“Success is neither magical or mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn
There is this one Super Bowl I remember which I believe illustrates the importance of fundamentals and preparation for small law firm owners. It’s Sunday, the 1st of February and everyone is watching. The Patriot players can feel their 4th trophy slip away, and it’s like 2007 all over again. And the Seattle players were prematurely fitting the second ring on their finger, one for each of the last two years they won the Super Bowl. The fans all thought the game was over: Seattle would give Marshawn Lynch the ball, and history tells us, he’d score. He’s been invincible in the role of the tank playmaker all year long. But what happens next is just mind-boggling.
Seattle’s coaching staff skipped conventional wisdom and went for trickery rather than what has worked. In the last seconds with the game on the line, the season resting on its shoulders, a legacy just begging to be built, a decision was made. Ignore the data and numerical evaluations and simply try something different. That one decision allowed rookie Malcolm Butler to reverse the direction of the game, in an instant. Maybe they were bored. Maybe they simply tried to outthink their opponent. Maybe they allowed the recent memory of a failed 3 and 1 with the ball in Marshawn’s hands to interfere with the facts. Certainly, they are going home, losers. The scent of victory is still in the air but the bitter taste of a loss on their tongue because of one bad decision.
Thriving Law Firm ‘Markers’
The game was entertaining as will the commentary for years to come. But what is the lesson to be learned? Why should we, as entrepreneurs and law firm managers, care? What can be learned and applied to law offices? I think there are two very good lessons to be learned here. First is fundamentals (learning what works in your law firm), and next is preparation (the key to success).
What does it look like to win when you run a law office? That answer has different looks depending on your goals, but as a general overview, winning means:
- Making north of 20% profit, after the law firm owner is paid a salary for the work they do
- Getting home in time for dinner, every night
- Work-life balance, going on your kids' field trip
- Running a small or big law firm while being surrounded by a team you can count on
- Having a lead generation source that delivers new prospects on a regular consistent basis
- Have a lead conversion (sales) process that converts to new clients mathematically and dependably, month after month after month
The opposite of these scenarios is consistent with the symptoms of a struggling law firm. If you are working late nights, worried about finances, or unsure about how to run your business, consider getting your FREE copy of the Attorney’s Guide to Personal and Financial Freedom!
Should You Stick With ‘What Works’?
As a law firm owner, would you try something new or simply stick to the fundamentals that have proven to work? The answer, during the course of normal business, is both. But when the game is on the line, sticking to the fundamentals that work is vital. If you don’t, it could mean the difference between winning and losing.
What Happens When You Ignore the Fundamentals
You build a culture of bad habits. So why did the coaching staff of Seattle decide to ignore fundamentals and go for trickery? I believe it’s because they developed bad habits. Just two weeks prior they used a trick play to change the direction of the playoff game and it worked. Would they be in the Super Bowl had they not used trickery then? No way to know. But I believe they’ve built a culture in which trickery is a big part. And on Sunday, the bad habit that culture created hurt them. Be sure to note, the coaching staff at Seattle are some of the finest the game has. But if they aren’t immune to these bad habits, neither are we.
You find yourself in a difficult situation. A long time ago, I was taught by my grandfather that you should have rules of engagement for every task in the business. And you should never break those rules. I know it's fun to break the rules every now and then. And I would argue with my grandfather-I would point out situations like the playoff game that Seattle won the week before. My grandfather would sit and smile and say “Yes, you’re right. You might be able to break a rule and get more from that particular situation. But when you do this, you’re actually reinforcing bad habits. You just trained yourself that you can break the rules, rely on your gut instinct and get good results. Then, when you least expect it, your gut is wrong, you ignore the fundamentals and zing you find yourself upside down.”
Your business is unpredictable. I’ve found, as I grew in age, experience, and in business, grandpa was right. And my experience has shown me that when I don’t follow the rules of engagement, the problem I face is a BIG one. It’s just simpler to follow the fundamentals and ignore the gut. Yes, it’s hard and it’s boring but business should be boring. It should be mathematical. It should be dependable.
What Are Law Firm Fundamentals?
So, what does this look like in a law firm? There are fundamentals in all aspects of the business, lead generation, lead conversion, collections, management, and client services but let’s unpack one of these, lead generation. I can’t tell you how many law firm managers I’ve worked with simply get bored with what is working and they want to know what else to do. Their TV commercial is an excellent example. They believe that at some point the ad may stop working. While they might be right, they might also be wrong.
It makes absolutely no sense to replace a current ad or add money to any other source until we’ve found the point of diminishing returns. There is value to testing new ways to generate leads so you don’t become dependent on a single lead source but not by jettisoning what’s working. Keep running that ad, till the math tells you otherwise. My advice, don’t watch TV, this way you won’t see your ads.
Practice: The Key to Being Prepared
Why was the rookie Malcolm Butler able to jump the route and intercept the ball on the trick pick to play at the end of the Super Bowl? He was prepared, that’s why. They practiced that play all week long. They knew it was a play Seattle liked to run and they needed to be ready. During practice, Malcolm got beat all the time. So he watched more films. Then he practiced some more. He knew what the offensive formation looked like. He could recognize it in his sleep and when he lined up on defense ready to defend their Super Bowl chances, he was wide awake and ready to take action. And boom, just like that all the preparation paid off and he walked away from a hero.
So how does that relate to a law firm manager? It’s simple. Practice makes perfect. And even at the highest levels, or maybe better said, especially at the highest levels, attorneys should still practice all the time. I see my clients miss this ALL the time. They believe once their sales team (phone room and I.C. team) are trained, their job is done. Nothing can be further from the truth. Regular training of our law firms’ sales team prepares our team members to notice opportunities when they present themselves. Like a prospect who is calling for a book, but really want someone to talk to who will actually listen to them. And when your team gets this right, that prospect sets an appointment. You do this several times a week and you’ll create a fortune in fees. But, if you don’t train, your staff will miss these opportunities, and those fees will go to your competition. This is a mistake that even the largest law firms make.
The Best Lawyers Are Effective Law Firm Managers
People are constantly looking for solutions to their legal problems in the areas of finance law, real estate law, medical malpractice, intellectual property, arbitration, or even environmental law. Many lawyers think that to get these leads, all they need is professionalism and quality client service (which are both very important in legal services, by the way). Little do they know that the best lawyers and the best law firms are those who get ahead of their competitors by being rooted in US law firm fundamentals. If you need help going back to basics, look for an experienced law firm management consultant to advise you.
Both small and large firms can benefit from the top-tier services of a legal systems expert. A lawyer who recognizes the need to go back to the fundamentals of management and learn from the best is giving his legal business a competitive advantage.
In Summary, stick to the fundamentals, never stop preparing and you’ll find yourself with a practice that will produce over and over again, yes, in a very boring manner. Building a better practice, one Super Bowl lesson at a time…
If you want to have your best month ever, become a professional salesperson. The rewards are ongoing. If you want to know how to become good in sales, contact our legal management consultant Richard James or schedule a 1-on-1 consulting to get your customized practice growth plan.