I loved/hated owning a law firm.
The team, the clients, the other lawyers, the judges, the clerks, the expert witnesses… I loved/hated them all.
It was awesome when I loved them.
I loved finding ways to work with opposing counsel to settle a complicated, emotional mess.
I loved when an associate brought me a brilliant idea that wasn’t just outside-the-box, but actually blew the box to smithereens.
I loved when a judge did something unexpected, something neither side had proposed, and brought a creative resolution to a conflict that might have smoldered for years.
I loved the clerks and bailiffs and their helpfulness and perspective.
I loved the clients who reminded me of why I did the work when their shining eyes revealed the difference we made in their lives.
I loved our team when they spoke up, took me on, told me how it should be done, and then showed me it could be done their way.
I ended many of my days inspired and lifted high.
But sometimes I hated them all.
There were days when I hated opposing counsel, my associates, the judges, the clerks, my team, and especially the clients.
They wore me down, tired me out, made me cry, and destroyed my optimism.
I finished many of my days broken and discouraged.
I know wouldn’t have loved it all as much if I hadn’t hated it sometimes. The good only comes with the bad, I suppose.
But it’s easier to remember the hard days I hated than the days I loved. Maybe it’s just me, but the tough times are what stick in my brain.
My fantasy was always to run a business with a very small team. I felt like the employees were the factor had the biggest impact on me.
Sure, they filled me with love on many days, but I couldn’t help fantasizing about steady revenue and profit with a team of zero.
We have rigid ideas about law firm structure
Most of us have a fairly specific idea of what a law firm looks like.
We imagine a lobby with a receptionist. We think of partners in corner offices handing work to associates. We see paralegals and administrative assistants scurrying about, doing their part.
There’s a bookkeeping team cranking out the bills and reports. Across the hall is a pair of marketers and an intake assistant screening prospective clients. There’s a room full of people filing documents and making copies on a big copier.
Of course, everyone in the law firm has a computer on their desk. Hourly employees clock in on their devices while the lawyers come and go early and late. Everyone else spends their time heads-down, cranking out work.
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The toil is only punctuated by the intermittent stress-fueled meltdown of a partner throwing a stapler at an associate.
That’s just law firm life–a model that’s kept a lot of people living comfortably for a long time.
If the law firm is successful, the headcount grows. Each year there are a few more full-timers. New clients get added to the mix, which means new employees for the firm.
Most law firms grow their payroll along with their revenue. More clients, more employees, and hopefully more profit.
That’s the traditional approach.
Is that structure an outdated, cumbersome, bad idea?
What if we did it differently?
What if we grew revenue using an outside marketing consultant, a website design firm, a freelance graphic artist, and independent copywriters?
What if a pay-per-click guru managed our advertising?
What if a virtual assistant arranged our lunch-and-learn programs and our speaking gigs at civic groups?
What if the assistant also booked our lunches and coffee dates with other professionals, to help us build our network?
The phone would probably ring more often.
What if we turned those callers into clients by having them meet with independent, commission-based sales representatives (maybe lawyers, maybe not) who only work when and how they want so long as they deliver clients?
What if those meetings took place on the phone from home, or in video conference, or in a Regus or WeWork meeting room instead of our own space?
What if new clients were handed off to freelance lawyers who follow our guidelines regarding the quality and timeliness of the work? Some might be local solo practitioners, some might be stay-at-home-parents who need extra income, and some might work as traditional, full-time employees.
Would the clients be happy? What if we hired a second virtual assistant to call each client monthly, and at the conclusion of their matter, to rate our law firm and they service they received?
What if we let an outsourced bookkeeper and accountant manage money and payments, reporting and billing, payroll, payables, receivables, and vendor relations and negotiations?
What if our technology (cloud-based practice management, accounting, voice services, video services, etc.) were handled by third-party providers?
Could that work?
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What if you were tiny, nimble, agile, and more profitable?
What if your core team (you, maybe one or two others if they’re necessary) handled the outsourcing, supervision, and management of the marketing, technology, finance, and other service professionals? If the three of you needed administrative help, you could find some virtual assistants.
What if your tiny-team approach freed you up to work on instead of in the business?
Would you find yourself less stressed and more creative? What if that creativity led to better approaches to your cases, more effective marketing, and more automation?
What if shrinking your team made you more profitable than growing your headcount?
What if outsourcing nearly everything could make you more efficient, productive, and profitable?
What if outsourcing could create better outcomes, happier clients, and a business that’s more marketable when it comes time to sell it?
What if you just start by outsourcing something small to get comfortable with the concept of scoping a project, selecting a vendor, monitoring the milestones, and evaluating the results?
What if you take our outsourcing course and it changes everything about your business, your life, your relationships, and your happiness?
I’ve moved in that direction and I’m loving it (and the profits)
I have days where I miss all the people.
