Manage Your Growth From Solo Attorney to Multi-Member Firm

Business development as a solo attorney was likely not your plan when you envisioned practicing law. However, as your practice develops and your clients’ needs expand, growing your office from a sole practitioner to a partnership or small firm may be the best way to broaden your business. There is a limit to what you alone can achieve and the key to expanding your practice may be creating a new structure that incorporates more attorneys and staff.

Consider the following topics when planning your growth from a solo attorney.

Analyze your time

As a solo practitioner, you probably do all or much of the work in your practice, from appearing in court, doing research and writing motions to answering the phone, intaking clients, responding to email, managing accounting and handling marketing. Tracking your hours spent weekly on each type of task allows you to truly assess your practice and envision how you could share that work, and with whom: a legal assistant, a paralegal, or associate attorney — or by taking on a partner. Continue gathering and assessing data as you grow to measure the effectiveness of your strategies and adjust as needed.

Consider your needs

One of your biggest growth-related decisions centers around adding an attorney to your practice. Evaluate whether you wish to maintain complete ownership and hire associates, or whether you prefer to enter a partnership. An associate requires a set salary regardless of billable hours, while a partner can share profits. An associate has no ownership or control over your small firm, whereas a partner does. Weigh your comfort level with both options and note that an associate can one day become a partner if merited.

If you don’t feel comfortable entering a partnership, and finding funds to pay an associate’s salary is a challenge, consider offering office space and mentorship to a young attorney in exchange for a set number of weekly billable hours.

This also is an area where technology can make a world of difference by handling non-billable tasks like deadline calculation, billing, accounting and other busywork that eats into time you’d otherwise spend practicing law. Legal practice management software also reduces the need for support staff. These reliable systems can easily scale up with your firm.

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Define Your Goals

Before you make any changes or invest any money in growth, clearly define what you want to achieve in a thorough business plan that includes short-and long-term goals for your practice. Goals should be time-specific, achievable and measurable, and each should be tied to concrete actions. For example, one possible short-term goal would be increasing your number of personal injury clients by 5% in Q1 by using a legal content firm to create blogs for your site. A long-term goal: Adding one partner and two associates and expanding your practice to include SSD and worker’s comp within five years.

Balance Your Personal Skillset

Consider your personal strengths and where you prefer to focus your time. If you are a skilled rainmaker, bring on an associate attorney who can handle billable hourly work while you find clients. If you are happiest focusing one or two areas of law, partnering with an attorney who has a complementary focus sets a broad base for your firm’s future success. If you truly enjoy law firm management, structure your firm so other attorneys handle most direct client work.

Clearly Delineate Roles

Part of the challenge of moving from working for yourself to working with others is delegation, whether you are working with another attorney and/or with a paralegal or legal assistant. As a solo practitioner, you’re likely accustomed to doing everything yourself, and learning to delegate effectively can be challenging. Use what you’ve learned about your new colleagues’ work styles and task preferences to establish strong processes and systems from the beginning. Because Smokeball legal tasks and workflows offer a universal view into the next steps on each case, your firm will remain on track and meet its priorities.

Understand Your Competition and Market

Evaluating your local competition and market for clients affords you the insight to structure a growth plan that taps into the most profitable and broadest client bases. Reaching underserved areas of law and untapped client allows your firm to fill a much-needed niche; make sure to also offer competitive fee structures to entice new clients.

Build Strong Relationships

A successful small firm is one that acts as a community partner, maintaining relationships with other attorneys, court personnel, professionals in related industries, clients and the community at large. As you scale your firm, include community and professional outreach as part of your marketing strategy. Join community organizations and sponsor local events to make your firm a well-known player in your area. Build and improve relationships with clients by seeking regular feedback on your firm’s performance, learning what you’re doing well and where you can improve.

Growing from a solo practice requires a paradigm shift and some adjustments. But with an eye to slow, controlled growth and the right staff and tools, your practice can expand successfully.