10 Things Lawyers are Shocked they never learned in Law SchoolTed Burgess
Interestingly, even though you learned all about the law in law school, there was one major area of your education that was lacking: business management. Law has been taught the same way for so long that it has gotten stuck in a rut and has forgotten to keep up with the needs of the times. Hundreds of years ago, lawyers weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are today. If you had a degree in law, you had clients because there were no other options. Today, that’s not the case. That’s why several new lawyers are shocked that they never learned these 10 essential things that all lawyers need to understand.
Accounting skills are essential for a new lawyer just starting out. Getting paid, getting your bills out, and tracking your invoices aren’t exactly glamorous, but they are essential to keeping your practice running. You’ll have to have a rudimentary knowledge of these things to stay in business.
What should you be charging your clients, and how should you be tracking it? With all of the classes in law school, it’s amazing that billing doesn’t come up. The clear thing here is that you bill for what you actually do. Detail all of your bills with exactly what you are charging for and the amount for each item. Try to bill in half-hour to one-hour blocks. Larger blocks can be harder to justify and detail. Also, always bill in simple language. Your clients aren’t lawyers and won’t understand overly technical bills.
You won’t be running a law office alone. You’ll need paralegals, a secretary, a billing department, and so on. Lawyers need to learn how to create a positive working environment for their employees. Be appreciative, check in with your employees on occasion, create a pleasant atmosphere in which to work, and whenever possible, treat them as equals. Remember, as a lawyer, you are only as good as your support staff allows you to be.
Hopefully, you learned a bit about networking while pulling all-nighters, but there is a lot more to networking than sharing lattes and pizza with potential colleagues. Learning to effectively use social networks is invaluable, but the real breadwinner knows how to close the deal with face-to-face meetings.
Just because you are licensed to practice law doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about the job. Having a mentor gives you a huge advantage because they will have already been through many of the growing pains that you’ll experience. Often, you can find a lifelong mentor in a nearby city or at your college.
Your clients don’t speak legalese. If you can’t explain things in a language your clients understand, you’ll have a very short career. Make sure everyone in your office is personable and knows how to treat clients like the human beings they are. Be honest and up-front, and if you have to deliver bad news, do it as a human, not as a lawyer.
Make sure you have up-to-date tablets, laptops, and smartphones for all of your employees. The world is starting to go tech-crazy, and you’ll need to keep up. There is plenty of proprietary software out there to choose from to help you run your business. Go online and check out some of the savviest lawyers in the social media world and ask them exactly what they recommend you use.
Cost-Effective Office Management
Running a lean office will allow you to stay in business even when your client stable is dwindling. Consider eliminating as much paper from your office as possible. Digital technology has made shuffling stacks of paper a thing of the past. The best way to do this is to adopt a cloud computing mentality to help reduce the soft costs of running your business.
Law is one of the most competitive fields in the world. It is a shame that more schools aren’t teaching lawyers how to market their practices. Learning about traditional television and print marketing is important, but online marketing is really taking off. Your best bet is to find a marketing company to help. Marketing is a rabbit hole that runs deep and could potentially suck up time you should be spending with your clients.
When you first start out, your client list is small. School has failed to ready you for this client drought. Build up your stable by checking with old friends either by phone or through an old-fashioned paper-and-ink letter. Create a tickler file that you can use to check in on potential clients. Do a client review in which you contact old clients to see what their current needs are or if they know anyone who needs your services.
Now that you have an idea of what you need to get your legal practice up and running, get out there and start doing it!
By Ted Burgess