LATELY, I”VE BEEN HEARING from a lot of solo practitioners and managing partners of small firms about how a lack of systems, procedures and organization has created a culture of chaos in their practices, kept them from growing the profitable law firm they desire, and left them, personally, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
While they seem to have identified the problem, they are completely flummoxed about the solution.
Why? Because the solution is not the “right” case management system, time-tracking app or e-mail program. In fact, it’s not, at all, about finding a miracle organizational tool.
The solution to a changing a chaos culture is behavior modification from the top down. If you really want to get organized once and for all so you can increase your firm’s efficiency and its profitability, take these three steps first:
STEP 1: CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
Up until now, you may have been thinking lack of knowledge is the issue. If you could only find that one, special organizational tool…well, it would be nirvana.I submit, though, pressed to answer questions about what you need to get organized, you probably could recite a litany of programs, apps and tools.
In fact, I’d wager you’ve researched organizational systems, best practices, case management and time trackers ad nauseum. Why, then, are none of them working? Could it be a failure to implement? Perhaps, on some level, you are stuck in a mindset of helplessness, a victim to the mess of your own making, and you like it there because you never have to make a decision or be held accountable for the consequences of making the decision—right or wrong.
This is a common issue, especially for perfectionists, because perfectionists abhor failure brought on by making the wrong decision. Thus, we often avoid making a decision until we have all the information we can possibly gather to make the perfect decision. There’s only one problem with this (you know where I’m heading, don’t you?): there is no such thing as a perfect decision.
If you’ve ever said statements like: “We are too busy to implement now,” or “That case management system costs too much,” “We need to research all the options before we decide,” or “Wonder what so-and-so thinks…,” you might be stuck in analysis paralysis, every perfectionist’s boondoggle.
To shift perfectionist mindset, which ultimately results only in the failure we want to avoid, we must get clear on the true cost of indecision. If we want real information, information that leads to the transformation we desire, we must start by looking at the numbers.
A law practice is a business. Its one true purpose is profitability for the shareholders (you). If your practice is not maximizing profitability, it is not a successful business. It’s a charity or a hobby.
To change your mindset about organization and to move off your perfectionism pedestal and into action, first look at the true cost to your firm of its inefficiencies—in dollars and cents, and in the stress, anxiety and overwhelm you may be creating for yourself and for your employees (which may be causing everyone to perform poorly, which costs even more.) How much time (and, thus, money) are you wasting by being inefficient? By not making a decision to make changes? By not hiring help?
For example, let’s say you charge $300/hour and you are wasting four hours of your day working on tasks that could be handled by administrative person whose time could be billed at $100/hour (and they only cost you $30/hour). Can you afford to leave that kind of money on the table?
What if you could automate processes and the only cost to you is the set-up of the process?
Is your mindset of “if I want it done right, I just need to do it myself” reality or is it an ego-based, perfectionists’ myth? And, if it is a myth, can you really afford to continue embracing it? (If it’s a reality that you can’t find someone else to tackle low-level tasks, then that’s a leadership/training issue and a problem for another day. It’s also BS that’s keeping you stuck.)
STEP 2: BECOME A RUTHLESS SEEKER OF THE TRUTH
Get a handle on your practice systems by:
Tracking. We can’t improve what we don’t measure. Track, track, track.Track everyone’s time. Track how people hear about your firm and their reasons for hiring you. Track how long it takes to complete tasks. Track how your clients are being billed. Track how long a case takes to completion. Compare different types of cases. Track which types of matters are the most profitable (you might be surprised to find out the most profitable cases may generate lower revenue).Yes, I know tracking is a pain and most people don’t like to do it, especially creative types, extrovert types and mavericks. However, if your goal is to grow a profitable law practice, you need evidence of what is working and what is not. The only way you get it is to track, measure and document. You wouldn’t go to court without the evidence you need to back up your argument. Why then, would you run your practice without all the facts you need to make the best decisions possible?
Examining. If you want to know the solution to your organization problem, put on your detective hat. Welcome the examination of any and all processes in your firm. Ask your employees to join you in this quest. Consider rewarding them for identifying inefficiencies and proposing solutions. For example, if you are not the one who handles intake anymore, you may not be the best person to think through the best approach to the intake process. Divorce yourself from “the way we’ve always done it” status quo. Instead, seek to understand so you can make better decisions.
Implementing. One idea implemented is better than 10 ideas never implemented. Do not get stuck in the examination phase. Again, perfectionists, I’m looking at you. Enough said.
Testing. Once you implement new ideas, TEST them. Give new ideas a sufficient period of time to work, track the results, and assess them. If the new processes work, keep them. If they don’t, then tweak or toss them altogether. But here is the key: don’t beat yourself (or your team) up about it if they don’t work. Clarity follows action, not the other way around.
STEP 3: EMBRACE THE INCREMENTAL, NOT THE OVERHAUL
The number one mistake I see solo lawyers and small firm managers make when it comes to getting organized is the tendency to overhaul instead of focusing on incremental progress. If something is not working, it must mean that we are doing everything wrong and need to completely restructure, refurbish and refresh.
Nope. Nope. Overhauls lead to overwhelm. Instead, start where you are. Track, measure, examine, and document as you go. You may already have several processes and procedures that are working. Some just may need to be tweaked a little.
Incremental progress is more effective in the long-run anyway because
a) It is doable and doesn’t require you to shut the firm down, to scrap everything and start over;
b) A law firm, like any business, is a living thing that grows and changes over time. What may work for you today may not tomorrow. In fact, if you are still using the same systems, processes and procedures you were 30 years ago, you likely aren’t as successful as you think you are. The needs of a practice with only two employees (you and a paralegal, let’s say) are very different from the needs of a practice with 10, 50, or 100 employees; and
c) It’s the only way a tired, overworked solo or manager is going to be able to wrestle this pink pig into submission. There are only so many hours in your day. To think you are going to completely overhaul your law practice and, Voila! it’s going to be an ideal-Barbie-dream-practice overnight is ludicrous. If you want to take back your time and your life while still growing your practice so you get paid handsomely, you must get comfortable with ongoing, incremental improvement. Basically, you need to work it into your schedule and your staff’s schedule like you would any other task in your practice.
GET INTO ACTION. GET PROFITABLE.
Regardless of where you are now in your practice, if you want to continue growing and thriving, you likely need to make improvements to your processes. How do I know this? Because there is always room to improve.
That said, know that you can do it. It doesn’t take an act of Congress (thank goodness) to get you running more efficiently and more profitability. All it takes is a willingness on your part to let go of limiting beliefs, to make a decision to act, and to lead your team down the path toward your goals.
If you’d like some help, I’d love to talk with you. Take a moment to complete this business assessment form, submit it to me, and I’ll contact you to schedule a time to chat.
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