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I get lots of questions about how I’m able to run my practice from remote locations. Today, for instance, I’m writing in Las Vegas.
As a side note, it’s 4:15 AM (I’m on east coast time, so I’m up early) on a Monday morning. I’m in the Aria Cafe, which is packed. I’m the only person here who’s waking up. Everyone else has been up all night. The totally wasted guy across from me ordered three full-sized plates of food plus some side items. The waiter just asked him whether he wanted it all now or whether they should bring it out one plate at a time. “Bring it all,” he said. I am in the twilight zone.
I spend a huge percentage of my time on the road and, as regular readers know, I’m permanently giving up my home in June 2015 and hitting the road full-time (first stop: Berlin).
How do I make things work while I’m away?
As a preface, I’ll tell you that I spent years tweaking our system to get things to the point where I can be gone without issues. This was not a quick process.
The starting point is creating a vision. If you can see it, you can build it. Then you develop a plan. Finally, you execute on the plan. It takes time and patience.
Here are the elements I had to put in place to hit the road:
1. Excellent Management Team
I couldn’t be away for months without outstanding management in place. In our practice, that means having someone great leading the lawyers and an equally excellent person leading the administrative/marketing team. It’s more than just finding two good people: it’s about understanding what skills are required to do the job, knowing how to put someone new in the position, and being willing to delegate and trust your people to do the job.
2. Meeting Rhythm
The core to keeping things going is communication: mostly communication between the managers and their teams, but also communication between me and the management team. Building a systematic approach to keeping the message alive takes the creation of a culture of communication. It’s unreasonable to expect the team to keep moving forward together until you create an environment where regular, daily communication is the norm.
3. Financial Dashboard
It’s tough to run a business remotely—or otherwise—without a dashboard that’s easy to read and understand. It would be like driving a car without knowing the speed, fuel supply, etc. It takes considerable time to develop a dashboard specific to your practice. It must provide accessible, actionable information. You need numbers and graphs that enable to you to identify issues and quickly act to correct those issues.
4. Documented Systems
People come and go. Systems last forever. Running the business remotely requires people who know how to do their jobs without your constant attention. Everything from how to arrange the tissue box in a conference room to how to file documents with the court needs to be written down and stored in a shared systems repository. Developing systems takes time. You’ve got to allow time for testing. It’s the system failures that help you build stronger systems.
5. Excellent Legal Team
A law firm without a strong legal team doesn’t create happy clients. Happy clients are the key to the continued growth of the firm. Certainly, the managing attorney is the key to maintaining an excellent legal team, but you’ve got to give her a core group of solid attorneys with excellent skills. She’ll add to and tweak the team, but you’ve got to create the foundation before you head for the beach.
Again, a side note: The guy with all the food has made amazing progress, and most of what he ordered is gone. He’s moved on to chatting up the young women at the table across from him. He’s about 50. They (there are three of them in the skimpiest outfits I’ve ever seen; I think they have one complete outfit between the three of them) are about 22. He’s working it hard now that he has the energy from those big plates of food (I suppose the alcohol doesn’t hurt either).
6. Effective Sales Process
Most law firm leaders are the best salespeople in the firm. That doesn’t work if you’re going to work remotely. You’ve got to create processes and integrate people with the skills necessary to sell without your presence. For me, this has been the most challenging aspect of working remotely. The lawyer culture makes it incredibly challenging to find and train lawyers with great sales skills. These core people and processes need to be in place before you head for the beach.
7. Remote Team
Working remotely is substantially easier if the entire team works remotely. If you’re going to be gone, it’s better if everyone is gone. Let your people work where they please instead of having the entire firm sitting together in one place and you chilling on the beach. Resentment is much more likely to build when you’re free and they’re tethered. Let your people run free within the parameters of their jobs.
Once you move offsite and let the rest of the team go as well, you’ve got to employ advanced technology permitting everyone to work remotely. That means updating document storage software, practice management software, and communications software so your team members are as effective in the office as they are elsewhere. The latest technology is essential to every practice today, regardless of whether it’s remote.
Realistically, working remotely doesn’t work without an entirely paperless practice. We made the shift back in 1996 (yep, almost 20 years ago). What are you waiting for? Surf’s up!
10. Personal Technology
You need excellent technology with you at the beach. Get the smartest phone and install the apps required to access your documents, your messages, and your practice management system. If you’ve done a good job of building the systems and processes mentioned above, you won’t need to monitor the status of your practice 24/7. You’ll want to keep a close eye on the dashboard and quickly identify and correct issues. The right technology is essential to looking for opportunities to correct course and expand possibilities. Excellent technology makes that easier than ever.
Sadly, the ladies are ignoring him and have moved their attention to a couple of younger guys at another table. The five of them have moved their chairs closer together, are talking LOUDLY, and are all staring at their phones. Welcome to Las Vegas.
Having the freedom to work from anywhere works for me. It may or may not appeal to you. Regardless, building the systems required to allow you to step away leaves you with a solid, profitable foundation for your business. Taking these steps puts you in the position to fulfill your vision and live your dreams, whether a beach is involved or not.