From time to time, we will have a guest on our blog. This is something new for LawBiz Blog and we hope you find value in the expertise of those who will join us on occasion.

This week, Erik M. Pelton with Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC is our guest blogger.

Creating and managing a successful solo or small firm is no easy task. But given the tools available today, it is easier than ever. And more and more clients today appreciate and even seek the personal relationships provided by boutique firms. Here are ten keys areas which every small or solo firm can master to propel it to greater success, growth and profit.

Marketing

To build a successful practice, marketing is key. Does your firm have a brand? Do you have a picture of your ideal client and a plan to get your name in front of them? Successful marketing could include: website, print ads, speaking engagements, attending and/or exhibiting at conferences, local or industry networking events, social media, writing for magazines or newsletters, apps, firm newsletters, blogging, and much more. Try them all and figure out which you enjoy, which you excel at, and which provide the greatest return of investment of time and money.

Hiring

Unless you are truly solo, you will have a staff of one or more at some point. In fact, unless you are super-efficient or already established, a staff is likely necessary to manage a growing firm and the marketing needs. When hiring, attitude, personality and character are at least as important as experience and skills. Skills can be taught. But bad character or clashing personalities cannot be overcome. Reward staff that is trusted and hard working. Delegate and provide support and oversight, but allow staff room to grow and figure things out on their own. And when staff does not work out, cut your losses and move on.

Efficiency

Small firms have a great advantage over large firms: they can be far more efficient. Less layers of review and bureaucracy. The most significant efficiency is the use of computers and I.T. to create efficient systems for repetitive tasks – docketing procedures, templates, managing client contacts, and much more.

Communicate

Smaller firms can provide more personal services. Attorneys can and should respond to all phone calls within 24 hours. Stay in touch with clients during their representation to manage expectations. Learn as much as possible about your clients’ businesses and industries so you can provide them better advice and get more work.

Setting Fees

Setting fees is of course critical to any law firm. Whether billing hourly, flat fees, or another mode, clients should pay commensurate to the value received. The value depends on the service provided as well as the degree of experience and availability of comparable services. By becoming a thought leader, an attorney can differentiate him or herself from the competition.  Competing on price alone (with low fees) is not a long term recipe for success – eventually someone with less experience and less overhead will undercut your low fee.

Managing Docket

To be successful, any attorney must have a firm grasp of deadlines, due dates and obligations. It is critical to have a ‘master’ calendar that is always up to date and contains every obligation. In order to effectively manage time and delegation, you need to know both the small picture and the big picture when it comes to the docket.

Purge bad clients

Bad clients can weigh you down. One or two problem clients can suck a huge percentage of time and energy from the practice. Learn how to avoid bad clients. And when you get them, figure out how to get rid of them as quickly and ethically as possible

Use interns or law clerks

Law school interns and law clerks are great for a variety of reasons:  free or low cost labor; a valuable experience for the mentor and the mentee; a great source of potential employees or referrals in the future.

Specialize

To eventually set very high fees, clients must come looking for you because you are an expert at something. To establish yourself as a ‘thought leader,’ you must have a specialization – no one is an expert at being general.

Make a name for yourself

Speak. Write. Blog. Raise your visibility in your specialty are  ways to become a thought leader, gain the respect of peers, earn referrals, and charge higher fees.

In future posts, I will examine each of these tips in more detail and cite specific examples from my experience which includes founding my own firm, five years as a solo attorney and six years managing a boutique two lawyer firm.

© 2011 Erik M. Pelton