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How to Differentiate Your Law Firm in a New World

How to Differentiate Your Law Firm in a New World

Dec 16, 2020 | By Chelsea Williams | 0 Comments

Topics: Legal Industry, Tips and Tricks, Featured

COVID-19 was an unexpected jolt to everyone around the world.

It’s been a year of realizations, heightened social awareness, a massive shift in the education system, and a universal pause that begs for reflection. It has shown us that change is inevitable and complacency can hurt. Try to deny or fight those two truths, and you’re going to be left behind. 

But here’s another truth, it’s not a matter of if, but of when the next crisis will hit. Question is, will you be better prepared next time?

COVID affected businesses in ways that are still being realized. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed one evening in late September and noticed a post in a business group I’m active in. It read, “Now that we’ve been dealing with COVID for 9 months now, how has it impacted your business? Good, bad, or impartial”? The responses varied, but a majority of the responses indicated that COVID took a negative toll. I decided to pose a bold question to those who indicated COVID affected their businesses negatively. I knew it would piss some people off, but sometimes the truth hurts. You know how you write a response on social media sometimes, but then second guess yourself and delete it? That’s what I was about to do, but I decided to hit the Reply button. Here’s what I said, “For those of you who said COVID affected you negatively, my question to you is, what is your unit of measure? Revenue, internal operations, client experience? Because if you didn’t come out better than you went in in at least one of those areas you’ve missed an opportunity."

Mind Over Crisis

High achievers understand that life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react. The real challenge COVID has presented us with isn’t the face coverings, social distancing, and a more contactless way of life, it’s that some of us are waiting around for things to go back to normal. Some of the changes that COVID has brought about are not going to revert to the old way. Some of these changes can actually benefit your business by lowering costs, time requirements, and increasing efficiency. 

When this crisis hit, we experienced a flood of inquiries. Turns out people care more about their money when it’s in jeopardy, especially when they didn’t properly prepare for uncertainty. As I was observing all the business owners that were coming to us in their time of financial emergency, I noticed there were three different mindsets everyone had taken on. 

The first was that of complete denial. Paralysis gave way to doubt and fear around the worst possible future. They had already doomed themselves to struggle and defeat without ever evaluating any of the many possible futures that weren’t so devastating. Now, almost a year later, I can confidently say there were plenty of feasible options that were optimized by many business owners. In fact, most “COVID Emergency Budgets” that our clients created never got as bad as they had predicted. 

The second state of mind I observed was that of understanding, but no direction. This group of business owners learned a valuable lesson that will serve them when the next crisis occurs (don’t make the mistake of missing that, there will be a next time). They knew they had to do something and that there was something to be done, but they hadn’t taken action on this knowledge up until now. They were headed in the right direction; their journey would just be most difficult than the third type of entrepreneur I spoke with. 

The third entrepreneurial mind I engaged with knew three fundamental principles. There is always a best course of action, actions over time accumulate to progress, progress is consistently made by staying the course. These people fed their minds with the words and ideas of industry thought-leaders, business gurus, high performing individuals who value meaning through work. They understood that entrepreneurs by nature must be open to change and willing to be flexible to the point of discomfort. In the world of business if you’re not evolving, you’re dying. 

The third mindset will take away a few key innovations and implement them permanently. 

  1. Embracing technology. COVID thrusted us into a virtual world. Our new normal is having virtual communication with our teams, vendors, and clients. This is a change that will continue long after COVID has subsided and not a terrible one at that! Meeting virtually is time efficient and convenient. Consumers are quickly taking to virtual meetings, and businesses save time and overhead expenses by utilizing virtual meetings. 
  2. Working with a virtual team. At some point, you’ve likely had to close your brick and mortar doors and operate 100% virtual. Pre-COVID, a lot of business owners were hesitant to work with remote teams and outsourcing to remote workers because they were so comfortable with the traditional in-person alternative. Come to find out, there are a lot more opportunities when you consider remote teams. In fact, remote workers are more productive when there’s no coffee station to gather around. There are also less “quick” interruptions. While managing a remote team has its unique challenges, they are easily overcome. 
  3. Internal operations. When COVID hit, every high performing industry leader suggested the same thing. Focus on what you CAN do right now. Get to those lists of things you’ve been wanting to do forever, but never had the time for. Get your standard operating procedures (SOP) on paper, define the roles and responsibilities of each of your team members, define your own roles and responsibilities and start delegating work that can be delegated. The list of things you can do with downtime when you’re a business owner is endless. Internal standard operating procedures are how people can own a business and be out of the office for a month without operations skipping a beat. What all do you still need in place to be able to do that?
  4. If you cannot shift quickly, you’ve got some work to do. Dine-in restaurants who were going to survive COVID had to adapt, and quickly. When in-person dining shut down, restaurants had a choice. Adapt or die. Those who chose to adapt quickly set themselves up for pick up and delivery. They redesigned their website so that customers could place orders easily online and schedule a pickup. They optimized their technology and adjusted their internal operations to create a fluid process so that people could still order while complying with local regulations. You must be like these restaurants.

