Every once in a while, I’ll write a post that gets me angry as I’m writing it mostly because it makes me think about how I could have done things differently. This is one of them, so I apologize for my tone. Here are 5 things I wish I would have known before I hung out my shingle so you can learn from my mistakes, not make your own.
I. Web Sites Matter
I don’t remember what I used to build my site, but needless to say I had 0 design or coding skills. I realized it was awful when I met a graphic designer who told me the ideal color scheme for me and my firm was silver and blue. It sounded perfect!
Yeah, what was my site? Green. Not green. Poop green. Needless to say I could have used some help in the design department. Even if you can’t afford a professional’s help, learn about it. Take some free design courses on Coursera and educate yourself so your site does not look like this (and yes that’s my former site):
II. Hire a Professional
That brings me to my next point. If you’re not willing to educate yourself on the proper way of doing things, get professional help. My new company, MerusCase will host a webinar with Legal Designer, Alexandra Devendara, on how to design your letterhead.
I never even thought about my letterhead and how it reflected my image, my brand and my practice. Don’t make the same mistake I did. If it looks cheap, unorganized, lazy and sloppy, what does it say about your practice? Get a designer and invest in it, or learn how to do it properly. But don’t skimp and be lazy. Here’s what mine looked like:
Why yes, that’s Times New Roman. Thank you for noticing. Yes, I could have used a designer.
III. Get the Law Practice Management (LPM) System
So I know I work for a LPM company right now, but here are real life examples of why I sometimes get sad that I didn’t embrace MerusCase or a tool like it when I practiced:
(1) An invoice often took me 15 minutes (at least) to create, print and mail to my client. Not to mention 15 mins to reconcile once I got a check in the mail and yes, driving to the bank to deposit them. That’s 30 minutes minimum of non-legal work I was wasting with every single invoice.
Your LPM can help you not only create invoices in seconds, but it can help you track your payments, your billables by attorney and by case, and give you a clear picture of all your expenses. Also, now that we have awesome alternative payment methods, avoiding banks and depositing checks through an app is a life saver. So please, save yourself the trouble and time and get the LPM and automate, automate, automate.
(2) I organized everything in folders on my desktop, and stored PDFs. Folders are a thing of the past. Your cases should be organized by case names in your LPM and the files, bills, attorneys and correspondence that correspond to them. Stop storing PDFs and trying to make sense of the mess when it can all be searchable, automated and accessible to you from anywhere.
Also, everything is done in the cloud these days so you can access your case files and information from anywhere. You should of course make sure any cloud provider you use is secure, but make the shift sooner than later.
(3) I didn’t know how much I was earning. You know when I found out how little I made my first year as a solo? When I did my taxes. You should be tracking your billables and your income the whole time. Set goals, see which cases are costing you more than they’re bringing in ahead of time, and track your billable hours.
My dad always told me “when you work for free, you can work forever.” I was working endless hours, and making very little. So you should value your time and others will too. However, if you don’t know what your time is worth and how much you’re bringing in, how will you know if all that hard work is worth it. Track it and invest in the LPM to help you.
IV. Learn About Business and Marketing
So I can’t emphasize this enough. Law school doesn’t teach you how to run a business. If you’re lucky it’ll teach you enough of the law to start your practice, how to draft a few pleadings and argue. It will not teach you about business relationships, marketing, networking and finance. That is on you.
Luckily it’s all available online for free. So, instead of looking at another puppy or kitten video today, watch a lecture on marketing, design thinking, finance for entrepreneurs, or business strategies. Then watch the kittens as a reward.
V. Get a Hobby
The thing that saved me my last year of practicing law was having a hobby. It was and still is a creative outlet. I got to meet interesting people and learn about technology on a daily basis. Obsessing over legal technology helped me get through the day and have something to look forward to every night. It ultimately led to my new career.
Whether it’s singing, dancing, painting, technology, robotics, engineering, coding, drawing, yoga, or volunteering, go out and do it. Read up on it, join organizations and meetups, and meet some great people who share your passion. It’ll make you happy and help you enjoy your practice of law more.