Helping Small Firms Grow and Become More Successful

Russell Ford of Ford-Murray Law

Russell C. Ford of Ford-Murray Law

Immigration lawyer Russell C. Ford contacted me a few months ago with very positive feedback on my book, which he said he had read early in his career. He said, “The Successful Lawyer was transformative to me as a person, lawyer, and entrepreneur.” I asked him to tell me a bit about the practice he and his partner had built together, which led to my inviting him to write an article for my blog post. This week’s post is the article he wrote. Thank you, Russell!  – Gerry Riskin

Let us begin this article by defining some key terms that are essential to the discussion. These terms are “small firm,” “growth,” and “success.”

  • In this context, “small firm” does not imply revenues, clients or vision; rather, a “small firm” is simply a designation to let the outside world know that your firm employs ten or fewer attorneys.
  • The “growth” of a small firm does not mean increasing head count, but rather increasing the client base and overall revenues/profits.
  • “Success” can mean many different things to many different people, but essentially it means living the lifestyle that you have chosen for yourself in a manner that is in line with your being, your passion, and your vision. If you seek a firm that provides you with a three-day workweek, a $500,000 salary, and clients that support your vision and mission, when you have achieved those conditions, you are a “success.” On the other hand, if you as an individual can be authentic to yourself at $50,000 per year, and your firm is creating that “salary” for you while providing you with the work-life balance you seek, then you have achieved “success.” The key is being honest with yourself in terms of what is truly going to provide you comfort in life: this is what will be your success.

Before we opened the doors to the small firm of which we are co-owners, my partner and I first sat down and became clear as to what our vision of “success” would be. We needed a goal on which to focus our efforts, and to ensure that our decisions were guided by “fact” and not some “fictional” idea of what success might mean to others or the outside world.

After we became crystal clear as to what our vision for this firm would be, we set out to grow the firm in order to meet that vision. Our path was shown to us through the guidance of others – both actual coaching and through reading. A primary source for helping set this path was The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen.

The Strategy

In today’s world, we live in an instant gratification, quick ascension, hit-the-lottery society. Everyone is searching for the “white whale client” that will take their firm from $100,000 in revenue to $1,000,000 in revenue overnight – that one client or case that will “change their life.” They become highly discouraged when the white whale never arrives.

In this environment, lawyers seem to think that if they “do” business development for a month, work should just flow through their doors. When that doesn’t happen, they stop doing the business-development activities because “they are not working.” However, growth does not occur with starts and stops. Rather, it requires small, consistent actions conducted every day and compounded over time to create a consistent flow of clients and revenue. In short, the white whale only comes if you fish every day, in a consistent, but flexible way, that adapts when needed and adjusts when necessary.

If you fish the same way every day and expect different results, then you are fooling yourself. Instead, you need to try a certain spot, try a certain bait, try a certain time of day and then evaluate and adjust. Next day, try a new spot. Try a new bait. Try a new time of day. Evaluate again. Adjust again. The real key is that you are fishing every day. And every time out, you try something just a little bit different (or better —  the slight edge) to achieve new results. The more you fish, the more success you attract. Plus, the more time you allow your fishing to happen, the more your success is compounded over time. Soon, your 5-lb bass is a 300-lb tuna. Soon, your 300-lb tuna is a unfathomably huge white whale.

Be Proactive

So how does the small firm practitioner “fish”? The list includes the most mundane of tasks – picking up the phone and calling on a potential client, calling on a potential referral source, and calling on an existing client just to check in and see how things are going in their business, life, etc. A wise coach once referred to this as the “smile and dial” method of marketing. Pick up the phone or, as Olsen says, “do the thing and you shall have the power.”

The list also includes the “traditional” components of marketing. Research and write articles in your area of expertise. Find speaking engagements and submit proposals to become a conference speaker. Establish yourself as an expert in your field. Host webinars and seminars – and find sponsors for these events who may offer peripheral services to your clients. For example, if you are a criminal attorney, a bail bond agent might sponsor the conference to promote their own business and provide some financial support/press to the event. Create a presence in the speaking and writing world that gets you noticed by potential clients and referral sources.

Finally, the list includes the “new” online forms of marketing. Establish a presence on LinkedIn, Avvo, Facebook, and other similar sites for yourself and your firm. Get your brand noticed. Create a blog and flood it with content – write on that blog at least four times per month. Provide content and resources. In the online world, content is king. Ensure that your brand is producing that content and is being “noticed” in searches for your field. Use your content to push your PR – promote yourself as an expert in your field who can be interviewed by newspapers, websites, podcasts, and television/radio stations. This will create independent third-party content that you can then use and repurpose in your social media to further establish your firm and yourself as an expert in the industry – a trusted resource. People hire people they know and trust. The more presence you establish, the more people begin to “know” you and to “trust” you. Don’t be shy – perform consistent actions every day in the online world to create content, provide resources, and establish your brand.

