This week in Things I Wish I Knew…Joleena Louis talks about how important it is for solo attorneys to deal with something they aren’t too familiar with…firm administration
During my relatively short time as a solo attorney, I have garnered a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. If I am being honest, most of what I know about running a successful solo law firm is because I made mistakes.
The thing about practicing as a solo as opposed to practicing within the confines of a small law firm is that solo practice is more than just the actual practice of law. I wish it were that easy. Running a successful solo firm is about battling the three-head monster: firm administration, marketing and the actual practice of law.
I have yet to meet one self-employed attorney whose neck felt prepared for the albatross that is firm administration. One of the main reasons is that we never had to deal with it.
Sure, as firm employees, we had to submit out billables, but that is where it ended. We never had to collect if a client wasn’t paying, worry about copy machine leases, electricity bills, coordinating an office furniture delivery. Those things miraculously just got done.
I took it all for granted. In fact, I would say most of us did. It is only when confronted with all the “little pieces” of running a business that you really appreciate how hard it is to be an office manager.
The main thing I have learned about law firm administration is that it is like being told as a child to eat your vegetables. You don’t want to do it. You know, at the time, it tastes bad. But as you mature, you know you are better for it.
1. Block-Out Admin Time Daily, not Weekly.
I’ve found time blocks to be really helpful. Each week I set up a time to do my billing, review my books and any other administrative things that I need to do. Depending on my schedule I may block out an hour a day or spend half a day doing it all.
By doing this, it becomes part of my daily routine, as opposed to a once-a-month Saturday afternoon event. If you let it become the latter, you will resent it more than you should.
2. Systematize Everything
For example, whenever I get mail I open it, date it, scan it and then put it in my inbox.
Having systems has also helped me get through all of my administrative work faster. Yes, it takes longer the first time around, but once in place, it is streamlined.
3. Create Form Letters and Templates
Form letters and templates are also immensely helpful and time saving for solo attorneys. First and foremost, they are the creative commons of legal work. I have rarely met an attorney who has drafted an “original form.” For this reason, it is important to have be well-networked and leverage the intellectual networks of your colleagues.
For example, I send out for letters:
-when I have retained a new client,
-to remind a client of a court date
-when I close a file, etc.
I create a template in my case management software which fills in the individuals’ information and I can just print it out. Creating the initial template takes time but after that I can have a letter done in less than 2 minutes. Systematizing your forms saves billable time in the future.
I can also do the same thing with emails (with a little more work). In gmail you can create “canned responses” for emails you repeatedly send. I created one to remind clients of court dates. All I have to do is add their name and the court date and send the email.
Firm administration and management may not be the most “exciting” topic, but it is indeed a necessary one. This is true for every new solo attorney, because for us, it literally is an unmapped wilderness.
Want more tips on staying organized in order to maximize your practice?
Get our eBook: “Organize for Success”
Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a ﬁrm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial ﬁrm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ start-up program in Downtown, New York. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew… explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law ﬁrm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur.