge what you’re worth to build a successful and profitable business.
We’ve outlined a few thoughts on how to decide how much to charge here, but it’s also worth looking at hourly rate data from the 2017 Legal Trends Report, which used aggregated and anonymized data from 60,000 Clio users to give lawyers a clear look at market rates.
As a starting point, compare your rates with data from the report using our Legal Rates Benchmark Tool.
8. Set up professional email
If you haven’t set up a professional email address for your solo practice yet, this year is the year to do it. It will help you present a professional image to clients, and it’s easier to do than you might think.
9. Start looking at data
The Legal Trends Report talks about much more than just billable hourly rates: It also looks at the average number of billable hours recorded per day for lawyers in the U.S., and includes survey responses that give deeper insights into these data trends.
Take a look at the report, and consider whether any learnings apply to your firm. For example, the report found that lawyers bill just 2.3 hours per day on average—the rest of their time is spent on non-billable work.
How much of your day do you spend on non-billable work? To find out, create a matter for non-billable/administrative work in your practice management system, and use a timer to keep track of time spent on these tasks, just as you would any other billable matter. Then, compare time spent on this matter with time spent on all other matters combined.
This will give you an idea of where you stand, and may change your opinion on whether you can afford to invest in extra tools or services for your business—a tool that lets you spend less time on administrative work and more time on billable tasks (and that gives you peace of mind) may to some extent pay for itself.
10. Take a new approach to marketing
What’s the best way to market your law firm? If you’re not sure where to start, or if you’ve tried everything and are stuck on what to do next, take a look at what your peers are doing: Our 16 best marketing tips for lawyers, collected from a variety of professionals in the legal industry, includes plenty of actionable tips you can implement at your firm today.
Tip one? Take advantage of free law firm marketing options.
If you’re looking for more of a step-by-step approach, take a look at these 10 marketing tips from Alex Barthet of The Barthet Firm in Miami. He’s used these tactics to help his firm succeed over the past 10 years.
11. Write a business plan
The best time to write a business plan for your solo practice is well before you start your own law firm. The second best time to do it is today!
If you’ve been running your solo practice without a business plan thus far, or if you’re just starting to think about going solo, resolve to write a formal business plan this year.
To kick off your process, read these tips for writing a law firm business plan from practice management expert Chelsea Lambert.
12. Update your law firm website
In the digital age, having a website for your solo practice is table stakes. But it isn’t enough to just have a website: It needs to give your clients, and your potential clients, the information they’re looking for in a way that lets them find it easily and quickly.
Take a day to review your website and see if it meets all the requirements on our law firm website checklist. Some items, such as making sure you’re featuring your contact information prominently, are easy fixes. For others, consider hiring a law firm web designer (but ask these questions to make sure you’re hiring the right person).
13. Start a blog
You may not think you have time to start a blog, but Kevin O’Keefe, CEO and Founder of LexBlog, says it’s simpler than you might think—and extremely valuable for building an authority and reputation that can help attract potential clients. The key is to start a niche publication, focusing specifically on areas that you have a lot of experience in or feel strongly about.
Read more of his tips on blogging, and then write your first post this year.
Bonus tip: If you don’t currently have a blog, and the idea of setting one up is putting you off writing, consider using a platform like LexBlog to get your work out there.
14. Follow someone new on Twitter
There are plenty of places to gather ideas to better your practice online, and social media is one of them! Many of the best and brightest in the legal industry tweet regularly, and following them can give you new perspective, innovative thoughts on improving your practice, and inspiration to be the best lawyer you can be.
Start simple: Choose a few accounts from our list of the best people in legal to follow on Twitter, and keep adding new ones whenever you’re looking for fresh ideas.
15. Start using practice management software
The technology tools available to law firms are advancing faster than ever before. With the right tools and processes, your solo practice can be more efficient and profitable than you ever thought possible.
But it all starts with practice management software, and it’s essential to choose a solution that’s constantly improving in order to ensure you’re investing in the future success of your law firm. Clio, for example, rolled out over 220 improvements to its platform this year with the release of the new Clio experience.
As Jordan Couch of Palace Law puts it, “[Y]ou need practice management software, and if your practice management software won’t link directly to [other things], then you’re starting off on the wrong foot and nothing’s going to work.”
In short, if you’ve never used practice management software, this is the year to start.