8 key characteristics of highly successful law firms

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successful law firms

Successful law firms share many common characteristics. There is no single, magic formula for success. Every firm is different and their service offerings and markets can vary widely. That said, there do seem to be overriding principles which, when put into place in a firm, yield results.

Let’s take a look at some of these.

1. Create a clear business strategy.

This is probably the most critical characteristic. Armed with both a clearly defined service proposition and market you wish to serve, you are half way there. Once these are decided, there is no room for distracting forays into areas that might dilute the main proposition.

On its own this is not enough to create successful law firms. You should make sure that the strategic message is understood by all staff and is broadcast externally to allow clients and potential clients to digest and understand.

2. Differentiate your practice.

With a clearly defined strategy established and communicated, your USPs (Unique Selling Propositions) should enable you to differentiate your practice in the marketplace. However, that is only half the differentiation story. As any good marketing professional will tell, you should back this up with brand values which appeal to your clients.

After developing your service offerings, your markets and your USPs, it’s time to develop a “style” that will appeal to your clients. As a result, your brand values will become clear in their minds.

3. Put your clients front and centre.

The most successful law firms go to great lengths to make sure the services they provide are consistent and timely. Paying lip service to client care rather than delivering it is not enough. Establish protocols which allow you to manage your clients’ expectations. These should cover, pricing, delivery timings and information updates as well as warnings of any potential delays. When you have these protocols in place, audit them regularly.

Also, perform periodic client surveys. These will allow you to fine tune your service delivery and keep abreast of changing client demands. If you really want to give your clients up-to-the-minute progress reports, consider a practice management system that allows them to get access to their matters via a secure portal. Great client service is a key differentiator. It will help you to retain clients – and that’s much easier and less costly than bringing in new ones. It also has the knock-on effect of delivering referrals.

4. Clients belong to the firm.

Some solicitors are very possessive about their clients. I have witnessed quite a number of internecine turf wars in the past and they only serve to damage the practice. In a multi-disciplinary firm, the client should belong to the firm, opening up the opportunities for cross selling.

All law firms claim this to be the case, but is yours really capitalising upon it? At the end of every client transaction, your service should include a “how was it for you?” session. This can be used easily to find out what other legal needs they may have and lead to additional business as a result.

5. Allow the managing partner to manage.

This one really can be a pot boiler for some practices. In some, the lead role is something to be avoided at all cost due to the impact it will have on fee earning ability. In others, many senior partners try to do both jobs and end up falling between two stools.

The most successful practices have a managing partner who devotes the overwhelming majority of his or her time to management and client development. More and more are considering a managing partner who is business qualified manager rather than just an LLB. It’s simple really – the most effective fee earner is not always the most effective leader. If you aspire to lead your practice, you must accept that your fee earning days may well be over. You may like to consider getting a sound business qualification such as an MBA too.

6. Be the best place to work.

Organisations that develop their staff, invest in them and create an enjoyable workplace culture outperform those which do not. It’s not rocket science. Engaged, committed staff perform better and the revolving door syndrome is avoided. Perpetually recruiting replacements for disgruntled leavers is an expensive hobby.

This applies equally to lawyers and support and management members of the team. If your team feels engaged, it will be more productive and innovative. When you have a highly motivated, well-trained team, you have the opportunity for greater delegation and this only serves to empower them to achieve greater goals.

7. Become recognised in your community.

Some might say that participating in your local community, whether it’s pro bono work or other more direct involvement, is a cynical way of garnering publicity. However, there is plenty of evidence that service to and participation in the local community is a hallmark of highly successful legal practices.

You get involved in local charity work, health issues, the environment – the list is endless. The outcomes are beneficial not just to the local community but also to your team.

8. Use technology to improve the practice.

Firms that invest in new technology and modern practice management systems are the real winners. Good IT systems and software provide significant advantages.

For example, in LawWare’s software, compliance, efficiency, client relationship management and accounts are all designed into the same package. Its main benefits are to help your staff, assist in client development and keep the SRA and various Law Societies happy. It’s a small price to pay for something that will make you more efficient and productive.

Having delivered the ubiquitous plug for practice management software, I’ll refrain. Needless to say, this list of 8 characteristics is not exhaustive. However, it is as good a place as any to start and should provide you with plenty of food for thought.

Mike O’Donnell, April 2023.

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