Why Most Solicitors Fail To Grow Their Law Firms

I am not sure exactly when it hit me, but I am glad it did. I kept coming up with more and more law firm marketing ideas for my client, but each month the progress I expected and hoped to see for their law firm was not happening.

Had I not given the correct advice? Did I not provide enough information to find the right supplier to totally outsource the marketing tactic? Or was it the wrong thing to do?

I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was frustrated that the firm wasn’t growing as quickly as I would expect it to.

It was only when I sat back and thought about it in more detail that I realised it was external forces stopping the progress.

“I have had a staff member resign this month and have had to step in and manage their files”.

“My cashier has left so I have been swamped with sorting money issues.”

“I had a big case coming up for trial and just haven’t had the time to implement the changes we agreed.”

So it wasn’t me after all, but it was really.

I looked back at my notes and it was clear that the problem was the same each month; management or fee earning issues kept dragging my client back into the day to day, leaving no time for implementing the changes which would see the practice grow in line with the targets agreed.

The issue is a common one for all of my consultancy clients. I now realise this having analysed the results of my clients who have managed to properly detach themselves from the day to day running of their practice, or at least blocked out completely ‘immovable’ marketing time, and seen huge growth, versus those who have struggled to make this happen.

My job is to help you to see the wood from the trees, and I hope that there will be parts in this section which will make you feel like you have been slapped around the face with a wet fish because they ring so true. If that happens, and you go forward and make the necessary changes to stop the problem from consistently happening, my work here is done.

This is perhaps not what you were expecting me to say as your first change on your route to success, is it?

Do you ever, or have you ever watched Dragon’s Den on BBC2?

If not, it is worth looking at from time to time. I find it fascinating. The basic premise is that someone pitches an idea to five extremely wealthy self made business people, in the hope that one or more of them will give them a set amount of money in exchange for a small part of their business.

I used to like the programme more because in the early days the entrepreneur investors (the Dragons) used to take a risk on an ‘idea’ for a business. I am guessing that this cost them quite a lot of wasted investments because now the Dragons want to see a business already turning over hundreds of thousands of pounds and making a profit before considering investing. It makes me think that most of the people pitching their businesses now just go on for the publicity rather than the money, but that’s another story.

I have a point, so I better get to it.

One of the Dragons of old was James Caan, who ran Alexander Mann recruitment, selling his steak for £130 million in 2002. In his book he talks about one of the turning points in growing his business. This was when he stopped being involved in recruitment. You see, he was always the best fee earner, and so he did not want to stop earning fees because he could see that it would have a direct impact on the turnover and profitability of the business. However, the company was not growing as he wanted or needed whilst he remained a fee earner.

Eventually he stopped fighting himself, and stopped fee earning. It was only then that his business grew, and grew dramatically.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it is because I often see this very same problem in law firms. Solicitors trained to be a practising solicitor, and fee earner. You were trained to sit at a desk from dusk till dawn and to bill as many chargeable hours or as much in profit costs as was humanly possible for you to so do.

From the moment you set foot inside a law firm this was your raison d’être. Work, work, work and work, and when you have finished, do some more work!

When I worked in private practice in Reading I used to have competitions with a fellow fee earner to see who could bank the most chargeable hours in a day. I won, I think at around 16.5 chargeable hours in a day from memory. Admittedly it was a long day, maybe 10 to 12 hours, but not 16.5 hours. I remember telling my brother rather excitedly, only for him to tell me that I must be a crook!

Cheers bro!

At the time I had some very big cases coming up to trial so multiple letters warning of trial dates were going out which helped, so the hours were all genuine, but I could see what he meant.

Anyway, the point is, you have been trained from day one to believe that a productive day involves you doing an inordinate amount of fee earning work. So when your role progresses and changes to that of either full time management, or part fee earning and part management, it can be a huge struggle to adjust to this change, but I assure you that you absolutely must learn to accept it if you are serious about your business growth.

I know from experience that those who keep doing any amount of ‘fee earning’ to keep their hand in, grow their practices more slowly. Fact.

My strong advice to you is this: if you are really serious about growing your practice, stop fee earning right away.

Until you do, whenever there is an opportunity to either market or manage your firm for growth, or to sit and look after client matters, you will naturally head to the client related matters because that is what you have been trained to do. To do otherwise means that you have to fight all of your inner beliefs about what you are and what you do.

It is too hard, so you will fail.

Your failure to adapt will stop you growing your law firm.

So you must make a decision about growing your firm and not fee earning, or failing to grow your firm but carry on fee earning. If you are in this latter position, and you desperately do not want to give up your fee earning, you must employ a full time ‘Managing Director’ and give him or her full power to grow your firm, under the guidelines set by you.

You must then leave them to it while you carry on fee earning, sitting with them just once a month to review all of your Key Performance Indicators to ensure that your firm is heading in the right direction.

However, I do not think that this is the answer. You are the person that really should be managing and growing your business, not a hired hand.

So my best advice to you is to stop undertaking any fee earning or client facing work. You need to work less, spend more time out of the office going to marketing conferences, management conferences, software conferences, and just thinking about how to grow your business if you really are serious, and committed, to doing just that.

You need to adjust your mind set to accept that this does all count as your work now, rather than sitting at a desk pouring over client files.

This is what will get you from £100,000 to £250,000, £500,000 to £1.5 million, or £5 million to £10 million turnover. This is based on my experience of working with law firms in every one of these categories.

This is by far the biggest stumbling block bar none to growing your practice, based on my experience over the last 10 years.

Where do you sit?

I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below and let me know whether this applies to you, or if you have managed to get past this point.

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