Lessons to Take With You in 2021

Your business is a direct reflection of you. Your strengths, weaknesses, habits and mindset, all that is you spills over into your business, both good and bad. A wise business owner understands this and is willing to step out of their comfort zone regularly. Adaptability is the essence of business ownership. Businesses who do not have the ability to adapt quickly will fade quickly when the landscape shifts. When COVID hit, the innovative business owners got to work. They understood what they could control and what they couldn’t. They managed what they couldn’t control the best they could and focused their attention on the things that they could control and work on. Things like internal operations, standard operating procedures, adapting to virtual operations, and nurturing their teams and clients. 

“It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~ Vivian Greene. 

1. Call your shots

Don’t let COVID kill your dreams. I’m willing to bet that since COVID hit, you’ve given much less thought to your dreams than being in a state of reaction and worry. Focus back in on the vision you have for your business, the people in it, and the customers you serve. Get clear about what it is you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and what direction you’re moving in. The last major crisis we experienced was in 2008. I’ve personally spoken with quite a few of these individuals who survived and thrived. Their advice was to simply stay the course. 

2. Recognize what you can’t control and optimize what you can control

Entrepreneurs #3 in my example above gave little time or attention to the things that were outside of their control. For some that reality was a drastic drop in revenue. They did what they could, accepted the hard decisions, and stayed the course. When you focus on the things that you cannot control, you will only be spinning your wheels and pouring time and energy into things that will not create results for you or your business. You must let go of these things. Instead, get clear about the pieces of your business that you can control, and get to work. 

3. Look for inspiration 

There was no shortage of inspiration when COVID hit, but in order to find it, you had to be looking for it. If you haven’t already identified and followed industry leaders, thought leaders, coaches, or other professionals who are positively motivating you, do that before the year ends. They are out there, and during crises is when they really shine. You might have to change your perspective, but what got you here, won’t get you there. 

4. Financial Management

If COVID almost broke your bank, you likely had a financial problem before COVID was even a thing. Get your financial house in order by starting a reserve fund that will carry your business through six months without any revenue. Set financial goals for your business and make sure your team knows what those goals translate into for them. Answer questions like how many leads do we need per week, what can we do with marketing to bring those leads in, and what does our team capacity need to look like in order to meet those goals. Make sure you are reviewing your financial reports on a monthly basis so you know where you are compared to your goals and give yourself time to take action if you’re falling short.

5. Team Management

The best way to motivate your team is to make them part of the bigger purpose or goal within your firm. People are driven by something greater than themselves. Share your firm’s goals with your team and make sure they are clear on the role they play in reaching each goal. Now that virtual teams are more common, employers are having to be more proactive about nurturing and checking in with their team. You should be meeting with your team no less than once per week and individually on a less frequent basis. It’s more important than ever to make your team feel connected. 

6. Client Management

Your clients’ experience with your firm starts when they see or hear about you (before they even call in). What are you putting out there for your prospects? What are their pain points? Are you addressing them in a compassionate way? When they make that first call to your office, are they greeted by a positive upbeat caring receptionist? When they engage in your services, is the on-boarding process easy for them? As the services progress, do they feel updated on the status or are they calling your office asking what the heck is going on? After the services are completed, do they never hear from you or do you put them on an email list where you provide them with relevant information on a regular basis so that next time, they come to you again? Can you duplicate all of that so that every prospect experiences the same process, creating raving fans who will refer you to the ends of the earth?

7. Growth Management

Nothing saddens me more than the law practice that drags its owner carelessly behind it because they can’t keep up with growth, let alone control it in a direction of their choosing. A required component of growth and scalability is process creation. This goes for every area of your practice. Your law practice should depend on processes, not people. If you have the right processes in place, almost any qualified person should be able to come in and maintain the workload for their position. 

In addition to creating processes for work you’re doing now, consider how those might change in the future. The legal industry is no different when it comes to technology playing a huge role in how firms operate and will operate in the future. Always be looking toward the future of law and how you can serve your clients better than any other firm by using technology that will help you on your mission. 

For a GREAT book on running a successful law firm and to get some specific ideas on changes your firm would benefit from, check out our blog post “The #1 Book Every Law Firm Owner Needs to Read”

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing” – Pele

So, here’s to the new year, post-COVID.

 

Chelsea Williams
The Author

Chelsea Williams

Chief Financial Architect and Founder of Core Solutions Group, Inc. Chelsea Williams is dedicating her career to providing financial clarity and direction to lawyers. Why lawyers? "Because they have the power to change the world, and our world needs their help". With over 10 years of experience, she has set out to break the reactive state of financial management with proactive accounting, tax and cash management services. Visit her website: https://www.yourcoresolution.com/

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