Be the Leader Your Law Practice and Your Employees Need You to Be

The following is adapted from The New Law Business Model, Revealed book, by Ali Katz, New Law Business Model Founder. Find it on Amazon.

If you’ve started your own law practice, or you’re considering doing so, you definitely have a lot on your mind already.

What will your specialty be? Where will you set up your office? How do you get clients? Will you have time to see your family? Will you starve? (Kidding on that last one… mostly.)

You might not be considering an equally important question, though, and you should:

What kind of leader will you be when you have employees to hire, manage, pay, and inspire?

You could be the kind of boss who gets overwhelmed, snaps at their employees, and is always trying to figure out who’s to blame for the mistakes, rather than focusing on solutions. Or, as I’m about to show you, you could learn to be the type of leader who will build a team of employees who are “partners” in your practice (even if they can’t own part of the firm), and who work right alongside you, as hard and smart as you do, to ensure your law practice succeeds.

As a lawyer and as a business leader, you should view every task you tackle at work as an opportunity for learning and growth.

You get to learn to provide clear expectations, boundaries, and structure. Your team wants it. You also get to learn to take full responsibility for when things don’t work and change course without blame, shame, or judgment of yourself or your team.

As the leader, you get to be aware of times when your own frustration is causing a problem, and you get to be able to identify the source of your frustrations. Instead of blaming the outside world, the economy, your team, or your clients, you get to see that when something isn’t working, there is always a solution. As the leader, you get to be committed to solutions-oriented thinking and getting out of the way, so your team can do what you hired them to do.

Managing People in Your Law Practice

While you want to be clear in your expectations, micromanaging your team is not a recipe for success. Set clear expectations around your goals, and what the practice needs to succeed. Then provide the systems to meet those goals, while allowing your team the space to make mistakes and course-correct each step of the way.

Making mistakes is part of the learning process. You will need to get good with allowing yourself to make mistakes before you’ll be comfortable allowing your team members the same freedom.

Here’s what that might look like:

You’ve just hired your Client Services Director (CSD) to increase your capacity from serving four clients a month to eight clients a month. (A CSD is the first hire we recommend you make in your law practice because this is the role and person who can expand your capacity to serve more clients.) In order to feel confident paying your CSD, you need to increase your new client flow within three months to hit your personal, financial, and time goals, and to be able to continue to pay your CSD her $5,000 a month salary.

When your CSD starts, you give her the big picture, ninety-day objective: to serve eight new clients a month. You give her the training resources she will need to handle the intake of new prospects, prepare them for their initial meeting with you, and then serve them after they’ve engaged you. You set timelines for her learning, and then weekly meetings to review her progress, evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and find out what additional support resources she needs.

Within two weeks, she starts handling her first intakes, and by the third week, you have the results of her first set of intakes to review together. You identify what worked, and what didn’t, so she can learn from her mistakes. While you are able to see that she lost some folks that could have turned into clients, you aren’t angry or frustrated by it, but instead see that it’s part of the learning experience, and the more times she doesn’t get an appointment set with a new prospect, the closer she is to getting to yes with each prospect she talks with.

You invite her to share what she sees about what worked and what didn’t with her intake calls that didn’t turn into appointments. She shares where she made mistakes, could have improved, or didn’t know what to say or do when speaking to a client or prospect, and you are able to role play with her or give her guidance on what to do differently next time, and she learns.

However, and here’s the important part … if at that first review meeting, you discover she is not coachable, not taking responsibility for her learning, defensive, and seems unwilling to see where she could have improved, you let her go quickly and find someone else. This is the most important role in your office, and having the right person in this seat is the key to your next level of growth.

So what makes you the leader here?

It’s how you show up to those meetings with your new CSD. Did you give her clear metrics of success? Did you give her support resources to meet those metrics? Did you review those metrics with her each week? Or did you abdicate your responsibility by hiring too quickly without a clear job description because you felt frazzled, unclear, and just needed someone, and then not give training or clear expectations?

Managing Yourself in Your Law Practice

Managing your team begins with managing yourself. You are learning how to lead, and humility goes a long way. If you are someone with a strong inner critic, or with control or perfection issues (common traits among us lawyers), you have to be careful about not projecting those onto your employees.

Don’t expect your employees to read your mind and then get frustrated when they can’t.

Practice outcome-based management, not task-based management, which is basically micromanagement. Everyone hates to be micromanaged; it’s disempowering. Don’t tell your file clerks how to do their job, task-wise. Instead, tell them the outcome you want, the resources available, and check in with them once a week to see whether or not they’re achieving their outcomes, and how you can support them if they are not.

This is another reason knowing your numbers and maintaining financial metrics is so critical. When you and your team are all on the same page, you are all striving to reach the same goals and reaching them together.

Your team will need to rely on the systems you’ve put in place for your law practice, and you will need to train them on those systems.

Finally, your team should have a clear picture of how their work contributes to the overall success of your practice, and the impact they have on your clients’ lives and on your community. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and when you can help them see their roles and contributions in your business, they will invest in what you do. They will stay with you for the long haul, becoming a loyal, dependable team that loves what they do as much as you do.

Invest In Your Business

The most difficult part of growing into your leadership will be continuing to make the investments necessary to grow from one stage of your law practice to the next.

In the early days of my law practice, investing in the growth of my practice was extremely scary.

I didn’t know which investments were wise, and which were folly. But I came to see clearly in this area, after many years of doing it very wrong and making extremely expensive mistakes along the way.

Whenever I would get scared of the investments I was making, I would think of the dentists I knew who’d graduated dental school and then needed to invest in extremely expensive equipment and a big office and team to manage all of their patients. I would think of my dentist and how he made those investments knowing he had a service that people wanted and needed, and that he was able to make the hundreds of thousands of dollars of investments in his equipment, office, and team because he knew that he’d pay those investments back many times over.

By doing that thought exercise, I’d be able to get out of the silly-but-common lawyer mindset that I shouldn’t have to invest in technology, equipment, offices, or a team to have a thriving practice. I’d remind myself that I wanted to grow a business that would support the life I wanted, not one that would only let me be successful financially if I worked all hours of the day and night.

All successful businesses require upfront investments. The question to ask is what to invest in and when.

Knowing the answer to that requires you to be clear on where you are now, where you want to go over the next three years, and what will need to happen in one year to get you there. Then, you can make investments that will support your stage-by-stage growth.

Choose Success

Now that you’ve made the decision to have your own law practice, it’s time to see the bigger picture and decide what kind of leader you want to be. If you’re open to learning new approaches to getting work done, you’ve set the stage for both professional and personal growth.

You can learn to be a leader who inspires your employees to work hard for the success of the company.

You can decide to make smart investments for long-term success. You just need to commit to learning and growing and evolving through the process. For more advice on impactful leadership in your law practice, you can find The New Law Business Model, Revealed book on Amazon.

If you are a lawyer who wants to start, build, or grow your law practice, and you are ready to learn more about how the New Law Business Model can support you as a lawyer and business owner, book a call with one of our Law Business Advisors and get a solid understanding of this practice model, and if it is right for you.

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