It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holidays are here and if you’re like many people in the legal industry, you’ve begun reviewing the lessons you learned in 2023 as you prepare to ring in the new year.
What has been successful? What changes will you implement? You may be thinking about growing your firm, acquiring and retaining the right clients, remaining competitive, or building your brand. You may also have projects that stalled this year, things you know should be addressed before someone addresses them for you — and not in a way that benefits your firm. Areas of lingering concern may include modernizing partner compensation models, establishing attorney partnership tracks, launching a new service, or improving client service workflows and efficiencies.
In my experience working in and with law firms for more than 20 years, I understand that implementation is often a sticking point. Time is limited, and the resources needed to implement viable options often seem scarce. Whatever your aspirations, these three best practices will support you in implementing your goals in the coming year and beyond.
NARROW YOUR FOCUS
Change, especially at the beginning of a new year, can be both exhilarating and challenging. While capitalizing on your enthusiasm to start strong is important, it is just as important to avoid biting off more than you can chew. Setting too many goals can end up backfiring, causing you to become so overwhelmed that you accomplish less rather than more.
Instead, prioritize actions and projects that will increase the value of your firm and make sense based on the financial and human resources you have available. Invest time in considering what matters most to you as well. What changes might have the greatest impact professionally and financially? Choose goals that excite you and you can commit to putting energy and effort behind.
LEVERAGE THE POWER OF THREE
I advise clients to choose no more than three things to focus on at one time. Depending on the size and scope of the goals, these things might be something you want to accomplish each quarter or over the entire year.
It’s possible that these goals are interconnected, such as the multiple steps required to strengthen and maximize your technology infrastructure. Or you might decide to set one goal that will move you or your firm forward in three different areas. The idea is not to set too many goals while making sure each one is specific, measurable, and achievable. Make them tangible by writing them down and sharing them with your team.
If you are struggling on where to set your sights, the following are three areas that many law firms are zeroing in on for 2024.
Business Development: Managing Client Relationships
Tops on the resolutions lists of many law firms is maintaining or developing business growth strategies to diversify their client and referral base. Your firm’s most valuable asset is your clients, and if your goal for 2024 is to be in front of more clients, having an effective client relationship management (CRM) system enables you to spend less time prospecting and more time leveraging the wealth of business potential at your fingertips.
In the past, companies kept contact information scattered across business cards, email records, and spreadsheets. As businesses grow and evolve, having a central database for customer information becomes essential. Organizing client details and referrals in one place makes it easy for your entire team to gain insight into your client relationships.
Establishing and maintaining a client list that allows you to identify and build relationships with your top referral sources is the ultimate goal. Start with your clients over the past 3-to-5 years and work backward, documenting addresses, emails, and phone and mobile numbers. Systematically organize your client data by categorizing practice areas, revenues, activity status, etc. If you don’t already have a program in place, consider choosing a user-friendly CRM system and assigning a team member to learn and manage it.
Then, commit to tracking referrals in and referrals out. Allocate time to review the data monthly. Focus on your top 5 or 10 high-value clients and strategize ways to maintain or enhance these relationships with the goal of creating a monthly touch point.
Marketing: Boosting Your Digital Presence
When it comes to business planning, marketing often falls to the bottom of the list. The start of a new year is an ideal time to evaluate your firm’s marketing efforts and ensure there are plans that support your specific objectives.
No matter how limited your resources may be, establishing and maintaining a strong online presence is essential. Amplifying your brand by maximizing your firm’s digital assets does not need to be a complex undertaking. Whether you handle it internally or outsource key tasks, consider including the following on your to-do list:
- Ensuring that your website is well-designed, up to date, and maximized for search engine optimization.
- Maintaining a current LinkedIn profile with connections (ideally more than 500) that demonstrates a commitment to marketing and business development.
- Identifying and implementing social media and other digital marketing strategies that emphasize your team’s expertise and thought leadership.
- Actively seeking and gathering positive online reviews and addressing any negative feedback promptly.
- Continuing or introducing a quarterly or monthly e-newsletter to stay top of mind with clients.
Retention: Cultivating a Culture of Trust
Many law firms invest a significant amount of time and resources in recruiting and hiring, only to incur considerable costs due to high staff turnover. Prioritizing employee retention in 2024 can not only save time and money, but it can help position your firm as a destination for top talent whose skills and energy will help your business thrive.
Ensuring that roles are clearly defined and responsibilities are appropriately assigned is an important first step in improving team management. However, cultivating a strong culture of trust is essential to boosting motivation and morale. It begins with getting to know your team — understanding their individual career goals and providing the support and mentorship they need to achieve them. Meet for coffee to discuss their successes and challenges. Celebrate small wins while looking at areas where their work can be improved. Establish regular performance assessments, reward top performers, and commit to addressing specific human resources issues promptly. Implementing these steps will go a long way toward keeping staff engaged and fulfilled while avoiding unwelcome surprises.
PUT A PROCESS IN PLACE
Once you establish your goals, you now face the challenge of implementing them. In my experience, the key to effectively creating change is developing a process that helps you stay focused and allows you to track progress.
Don’t overthink it. All you need is a simple plan that allows you to chip away at your goals. Break larger goals into smaller tasks and carve out time to tackle each one. Be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to these duties — it may be an hour a week or two hours a month — but be sure to save your most productive time for client work.
While scheduling the tasks you want to accomplish, don’t forget to incorporate any additional resources you may need. Attorneys are often more likely to try to do everything themselves than to ask for help. Seeking support can be invaluable, whether it’s tapping a team member’s expertise, embracing time-saving technology, or getting an outside perspective from a mentor, coach, or colleague.
As the year unfolds, you might find the strategies you’re using to achieve your goals are not working. Remember Newton’s first law of motion: every object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.1 Embrace flexibility, adjust as needed, and recommit to your process. Over time, it will become a habit — one that delivers tangible results for you and your firm.