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.