Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms

The Dangers of Hitting Your Stride at a Small Firm

I know it’s not popular to write about lawyers doing well, because misery loves company, but the sad truth is, there are lawyers who don’t spend their days blaming their law school for the fact that they should have never thought of becoming lawyers, or trying to figure out how every new “future of law” tool on the internet can bring them clients.

There are lawyers, regardless of what you’ve been convinced of, who are actually making a living off the time and sweat they have put into their practice. These are the lawyers getting multiple calls a week, whose main concern is not counting the days until their worthless LinkedIn connections bear fruit, but how they are going to get all the work done, and if the stride will continue.

So for the whiners out there, the heartbroken dreamers, the ones who believe expressing their anonymous anger on the internet will one day result in something positive, take the week off. I want to talk to the success stories out there in Small-Law-Ville (anyone own that term yet?)….

Hitting a stride is a great and dangerous thing. You start to feel comfortable. You’re getting a good number of calls per week, and signing up one or more clients. The operating account is looking good, the work load is increasing, and then for 10 days no one calls. The first time this happens you wonder, “Is it over?” Is that it?” Then the calls start up again, but for the next week or so, no new clients. You thought this four-five calls a week, one-two clients thing was on auto-pilot, but now you’re starting to be concerned for upcoming expenses.

I don’t care how long you have been practicing, your reputation, or how much money you make — you will have slow times. Sometimes they will be measured in days, sometimes weeks, and yes, months and years. Slow, by the way, usually means nothing is coming in, or just enough to pay expenses, maybe. When a lawyer tells you things are “slow,” bet that nothing has come in for several weeks.

Oh, the advice.

Measure everything in months. If you brought in $100,000 in January, $5,000 in February, and $40,000 in March, you’re averaging just under $50,000 a month. Never look at things in terms of weeks, you’ll just drive yourself crazy.

Unless you’ve been practicing for long enough where big money cases are expected throughout the year, never get stupid with money. If you just brought in your first six-figure case, or even a high five-figure case, that’s not the time to buy a boat, or other lawyer-toy — that’s the time to park a chunk away for next month when you believe your phone is going to be disconnected. You want to treat yourself to something, great, but keep it reasonable, and that means an amount you won’t miss.

Do not get lazy. This applies to two things lawyers love to do.

Do not immediately try and convince yourself you need to hire someone. You get more work, work harder. When it gets to the point where it is almost impossible to do all the work, then consider expanding. Too many deadlines, too many appearances, that’s the time to bring someone on, not just because you don’t want to do all the work.

The second way lawyers get lazy is to “disappear.” I mean this in the networking and relationship building sense. All of a sudden, all the time you’ve spent meeting people and developing relationships has found you some success — so you stop going out, you stop going to lunch, you quit the non-profit board — you cut out all the things that helped bring you to where you are.

Don’t do that. When things get slow is not the time to re-enter the world of building relationships. I saw this in 2008-2009, when the bottom dropped out. Lawyers came out of the woodwork, in both online and offline networking.

Finally, talk about it. Lawyers don’t like to talk about when things are slow, but when they are for you, you’ll feel much better knowing it’s not just you. This is equally important when things are good. You struggle with practice decisions just as much when things are good as when they are slow. When you hit your stride, seek more advice. Never brag, but if for example you are a real estate attorney, you know that things are getting better. Lawyers know this, even if they are not doing real estate. There’s nothing wrong with saying in response to a question about your practice, “Things are coming back.” Perhaps it results in a conversation that helps you make a decision about your next move.

If you’ve hit your stride, congratulations, now get to work.


Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at bt@tannebaumweiss.com.

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