Let’s face it, lawyers aren’t like other business people. There is a very simple reason for this, most business people are in business because they either like business or have an aptitude for business. Lawyers are different, they are lawyers because they attended law school and are very good at a certain type of thinking and problem-solving. Lawyers aren’t bad at business, but on average they aren’t business people at heart. So how do law firms motivate the lawyer to think like business people?
One option is to have the lawyers create business plans, but in my opinion, this is generally ineffective. They create a 2-3 page plan and then don’t look at it again until the next year. In normal businesses in the real world, the business plan is everything. All decisions are made based on what the plan and strategy indicate. Many lawyers like to think that they live in a different world, where the same business realities don’t quite apply to them. They don’t have the luxury of thinking about plans and strategy, they are too busy working for clients and stretching to hit their billable hours for the month.
Having no plan or a plan that is rarely looked at, aren’t good options, so how do we change this mindset? This past week I came back with a lot of great ideas from the Legal Sales and Service Organization’s (LSSO) Raindance Conference in Chicago. But I think the best idea came from Beth Cuzzone, the Director of Business Development at Goulston & Storrs who shared with me something they do at her firm. For the Partners, they create a one-page Contribution Plan. This plan asks the lawyers five simple questions regarding the contribution they are expected to make to the firm. Here they are:
1. What measurable goals have you set for yourself?
2. What are the search terms for your practice? (Or how would potential clients search for you using a Google search)
3. Who are your top three clients?
4. Who are your top prospects?
5. Who are your top referral sources?
Bonus: other ways you contribute
This is a great approach for lawyers because it frames the business plan in a different light. The contribution plan recognizes that the lawyers aren’t expected to run their own business, but they are expected to contribute as partners, and that contribution must be more substantial than billable hours. Your contribution above and beyond billable hours doesn’t have to be rainmaking, but it has to be something measurable and substantial.
Some legal marketers try to change the lawyers, but you can’t change lawyers into businesspeople any more than you can turn a dog into a cat. Lawyers are experts at a certain type of thinking, they sometimes just need help focusing that brainpower in the right direction. These five questions provide a simple and accessible way for lawyers to adopt more of a business mindset while maintaining their unique status as lawyers.