I meet with over 100 lawyers every year to discuss referrals and business expansion opportunities. Most want to go it alone and start their own practice. The risks are inherent: leaving an established law firm, building your business reputation, finding referrals. Then there are the HR, accounting and marketing functions - necessary, but time consuming and sometimes tedious tasks.
Having your own practice allows you to do things “the right way.” Last year, I helped open 16 new law firms for Hart Legal, a boutique litigation firm headquartered in Victoria, B.C., with new offices in Edmonton, Alta., Regina, Sask., Toronto, On. and Los Angeles in the United States. Each city represented unique opportunities and individual challenges.
Here's what I learned about how to grow your law firm:
1. You need the right people.
Decisions: Making The Right Ones, Righting The Wrong Ones by Jim Treliving, the Boston Pizza CEO made famous by Dragon's Den, discusses the importance of working with the right people. Treliving shares his experiences with failed business partners (and marriages) that eventually led him to his ideal partner. Together, they built a $445 million dollar company (TSE: BPF.UN).
Creating a successful business behemoth across multiple cities requires hiring and working with people you can trust. Trust develops by instilling fear or building loyalty. You may be able to build a successful company either way, but your company culture will depend on the strategy you use. Making that decision is step one.
2. You need to be capitalized.
In step two, consider whether you are going to offer partner buy-ins to associate lawyers. Or, perhaps, raise capital from non-lawyers.
Over three years, I examined ways to raise capital. I have tried many different business models. Once I found the right model, I was able to amass millions of dollars in new capital for business expansion.
What I learned along the way is to take care of your investors. It may seem trite, but investors can literally be your best friend or worst nightmare. Honesty and integrity will garner their support when it's most needed, such as offering recruitment incentives like a substantial bonus for a new lawyer. Expect many angry phone calls and e-mails if you ignore their enquiries or withhold information. Treat your investors like partners. They are not a faceless bank.
3. Involve the law society.
Law societies are appreciative if you notify them of your expansion plans. Open communication can prevent misunderstandings and build trust. Leaving the law society to uncover your plans on their own can lead to awkward and time consuming questions.
4. Build a close relationship with a marketing firm.
With business growth comes the need for effective marketing. Your law practice will guide the marketing strategy. Common marketing spends include pay-per-click (Facebook and Google), search engine optimization and social media. Google SEO is at the top of its field in that regard.
Some law firms allocate their marketing spend on multi-media campaigns – billboards, radio, even advertisements on top of urinals at airports. This strategy can be effective for injury law, where anyone can be a potential client. It may not work well for other practice areas. The lesson is, know your target market.
5. Know your numbers.
Law school may not have prepared you to view operating a law firm like a business nor do all lawyers agree that it is one. Regardless, you need to know your numbers.
You should be able to calculate:
- How many inquiries you get per week (website and phone);
- How many of those calls turned into consultations;
- How many of those consultations turned into files;
- The cost of acquiring the client; and
- The average revenue per client.
For more on metrics you need to measure at your law firm, read The E-Myth Attorney: Why Most Legal Practices Don't Work and What to Do About It.
Alistair Vigier is vice president of business development for Hart Legal, a Victoria, B.C.-based boutique litigation firm, and president of The Wealthy Franchise. You can take a look at his firm profile here.