I have great memories of spending time with my team. We’ve had more parties and events than I can recall.
We’ve done firm retreats and spent weird days in the woods together. We’ve crashed go-carts, bowled badly, attended etiquette class, and created art together.
I miss the people sometimes because without the law firm structure, I see and speak to them less frequently.
However, I love missing them more because I can still recall the problems I had to fix, the times I had to talk them off a ledge, and the client payments I had to refund due to their mistakes.
It’s easy to remember the bad stuff because the post-traumatic stress doesn’t subside quickly. The ugly, unpleasant, horrible days are right there in the front of my brain.
I sold my law firm and I’m still giddy about it. Just writing that sentence makes me smile.
But I’m still in business, and whether it’s practicing law or serving as the director of Rosen Institute, business is business. Every business comes with pressures, aggravations, and challenges, regardless of whether the day involves delivering legal services or delivering premium services to lawyers.
The core issues of running a business are the same for every business and some of the stress I felt running the law firm is replaced by running the new enterprise.
Law firms are just businesses
Transitioning from the law firm to the Institute allowed me to reinvent my personal approach to running a business.
I’ve done the lots-of-employees-thing. I’ve done the partial-outsourcing thing.
The Rosen Institute gives me the chance to do it differently.
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Now, I run my business with a very nimble crew. Our team consists of me and one full-time person. We outsource the rest.
We outsource the bookkeeping, accounting, technology, website maintenance, research, design, application development, advertising, and marketing.
We’ve got a few contractors we use weekly–two editing our writing, one editing our audio, one supporting our WordPress installations, and one handling WooCommerce. We use others on a more sporadic basis.
These folks connect with us on Slack, but they run their own businesses and we don’t have to deal with their crisis-of-the-moment. They have to deal with ours.
The Institute is a different from a law firm, but it’s also very much the same. It’s a professional services firm delivering consulting services along with a range of products. It generates more profit than many law firms that have far more employees.
Outsourcing is a big part of what makes the Rosen Institute highly profitable.
It’s easy to get drawn into the idea that a law firm is unique. Truthfully, law firms are just businesses. We buy low, sell high, and build trust by delivering on our promises as we journey forward with our customers/clients.
There are more similarities between businesses than differences. Be careful about using the few differences to justify your “It can’t be done here” perspective.
It can be done here. We’re all playing the same game. Some people win. Others lose.
Outsourcing the key components will help you win.
Outsourcing makes the game less stressful, minimizes financial vulnerability, and opens the door to quick changes. This lets you bring in people more suited to particular projects and deliverables.
Free yourself to deliver more value and make a bigger difference
At the Rosen Institute, we’ve outsourced nearly everything. We strive to let go of the little that’s left.
That’s our model. That’s how we free ourselves up to deliver the most value to our customers instead of getting bogged down in issues and projects our customers don’t know about or appreciate.
You can do the same.
Outsourcing requires a different mindset. It requires breaking from tradition. You have to ask yourself how you can make it work instead of telling yourself why it won’t.
Will you decide to outsource everything in your law firm? Will you outsource the finances, the marketing, the technology, and the delivery of legal services?
Just asking those questions should open up your mind, free your thinking, and stimulate you to consider options.
Asking these kinds of questions is good, even if all they do is get you started with a virtual assistant. These questions free you from the old model and get you thinking outside of the box.
Can you outsource everything? Yes you can.
But hold on to this part of your business
Obviously I’m a big fan of outsourcing.
Do I want to sit on a beach, looking out at the waves and tipping back a local beer? Well, yeah.
But I also enjoy talking shop, sharing ideas, and helping other lawyers avoid the inherent pitfalls of trying to build a worthwhile law practice.
I love what I’m doing at Rosen Institute just like I loved many days at Rosen Law Firm.
Could I outsource myself right out of a job? Probably, but why?
I enjoy the engagement, the interaction, and the feedback I get from our community of lawyers inside Rosen Institute. That’s why I show up and engage with our members each and every day.
The end goal of using contractors to manage parts of your practice is so you have the freedom to do only what you want to do. If you could get rid of all the bad days at work, how excited would you be every morning?
Don’t let your enthusiasm for outsourcing separate you from the things you actually enjoy about your work. You don’t have to outsource everything.
Some lawyers love negotiating the deal. Some love court appearances. Some love client contact. Some love playing the game of running a business. Only you know which pieces of your work give you fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy. Keep those pieces for yourself so you can continue to get what you need from your business and your life.
You can outsource everything, but there’s huge personal value in keeping what you love. It gives you meaning. It’s a big part of who you are and what you do. It’s the difference you make in your community and the world. It’s your why.
Outsource, outsource, outsource, but hold on to those pieces that keep you inspired, passionate, and energized.
Let go of what you’re ready to release, but hold on to what you need for you.