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Small firms are expected to be everything a business is and more. They are not only providing legal representation for their clients, but they are also performing administrative duties, operations, accounting and billing, development and other tasks — all while turning out a profit. While some aspects of running a business can be outsourced, many small firms do not have the robust resources or massive budget that large organizations have at their disposal to pay for these third-party services.
Big law firms are defined by the number of lawyers they employ, usually 100 or more. They pay high salaries to lawyers who graduate from reputable law schools and who are expected to work very hard in their positions to earn their sizable paychecks. Often, big law firms have multiple locations across the country, if not around the world. They employ different professionals who all work together to help their business grow and turn out sizable profit margins.
However, big law firms are notorious for long hours, demanding more and more from their employees. Many attorneys in big law complain about the lack of work-life balance. As a result, some end up burning out and decide to change careers. This is where small firms have an advantage. Small firms can narrow their focus and find efficiencies to work well on a smaller scale — usually to the benefit of their communities.
Small law firms can avoid the scaling issues big law firms encounter due to large overhead big law firms usually carry. However, some small firms struggle to achieve results without the deep pockets that many big firms enjoy. Here are some ways that small firms can improve their competitiveness with big law:
Practice responsiveness and open communication.
Clients need to feel they are being served in a timely and thoughtful manner. Keep open communication with your clients and update them on the progress of their case. This may be a quick email update or a detailed personal phone call. But make sure if your client is not waiting for more than 24 hours for a response from you. This will build trust and loyalty while also making your clients feel properly attended to. Some firms have accomplished this through the creation of an app that provides clients the basic information that pertains to their case.
Increase billable hours by streamlining legal research. Artificial intelligence and machine learning software can help cut down the time you spend on legal research by curated the most impactful search results. Outside of accelerating legal research, there are other solutions that can improve firm management and administrative tasks. For example, streamline the invoicing process with an automated portal for your clients to pay legal fees online.
Focus on customer loyalty.
Clients want to be loyal to attorneys who provide results and respect their needs. They want to know that the small firm they’re working with has the capacity for representation that covers multiple areas of law. That way, they can be confident in turning to your firm to solve all of their problems with educated solutions. Consider catering your legal offerings to what your current clients’ needs are and make the effort to expand if their demands are not already part of your practice.
Build strong interpersonal relationships.
Often, clients seek out the services of smaller firms because they’re seeking a personal touch. Big law firms lack the time and energy to create sub-surface relationships with their clients. This disconnect permeates everyday interactions and is increasingly prompting clients to look to smaller firms or non-traditional sources for legal services. Make sure you are personable with your clients. Offer not only the legal support they need but the personal support they crave during stressful legal battles. Making interpersonal connections will keep your clients coming back, and they will be more likely to refer your business to others.
Encourage team growth.
Being encouraging and supportive of your team can attract top talent. Listen to innovative ideas from employees and implement the ones that are most likely to improve your business. Be open to new management techniques and growth solutions, like AI and machine learning incorporation. Allow employees to explore a new field of law and expand their expertise and offer training and support continued education credits to help them master new skills.
Get involved in the community.
Build a strong relationship with your service area by responding to the needs of your local community. Be a part of your community by sponsoring or supporting a local organization or non-profit. Consider attending networking events and connect with other related businesses to create personal referrals. If you can, give public talks or teach a “how to” virtually or in-person for community members, frequently write blog posts, and engage with people on social media.
As a small law firm, it might feel like you’re at a disadvantage to bigger firms. In reality, what you might perceive as weaknesses can be used as sources of strength if leveraged correctly.