The key to “overnight” success and growth is grinding every day. Establish a program of small, consistent, flexible actions compounded over time and, suddenly, your firm will be producing the revenue stream you set as your goal when you first opened your doors.

Linklaters to Measure Teams Rather than Individuals: Exciting Model for Our Time

Linklaters ItemIn a post at Legal Business, Matthew Field reports that Linklaters is about to “phase out individual partner metrics and annual assessments to focus on broader measures of team and firm performance.” The new performance-assessment strategy will focus on such areas as “client winning, business development, training and innovation,” Field says.

Based in London, Linklaters has 29 offices in 20 countries, with around 450 partners and 2600 attorneys in total. Like it or not, UK-led firms have dominated the world in past decades. This imaginative move by Linklaters to focus on team performance may offer them a huge competitive advantage over the American-style firm. The latter cannot seem to resist individual metrics – which lead inescapably to at least some internal competition.

I believe what Linklaters is doing is right, and I hope this strategy wins, and becomes a role model for many others to emulate.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Addressing Client Resistance

Edge International Gerry Riskin

There are so many situations where we are as lawyers must persuade our clients, whether it be to:

  • retain us,
  • accept our fee basis,
  • provide us with a retainer, and (of course)
  • whether to accept our advice and recommendations.

It is expected that we will sometimes encounter resistance to our persuasive powers. Should that happen, consider the protocol offered in the article entitled “Overcoming Sales Objections: 9 Winning Strategies,” by Josh Stone, recently published in the Business 2 Community newsletter.

If your lawyers need guidance on how to utilize these strategies, let me know.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Firm Shares Strategic Objectives with Clients and the Public

How many law firms have the courage to publish their strategy for their clients?

At least one.

The Drinker-Biddle Annual Report includes:

  • Firm highlights, including deals closed and aggregate value since 2014 (225/$200B), new litigation matters (3700 plus), number of new partners (9), new associates (5) and many others;
  • Strategic Plan, which sets out six objectives;
  • Results (by legal sector);
  • Diversity and Inclusion;
  • Pro-Bono Work;
  • and several other sections.

Perhaps this is what a truly client-centred law firm does. What do you think of the Drinker-Biddle approach?

I welcome your thoughts on this (or any other matter related to the law) either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Furlong Book a Must-Read for Law Firm Leaders

Jordan's CoverJordan Furlong has been a professional colleague and close friend for many years. His passion for understanding the legal profession is unmatched. Perhaps that’s why he is in demand to speak to prestigious organizations and firms throughout the world.

His new book, Law Is a Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm (available in print and Kindle versions) is a must-read for firm leaders and anyone else who has a concern about the future of the legal profession.

Jordan is highly critical of the widespread notion among law firms that they can simply tweak one or two aspects of their business and everything will be fine. He points out that client demand and the competitive environment have radically changed in the last five to ten years, and he says that in response, law firms need to seriously rethink their approach to their clients and reconsider aspects of their business models. “The smart firms are fundamentally rethinking who they are and what they do,” Jordan says.

In Law Is a Buyer’s Market, Jordan expresses his ideas with passion and vigour. He outlines his beliefs about the legal marketplace, and then he prescribes how law firms can best cope with an evolution that they did not invite but is nevertheless upon them.

Will you agree with every element of Jordan’s views? Probably not, but you will without any doubt experience an intense catalyst that will change your thinking about this profession now and forevermore.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.

New Software Interprets Commercial Loan Agreements in Seconds

JPMorganBloomberg Markets reports that new software from JPMorgan Chase & Company has reduced the amount of time that lawyers and loan officers need to invest in interpreting loan contracts from tens of thousands of hours to mere seconds.

Bloomberg writer Hugh Son points out that the COIN (COntract INtelligence) initiative is just one of many currently in development that are intended to automate routine banking chores, as part of attempts to reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction. “The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for a vacation,” Son points out.

Many thanks to my Edge International colleague Aileen Leventon for drawing my attention to this important article. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.




How Do Lawyers Work? How Do You Work?


“How Lawyers Work” series at The Lawyerist

The Lawyerist has introduced an interesting series of profiles of individual lawyers called “How Do Lawyers Work?”

Not only do I find it intriguing to look into the work lives of other legal practitioners and discover what digital tools and programs they find most useful to their practices, it is also a fun exercise to answer The Lawyerist‘s questions yourself, and see how your answers compare to those of others.

