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At what point do the basic skills that have enabled you to be a successful lawyer become counterproductive? By this I mean your “practitioner” skills, i.e., all the things you do to apply your technical legal skill to a client’s matter and rack up the requisite number of billable hours. 

At certain size practice, say, $1 million in origination, you need to begin the process of evolving consciously from a practitioner to an executive.

There are many reasons for this shift. Up to $1 million or so (obviously, this threshold varies by firm, geography, and practice specialty) your service fulfillment model is fairly simple. You might personally bill $500-600k of that, with a couple of other lawyers performing the rest. This small circle of intimates presents only minor management challenges, primarily relating to client satisfaction, communication, and relationship maintenance.

Above a million or so, the game changes meaningfully. There's an increasingly larger number of client companies, internal buyers, servicing lawyers and matter types. The larger your practice grows, presumably you'll have expanded beyond your own discipline to include others of your firm's practices. That makes it more likely you’ll have a higher percentage of matters in practice areas with which you have little direct involvement. 

This is when success with client satisfaction, sales growth and operational reliability become less dependent on personal project management skills and more dependent on operating processes, people management skills, team communication and cohesiveness. As a natural consequence, more of your time will be demanded in these areas vs. legal work.

This evolution is inevitable, so why subject yourself to scrambling to react to practice growth? Anticipate it, prepare for it and avoid the service fulfillment bottlenecks that preclude you focusing on your highest value activities, which will have become sales and management. 

To begin, first define what economic level you want your practice to reach, ultimately. Visualize it. What does a $5 million practice look like? 

  • Will it be $1.5 million in your own transactional specialty, plus $2.5 million of IP litigation, plus $1 million of employment advisory work? 
  • What will that team have to look like to deliver and manage that work well?
  • What type of lawyers, and how many, will it take to support that practice?
  • What's the lead time in your market for recruiting and hiring those lawyers? 
  • How must your relationship with the key buyers change?
  • What must you do more of? Less of? Or do differently?

You can't afford to wait until you have the higher level of business. Define your Executive Threshold and prepare for it. Otherwise, you’ll never have a chance for your business to be sufficiently under control that you can project revenue growth or internal resource needs accurately. 

Mike O'Horo

Begin your forward thinking by developing a practical marketing and sales plan. The RainmakerVT course, Create a Marketing Plan That's Actually Useful, will give you a step-by-step recipe to think through, and define in useful terms, the business-acquisition part of this. Once you've done that, you should be able to begin projecting what resources you'll need to support the business you've won.