Have you ever seen a “plate spinner” on one of those old-time variety shows? You know—the performer who spins a bunch of plates on a set of poles and has to keep them all spinning so they don’t fall off? Running a law firm can feel a lot like that. Your attention can be divided in a dozen different directions, and if you overlook or ignore one of the spinning plates for too long—crash! Down it comes.
To help you keep things on track, here’s an important management question to ask yourself periodically: “What am I currently ignoring that I shouldn’t, and why?”
Let’s look at a few examples of what “ignoring” one of these spinning plates might look like.
The Time-Draining Client
You have a client who consistently calls in to bother the office with minor requests, most of which have little to do with his case. Your team is getting frustrated, and you really should let him go, but you choose to ignore it because he pays well, and you need the revenue. If you keep ignoring the issue, you could lose staff; you could lose revenue from other clients who aren’t being served; and you may lose the time-draining client after all because high-maintenance clients are difficult to please.
The Underperforming Employee
The new associate you hired last month isn’t working out well. She’s pleasant, but she’s consistently late, she makes lots of mistakes and turns in subpar work. You should address the issue, either through additional training or termination, but you’re so busy with other tasks that you let it slide. If you keep ignoring the issue, you could find yourself in the midst of a personnel battle due to other associates tired of picking up the slack. You could also eventually encounter financial difficulties because she’s draining the firm.
The Mysterious Shortfall
Your firm has been taking in a lot of new clients lately, and a lot of revenue as a result—but when you peruse the weekly financials provided by your accountant, you notice your expenses seem to be higher than they should be, or you see a slight financial shortfall in the income. It’s enough to spark your curiosity—even a tinge of suspicion—but you’re taking in so much money right now, and you’re so busy that you put it on the back burner for the time being. If you keep ignoring the issue, you could eventually find yourself in a serious financial crisis. It could be as simple as some unused subscription services that never got cancelled, or it could be as serious as your accountant embezzling funds. If the books don’t add up—find out why.
When managing a law firm, keeping track of all the metaphorical spinning plates requires some time management skills. But remember that when you get too focused on one or two plates, you’re ignoring the others by default. Prioritize as necessary, but be sure to visit all the moving parts of your firm from time to time. Small problems you ignore today can become big ones you can’t ignore tomorrow.