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It’s not easy striking out on your own straight out of law school, but that’s just what Tara Burd did in 2011 when she first started T.Burd Law Group, APC. For her, generating her first $1 million in annual revenues came with a lot of hard work and a real do-it-yourself attitude. Here’s how she did it.
Not many firms were hiring when Tara first started practicing in 2011, but she was more interested in opening her own practice anyway—even if it meant staying in her low-rent apartment to weather the foreseeable hard times.
When she first started—from scratch—she did everything possible to build her business (while also facing the insecurity that comes with being brand new to the profession). She charged a really low hourly rate and took pretty much any case that came her way, relying heavily on referrals from close family and friends.
But working with such a small network of referrals would only go so far, and it would take a while for Tara to really learn how to market herself.
“Once you’ve tapped out your friends and family, how do you get new people?” says Tara. “My business would start to do much better, and then it would just dry up and no more work would come in.”
She started taking contingency cases when she had free time, and when they paid off they made for profitable months, but then there were the other times when she wasn’t sure she’d be able to pay her $1,000 rent.
To weather the ups and downs, Tara worked as lean as possible, keeping expenses low while keeping her time as open as possible so she could focus on building her business.
“Since I had free time and no money, I just learned everything I could on my own,” says Tara.
Working from the office of a colleague-slash-mentor, she had access to office equipment, case files, and even a secretary when she first started. And when it came time to managing cases efficiently with the lowest expenses possible, she looked to Clio.
“Outside of a post-office box, Clio was probably the first business expense I spent my money on,” she says.
Tara needed software that would keep everything organized and connected—and keeping track of her time was the most important part. Being able to track her time while she works saves her from having to spend time on it later.
“I know a lot of people who spend a lot of time at the end of the month putting in all their hours, and it seems like a waste,” says Tara. “It blows my mind that people just don’t do it while they’re working.”
With Clio, Tara can start and stop a timer any time she takes a call or writes an email, and that time gets logged to a specific matter and client for fast and easy invoicing come billing time.
It also helps her know where her work is paying off.
“I keep time for every case I work on,” she says. “Even for contingency cases I track my time. I like being able to run reports and look at how much time I put in. How much did a case settle for? Was it a good investment? Was it a bad investment? What does my productivity look like?”
By keeping track of everything in Clio, she can run reports at any time to see how she’s doing, while also keeping all of her case and client information in order. “I needed to be able to track client money coming in, going out, transferring from one account to another, and being paid toward a bill—which is all stuff that I can do with Clio with ease,” says Tara.
As Tara’s workload increased, so did her administrative operations, and she started using QuickBooks Online to manage all of her firm’s accounting. The benefit of working with Clio is that she could sync it directly with her accounting software, so that all of her time tracking and invoice information would update automatically in both places. She could also sync Clio with her Google calendar, which is what she uses to stay up to date on her phone when she’s out of the office.
Since Clio keeps Tara organized and efficient, she’s able to spend more time on the things that matter most to her firm—and in the early days, it was all about marketing and building relationships.
To keep her client pipeline as full as possible, she would do anything and everything, whether it was writing blogs, setting up a Yelp profile, updating her website, or meeting someone for coffee. “I did anything anybody said was something I should be doing to generate business,” she says.
One of the things that mattered most was getting to know people.
“The things that last the longest are, of course, building relationships. Even if you’re busy, making time for that coffee meeting, that’s the type of thing that pays off later.”
Clio also keeps Tara connected with everything important to her firm at all times—especially since moving out of her old dumpy apartment to her new home where she spends a lot of her time.
“It’s really important that I am able to monitor everything. As I try to get better at work-life balance by traveling more often and working from home some days, I need to have access to my files and client information for issues that come up last minute.”
For any lawyer starting their own practice, Tara’s advice is firm: “Don’t take shortcuts.” Even if you only have one case, it’s worth taking the time to do things properly.
“The problem is that you never know when you’ll suddenly have five or ten cases that you won’t be able to manage,” she says. “Using a system like Clio, setting all your matters up as though you are a busy, real business and implementing good systems from day one are going to be irreplaceable when growing.”