For four years, Emma Reid and Cathy Donald sat across from each other while working at a mid-sized law firm. Even if they weren’t working on the same cases, they bounced ideas back and forth and helped each other. Today, they still work together, but there’s one key difference: They own the firm.
Emma and Cathy founded Ergo Law in 2016 as a boutique employment-focused practice in Edinburgh. After working together closely at large and small firms over the years, both agreed that they might do well stepping out and starting their own firm. So far, they’ve been right—halfway into their second year, they already had as many clients as they had in their first year of business.
“I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” Emma said. “It does challenge you in a way that getting up and going to a job that somebody pays you a salary for doesn’t, but it’s exciting.”
Leaving a secure job to start a business might seem scary. But as Emma explained, for her and Cathy, the ability to take control and make their own decisions was an opportunity rather than something to be scared of. After starting their own practice, Emma and Cathy are able to work more flexibly and achieve a better work-life balance.
Clio has been a big part of that. “Clio lets us transport our practice anywhere we want to go, and it lets us do that whenever we like,” said Emma.
Using technology to stay on track
Previously, Emma and Cathy worked at firms that used practice management software, and at firms that didn’t. Both agreed that when stepping out on their own, they needed a solid practice management platform to help them capture all of their billable time and make invoicing efficient.
“We went out to look for something that we thought would work for us, and found Clio,” said Emma. “It was friendly to use and accessible, and it offered time recording, which was quite important to us. The integration of invoicing and bookkeeping was important to us as well, because we are just a two-person firm. We don’t have any administrative support.”
Setting up Clio was easy, and since then, Emma and Cathy have found it much easier to record all of their billable time with Clio than at firms where they’d used a pencil and paper. Cathy explained:
If you are time recording by hand, you just don’t capture it all. I think you actually underestimate the amount of time it takes you to do something, and it’s impossible to know how much value you’re getting back from the fees you’re issuing if you don’t know how much time you’ve spent on something.
Now, Cathy and Emma use Clio’s Timekeeper to start recording time with a click of a button whenever they’re working on a case. “The timer is brilliant. I quite like how it’s right there on the front page,” said Emma.
This also means that Ergo Law has a clear picture of where time is being spent, making it easy to give clients a transparent view into their processes. As Emma put it:
I like being able to show a client exactly what I’ve done and how long I’ve spent doing it. It makes the whole process with our clients and the conversations we might have with them in terms of procedure much easier. I feel more relaxed because I know there’s a record there of all the time I’ve spent, and if there are concerns about fees, I can show them where my time has gone, and it’s not a problem.
Billing that’s so simple, it’s enjoyable
As a two-lawyer firm, Cathy and Emma don’t have a lot of time to spare for administrative work. But billing is, of course, critical for their business.
“When it’s your own business, you’re very conscious of the money coming in and the money going out and the amount of work you’ve put into a file,” said Cathy, “So it’s good to be able to do administrative tasks without too much administration. We don’t have a secretary that does billing for us, but with Clio, we can easily see who needs to pay us and when they need to pay us, and we can make those invoices very quickly.”
With Clio, Cathy and Emma say that billing isn’t just easy—it’s enjoyable. “One of my favourite activities is pressing the Quick Bill button,” said Emma. “It’s straightforward and easy to use, and it means we don’t need to get somebody in to do that for us.”
When it’s time to bill a client, Emma and Cathy will check that all information has been recorded in Clio, that all time entries include sufficient detail, and that any relevant discounts or taxes are added. Each solicitor approves her own bills, so once a bill has been generated and reviewed, they’re ready to email it off to their client. It makes the final step of a case that much less stressful.
“You’ve done the hard work on the file,” said Cathy. “You just want to do the final thing. You want to get the bill issued, make sure the bill is right, and have it simple, easy, correct, and straightforward to send to the client. You don’t want to be spending a lot of time doing that.”
With the right practice management software, anything is possible
When Emma and Cathy started Ergo Law, they knew they wanted to do things differently. They wanted to provide excellent client service, and to work at the best times for both them and their clients, not just from nine to five.
The fact that Clio is cloud-based, and that they can access their practice from anywhere, has been a big help in reaching that goal. With the Clio mobile app on their phones, Emma and Cathy find pockets of productivity wherever they are.
“I find the Clio mobile app very helpful,” said Emma. “Even if you’re just out and about and you’re wanting to call a client, all the contact details are in there and you can just call a client by touching their number.”
Cathy and Emma both work from home. Ergo Law will soon have its own office, but once that happens, both say they’ll likely still work from home when they need to.
Far from being an issue, operating without an office has led both solicitors to meet clients in places that make sense for them.
For example, when they took on a restaurant owner as a client, they met at the restaurant to make the meeting convenient. “I think it feels to them like you’re going a little bit further by making an effort to meet them at their premises, “ said Emma.
And, as Cathy noted, such meetings give the pair valuable insight into their clients’ businesses. “It’s much easier to advise people if you can visualise their setup and what they’re working with and what their staff is like,” explained Cathy.
Overall, Emma and Cathy hope that their story will inspire lawyers and others to think about alternative ways of working that better with fit their own circumstances, and to be brave enough to take a leap and start their own law firms.
“We still get excited when we get a new client in,” Emma said. “The phone rings, somebody calls you for advice, and you can help them. If you can do great work for them, and they’re happy with it, at the end of the day, it’s all you. It’s great.”