Small law firms are unique among law practices, spanning all manner of practice area and specialty, and serving individual and corporate clients alike. Further, some small firms operate more as attorney cooperatives, pooling resources rather than forging actual partnerships. Others are sophisticated boutiques of highly-specialized experts working in close collaboration.
Yet despite these differences, many small law firms face similar challenges. It can be very difficult to find new client business and generate enough work to truly thrive. And managing your time — with inefficient internal workflows and the administrative burden of managing the firm encroaching on billable time — is a persistent challenge.
In recognition of this, Thomson Reuters this year is creating a more focused Small Law Firms customer segment, and I am excited to be leading this new initiative.
With that in mind, we thought we’d share this list of suggested “resolutions” for small law firms looking to make the most of 2019 and beyond.
1. Get better at growing your business — This doesn’t mean you have to hire more lawyers; it means you need to get better at marketing and business development. These are two areas where it may be tempting for a lot of small firms to make cuts to help boost short-term profits. With so many law firms competing for clients, not to mention the challenge from DIY legal resources, lawyers at smaller firms need to make sure they have the ability to stand out. Clients like hiring experts, and thus your ability to promote and market your expertise in our digital world is central to your ability to generate business.
2. Don’t treat efficiency as a bad thing — Lawyers often think efficiency will be detrimental to their practices. After all, lawyers bill by the hour, right? But not every hour can be billed to clients. In fact, our research shows that nearly 40% of the average lawyer’s time goes into administrative tasks unrelated to the practice of law. For a lawyer grinding out 60-hour weeks, that’s almost 1,250 hours per year spent on non-legal matters. And that doesn’t even include time write-offs. When you think of efficiency, think of how you can reduce this administrative and write-off time. Make improving on these metrics a key goal, and you’ll see your profitability jump in a material way.
3. Embrace technology — New technology can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. New products are coming to market all the time with artificial intelligence capabilities that seamlessly integrate, and which allow small law firms to enjoy the advantages of scale on an unprecedented level. Solo- and small-firm attorneys can level the playing field through their ready access to AI-powered solutions, delivering the collective wisdom of hundreds of attorneys to help improve the quality and efficiency of their work product.
Small law firms have more opportunity than they may even realize. Last year, we took a look at a sample of litigation-heavy companies in the Fortune 50 to see what kinds of law firms were handling their litigation work. This evaluation yielded an impressive insight: fully 24% of litigation from these companies was handled by law firms with between two and 15 lawyers, further reinforcing the important and strategic role that small law firms play in our legal ecosystem.
Even if your firm doesn’t typically work with corporate clients, there is still a large volume of individual consumer work to be had, if you can find it. Opportunity abounds for small law firms to deliver efficient, valuable, quality outcomes for their clients, particularly with the support of technology and tools to help them practice and manage their businesses well.