Here are some of the questions the series poses:

  • What apps or tools are essential to your daily workflow?
  • What does your workspace look like?
  • What is one thing that you listen to/read/watch that everyone should?

Other questions relate to such critical matters as deadlines and coffee sources.

Here are two examples of the interviews The Lawyerist has published so far:

You can check out others by clicking here, or on the image from The Lawyerist above.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.

India’s Leading Law Firms Honoured at Leadership Summit in Mumbai

Leadership Summit 2017 Awards Presentations, Mumbai

Leadership Summit 2017, Overview and Awards Presentations, Mumbai

Congratulations to Edge International principal Bithika Anand, founder and CEO of Legal League Consulting, for her role in organizing the Leadership Summit and Excellence Awards, 2017, held in Mumbai in early February. The focus of the conference was on the “evolving role of law in empowering and enabling businesses to drive the economy.” Guest speakers explored policy changes the Indian government has introduced to help synchronize the country’s economy with the global economy, and how these changes are being implemented.

The Leadership Summit provided a platform for more than 200 participants to share ideas, to learn, and to deliberate the way forward with speakers from the business, policy-making, legal, entrepreneurial and academic sectors. The conference was followed by the presentation of awards in special and general categories.

Bithika Anand, whose legal consulting company has offices in Delhi and Mumbai, advises Edge International on India-specific growth and business initiatives. She is also an honourary consultant to the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), where she works with the organization and advises its members in matters relating to compliance with best industry practices.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

“Live Your Magic” Series Inspires Readers of All Ages

1I am taking a break from my usual subject matter today to let you know about a remarkable series of books and videos created by my long-time friend Larry Anderson, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Larry’s journey began when he was a high-school dropout, living alone and lonely in a rooming house, working in a dead-end job. He resolved to turn his life around, and he has done so in spectacular fashion. Today, Larry is one of the few people in the world who I can describe as deeply happy, having more than achieved his goals in all areas of his life: financially, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. He is a founding partner in a highly successful home-building corporation, a popular inspirational speaker, a devoted husband and a doting father and grandfather. Today, Larry spends his winters based in Palm Springs and his summers in Edmonton pursuing his interests in travel, philanthropy and golf.

2One of Larry’s ongoing missions has been to share what he has learned over the course of his life with others who want to benefit from his knowledge, and from the knowledge of others that he has accumulated and applied successfully to his own initiatives and challenges. The result is two books and a video and workbook series available through the website Live Your Magic. The proceeds from all sales go to charity, education and arts initiatives that support youth.

  • Inspiration to Live your Magic! is a compendium of 75 brief, easily read biographies of such notable individuals as Alfred Nobel, Celine Dion, Benjamin Franklin and J.K. Rowling.
  • Wisdom to Live Your Magic! contains “Life Lessons from 50 Amazing Teachers,” including Oprah Winfrey, Aristotle, Victor Frankl, Steve Jobs, and many, many others.
  • Journey to Live Your Magic is a series of six videotapes and nine workbooks that have been created to help viewers apply principles of success, wisdom and inspiration to their own lives.

3The highly regarded Kirkus Reviews has described Inspiration as “An upbeat, inspiring celebration of mankind’s ability to challenge the odds,” and Wisdom as “A valuable guide that encourages and enables self-actualization.”

Whether it is a young person looking for a role model, an adult seeking inspiration to redirect their lives, or a speaker looking for a subject on which to build an inspirational talk, I cannot recommend this series highly enough.

“Chat Bot” Offers Free Legal Advice to Refugees

business robotThe Telegraph reports that a university student has developed a way to provide free legal advice via Facebook Messenger to refugees who are looking for asylum in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Joshua Browder, who has been named a Forbes’ “Thirty Under Thirty” for his entrepreneurial prowess, first attracted attention last year for the legal-assistance bot DoNotPay, which has helped overturn more than 160,000 parking tickets in the U.K. and U.S.

Now the DoNotPay bot, which responds to written queries on Facebook’s Messenger app, is answering questions posed in Arabic and English about qualifications for asylum claims, and even advises asylum seekers how to fill out necessary forms.

Browder, who is not yet 21, developed the bot in his spare time while completing an undergraduate degree at Stanford. He calls DoNotPay “The World’s First Robot Lawyer,” and states on its website that his bot “can talk to you, generate documents and answer questions. It is just like a real lawyer, but is completely free and doesn’t charge any commission.”

Other legal matters the bot has addressed include compensation for flight delays and landlord-tenant issues.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.