There are many challenges of having your own solo and small law firm… so many that we’re doing a multipart series on how to overcome these common hurdles. For Part 2 of this series, we’re covering some of the logistics and administrative challenges attorneys face when running their practices. (Here’s the link for Part 1 of the series in case you missed it).
The logistics and administrative side of running a law firm is a particularly big leap if you’re an attorney coming from big law where most of these aspects are taken care of behind the scenes. We’ll cover three of the most common logistical and admin challenges of running a small or solo firm, what you should consider when taking on this new aspect of firm management, and solutions that have worked for us.
As a modern law firm, it only feels right to start with one of the more daunting tasks – establishing your legal software systems:
1. Software Systems
Behind every lawyer is legal software to keep the firm running smoothly. Legal software encompasses everything from e-signing documents to research and billing. In today’s digital world, having subpar software solutions will only hold you back as you try to grow your firm. The reality is they aren’t just something you purchase once and forget about; most are subscription-based and require training, maintenance, and upgrades as you use them.
The management of firm software systems can be a drain on attorneys mentally and financially, but it’s a critical part of your practice. Finding the best-of-breed software that elevates your firm can go a long way when it comes to your attorney-client communications and overall efficiency.
Software you’ll need for your small firm:
- Time tracking
- Billing & invoicing
- Legal research
- Customer relation management
- Document management
- Document creation
- Calendar management
- Payroll and taxes
- Client communication (video conferencing, email, messaging, etc.)
Of course, each one of these software systems comes with a price tag. If you’re solo or have a small law firm, some may be more critical to your practice than others, but you’ll need something to handle each of these areas of your firm. When you’re first launching your practice, you can check your firm’s State Bar association to see if they offer discounts or even free tools to help you get started.
Eventually, you’ll want to upgrade if you’re using free systems, and the ROI when you do upgrade is usually worth the investment by making you significantly more efficient in the long run. In a field where time is money, this is a huge win.
At Practus, we have a team dedicated to researching and choosing best-of-breed software. Our CTO was actually the first hire (even before an additional attorney) because we know how much the right technology can help and how much the wrong technology can hurt.
Here are three things our team considers when choosing legal software:
- Cloud-based technology: this allows attorneys to work from anywhere, giving you the ultimate flexibility in when and where you work.
- Compatible with any device: your software won’t be tied to a single device so whether you work from an iPhone or a PC, you’ll still be able to get your job done.
- Reasonable learning curve: you’re going to have to take some time to learn how to use new software, but you don’t want a system that requires you to constantly be troubleshooting. Having a moderate learning curve means you can get back to work quickly. Here at Practus we take this a step further with custom-curated (and created!) video resources on our exclusive Intranet system to help our attorneys when they have a question or are learning our systems for the first time.
2. Invoicing Collection
Invoicing and collection for services performed are most attorneys’ least favorite parts of practicing law. Every attorney has had at least one client that’s so slow to remit payment or doesn’t open a single invoice. For attorneys that have their own practice, the burden of sending invoices and collecting from clients tends to take away from the enjoyment of practicing law. If you’re an attorney who takes on this small and solo firm challenge, you know how time consuming yet critical this can be.
To alleviate this burden, many solo and small firms hire someone to manage their invoicing system and hire out a collections agency as a more cost-effective option compared to hiring a collections person in house. As you take on more clients, the invoicing and collections side of your firm will continue to grow, so preparing to scale is critical.
As the VP of Firm Administration at Practus, my team and I work with attorneys to provide Pro Law software training (which helps with the creation of invoices) as well as invoicing support. Having someone to work with when it comes to these challenges streamlines invoicing and collections so attorneys can focus on invoicing to improve relationships with their clients rather than feeling the need to chase their clients down for money.
3. Building Support Teams
When you go out on your own, you might bring one or two people with you from your previous firm, but that’s just the start of building the support team you need to grow your solo or small law firm. The reality is one person can’t take on every single case presented to them while managing the rest of the law firm logistics.
Having a network of top-tier attorneys helps your firm grow even when you’re a solo practitioner. You can take on more complex cases with a joint engagement, your clients will come to you first for referrals, and you’ll avoid lawyer burnout.
We knew this logistics side of practicing law was important from the start, which is why we built in a culture and compensation structure to help attorneys work together within Practus. Learn more about the Community, Culture and Collaboration at our firm.
It’s common for Practus attorneys to reach out to each other when it comes to working together on a complex legal issue. Sometimes it’s because the client wants a legal team familiar with multiple industries. Other times, the attorney predicts that the legal work will continue to get more expansive and wants someone working by their side from the start. Sometimes, an attorney can’t take on new issues at the time and simply needs another Practus attorney to represent the new client. Whatever the reason, knowing you have a network of top-tier attorneys that are only a quick e-mail or Teams message away alleviates the stress of needing to build this network from scratch.
This level of support doesn’t just stop at the attorney level. Paralegals at Practus often extend work to multiple attorneys. Non-legal staff members do regular pulse checks to see when we need to add more people to our marketing, HR, and tech teams. If you’re just starting to build this support system at your firm, you can hire freelance or contract workers for limited hours until you need them full time. When paralegals extend their work to multiple attorneys, it gives them the stability of full-time income while decreasing the cost absorbed by individual attorneys.
One of the most exciting parts of this established support system is that Practus attorneys help in whatever capacity they can when someone needs it. In times of crisis, we band together to support team members. Creating support channels like this is something that takes time to build, yet it’s so critical to the growth and success of your law firm.
Software systems, invoicing, billing, and support systems are challenges each firm faces regardless of the size. When you’re a solo or small firm, these challenges can seem all consuming as you’re simultaneously facing a high workload.
Many of our attorneys decided to join Practus to focus on practicing law and the growth side of entrepreneurship rather than using their brain power on these logistical and admin challenges. Be sure to check out Part 3 of this series where we dive into detail about the challenges of culture, support, and building community at solo and small firms.