Law is a profession. It’s also a business. And today’s lawyers must be business-saavy.
The days of feeding off the gravy train of law firm partners are gone. Lawyers must become familiar with dreaded terms like “sales” and “marketing” and “business development” right out of law school in order to compete and succeed.
While listening to a recent Get Altitude podcast hosted by Eben Pagan that offers advice on how to grow your business, profit & income, I recalled the decade of working in law firms prior to the 2008 downturn and emerging from that, how quickly the mindset changed for many firms in order to simply survive. And don’t forget the rumble of shingles being hung out by lawyers fresh off the bar exam with no room for them at Big Law. It occurred to me that many of the lessons Mr. Pagan offered can be applied to law firms in this new normal. Here are a few highlights.
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Mr. Pagan starts with a characterization of entrepreneurs and the need to find balance between their needs and their clients’ needs. That balance is something lawyers struggle with.
An entrepreneur is an opportunity discoverer and developer, a builder of a profitable business. Entrepreneurs live in a world that is a continual evolution of new opportunities for creating products, services, and businesses. They have a high degree of belief in their own capacity for development. They have the ability to prioritize their own needs and the needs of their customers simultaneously. Most people tend to focus on their own needs or on the needs of their clients and they can’t find a balance. When you focus on your own needs, you focus on profits leading to the hard sell and quick fixes. When focusing on clients only, you provide value and give them what they need without making profit. Find balance for both your needs and the clients’ needs.
He identifies the beliefs of winning entrepreneurs: embracing change, creating opportunity from disruption, and learning how to listen and focus.
- Opportunities are in direct relation to the rate of change. More change = more opportunity. Disruption creates opportunity
- Listen to uncover unmet needs and provide new products and services to meet them
- Know that your business is also a product
- Focus and differentiate your product or service and marketing efforts continually. Narrow your focus and avoid the temptation to widen it.
- Plan to dominate
Disruption is acknowledged and talked about so much in the legal industry there’s a backlash against the term. There’s also opportunity.
Mr. Pagan then talks about the values that entrepreneurs hold dear, or should:
- Future growth over present security
- Results over activity. Don’t be attached to processes that don’t work
- Substance over style: what meets customer needs over looking good or cool
- Systems thinking, not isolationist thinking: how all the parts are playing with each other
- Value world class design: of products, marketing, and experience.
And the episode wraps up with a discussion on the mindset of winning entrepreneurs:
- Speed of implementation: implement right away and get feedback from the real world
- Figure it out when you run into something challenging
- Faster feedback with dashboards, reporting – this is where practice management software shines
- Everything is a test
- Talk to customers
As solo practitioners, small law offices (2-10 lawyers), medium-size law firms (11-50 lawyers), even large law firms (over 50 lawyers) look for ways to grow and better serve existing clients, they must adopt an entrepreneurial mindset of listening, innovating, and iterating. Or, as Inside Counsel puts it: Think like a lawyer, make decisions like an entrepreneur.