Outsourcing to Build Your Law Practice.
You know how you get that sinking feeling in your gut when you’ve forgotten to do something important? Like you, that’s happened to me before. Why, you ask? My business taxes. Yes, I’m a lawyer and generally a pretty responsible human being, but keeping up with paying my quarterly taxes became not only something that I deeply dreaded, but something that sucked hours of valuable working time each time a payment was necessary.
Sure, I’d mark it in my calendar weeks, or even months, in advance. But, inevitably, I’d wait until the day that the payment had to be postmarked, scurry around like a crazy person ensuring that I had properly calculated all my income and expenses, tabulate my taxes owing, print my payment voucher, prepare it for mailing and then dash to the post office. I was not adequately maintaining this aspect of my business.
I realized that something needed to change. Wasting even a portion of my day performing the monotonous but necessary tasks associated with keeping up with my business tax obligations was not an efficient way for me to use my time. The solution, for me, was to find a local bookkeeper to help me out. I realized that the cost of bookkeeping services was worth both my time and my sanity. Now, I submit my monthly checking account statements, and voila! Someone else tells me exactly what I owe and even sets it up to automatically withdraw from my checking account.
So now you’re probably thinking, “Good for you, but what does this have to do with me?” There is a larger lesson to be learned here. It may be that when you first start your practice you can juggle it all: performing the legal work, keeping the books, marketing, purchasing supplies and even semi-regularly taking out your recycling. But at some point it is possible for several of these juggling balls to come crashing down on you. Perhaps you recognize from the outset that your strengths do not lie in the day-to-day business aspects of your practice. Although my personal experience was with paying my taxes, there are many other areas where outsourcing may be beneficial.
Nancy Mann Jackson of Entrepreneur offers some general guidance about the three kinds of tasks that are most commonly suitable for outsourcing: (1) tasks performed by highly skilled individuals, (2) routine or repetitive tasks, and (3) specialized skill tasks.
First, Entrepreneur suggests that tasks performed by highly skilled individuals, like a CFO, may be good for outsourcing because you may not need a full-time CFO, but it would be beneficial for someone with this skill set to regularly check out your books. What exactly does this look like in a legal practice? It could mean that, like Entrepreneur suggests, you have a standby CFO to help you out with the finances.
There are other more likely applications in a small law firm. Maybe you have a huge trial coming up and you know that you won’t be able to fully prepare for your trial and manage the rest of your caseload and/or life. Seeking a contract attorney with litigation experience to help you out with trial prep might be a solution. Perhaps you aim to be a full-service firm, but you aren’t quite up to speed in certain practice areas. A contract attorney could bridge the gap in those areas where you want to assist clients, but maybe does not have the time or experience to properly do so. The benefit of this is two-fold.
First, you can accept new business that perhaps you otherwise would not have had the manpower to handle. Second, contract attorneys require little to no overhead spending. Often, they are paid on a flat-fee basis or on a percentage of the hourly rate billed to the client. This allows you to provide the services that your clients need and to generate income for your practice without sacrificing quality.
Second, routine and repetitive tasks are probably the easiest to outsource, and there are several businesses that do just that. For example, there are services that can provide you with a local phone number and offer a live person to answer your phone and take messages. This could be a great solution for a solo practitioner who is frequently away from the desk in court or closed-door conferences, but who does not want clients constantly relegated to voicemail. There are plenty of bookkeeping professionals that can help you keep up with your accounts and manage your payroll. There are also a number of companies that can help with janitorial services, payroll processing, web site content creation, etc.
Finally, specialized skill tasks, like IT, could be outsourced. I think that tasks involving special skills are particularly difficult to identify for outsourcing. They seem simple enough from the outside, but maybe appearances aren’t what they seem. Unless you’re well versed in these areas, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you know that you don’t know it, you know? In other words, it might feel like you’ve got a handle on things until something goes wrong and you’re paralyzed without your computer network. Or you see one million cooking/mom/design blogs online and think, “How hard can it be to set up a website?” and then spend hours trying to figure it out. But by outsourcing some of these tasks, like building a website, you may still be able to execute your vision without sacrificing your work time in doing so.
Entrepreneur offers one other particularly important piece of advice: build your personal and professional network. It may be time-consuming to find the right fit for outsourced services. You really do need to find individuals or companies that understand what you’re seeking and why you’re seeking it, and, in turn, they should be able to provide value to you in performing the outsourced tasks. Referrals from friends or colleagues can be crucial to finding outsourced services that work for you. You will know that you’ve found the right fit when your outsourced services save you time, money and, ultimately, improve the efficiency of your practice.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h