How to Take a 30-Day Vacation Every Year Without Leaving Your Law Firm in Shambles
I am writing this on a plane with my wife headed to Iceland. From there we will travel to Ireland, then to Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. A month from now, I will be back in my office in Denver and everything will still be running smoothly. I remember trying something like this earlier in my career as a young lawyer and returning to a mountain of mail and chaos, not having really enjoyed myself on the trip. Fortunately, I discovered the keys to making this work successfully, and it is rooted in a concept I call spheres of responsibility.
Clean Your Plate of Everything That Doesn’t Require Your Specific Expertise
As is true for all lawyers with decades of experience, I do a lot of things really well. However, there are only a handful of things that require my specific expertise. If you really want to carve out freedom from your legal practice, you must limit the things you have on your plate to only the things that REQUIRE your specific expertise. For me, this started with decreasing my caseload to zero. In our heads, we all consider ourselves the best lawyers out there. But in reality, there are many lawyers with great skills that are ambitious, eager to learn, and can be trained up to a level that meets all of the needs of our clients. You don’t have to be like me, and completely cut your caseload, but you can take a step back into the shadows and push your associates into the foreground. Today, I am still the face of our law firms. But I truly excel at marketing and recruiting, and that is where I spend the majority of my time. My marketing team and I fill our pipeline with great leads and the attorneys we have trained are there to provide outstanding representation and generate revenue for the firms. For everything else, I have developed a vision with my team that they execute even in my absence.
Identify Your Law Firm’s Spheres of Responsibility
Most law firms have very predictable needs that can be grouped into what I call spheres of responsibility. They are the same for all firms but vary depending on the size and complexity of how that firm operates. In general, there are:
- Finances and compensation (which includes billing, accounts receivable and payable, payroll, and daily financial operations)
- Marketing and PR
- Organization and daily operations
- Employee relations
- Strategic planning, attorney relations, and expansion
- Office infrastructure, workflow, and raving fans
Make Your Best People Responsible For Your Spheres (and don’t forget independent contractors)
I like reducing the overall categories to just six because I can fit them all on one page when I am doing my planning. Additionally, the way I have grouped them above seems to make sense with regard to who would carry out those responsibilities. Let’s look at it a little closer.
Finances and Employee Relations
In terms of finances and compensation, my divorce and family law firms utilize a highly qualified Firm Administrator, with backup from support staff or an independent contractor. We love using the site Upwork, which is a third-party contracting site, to pick up the slack for the easier financial work that the Firm Administrator doesn’t have time to do and really doesn’t require their specific expertise either. We also use our Firm Administrator to oversee employee relations (category 4) and typically try to have them spend 60-70% of their time on finances, and the other 30-40% on personnel issues. This also means that we strive to recruit only drama-free, self-motivated team members.
Marketing and Public Relations
Marketing and PR for my firms are now handled by our marketing company, Cardinal Concepts, which provides all the marketing services we require. Before we created this company, I had a Director of Marketing to oversee strategy and execution while we farmed out marketing to a number of different agencies that specialized in each particular area we needed. This meant that we had a company to manage our Google Adwords, another company for SEO, and yet another resource that only specialized in social media marketing. This can be a perfectly fine solution, BUT, you should resist the idea of doing ANY of your own marketing. And, any copywriting or other types of marketing content you require can, and should, be easily outsourced through a site like Upwork.
Strategic Planning, Attorney Relations, and Expansion
At each of our firms, we have designated Managing Attorneys. These attorneys are responsible for keeping the overall attorney team bonded together and to help carry out my strategic vision for the firm. They have a strategic plan to follow that we developed together at the beginning of the year, so they are executing this plan whether I am in the office or not.
Organization, Daily Operations, Office Infrastructure, Workflow, and Raving Fans
This sphere of responsibility is handled by our Chief Operating Officer, with help from our support team. Again, she has an overall vision that is developed with me at the beginning of each year. She knows what we have set as our essential outcomes, and she knows how I would like it executed. She is also carrying out these plans whether I am in the office or not.
In the End, It All Comes Down to Leverage
As you can see, once you have identified what needs to be handled, and who is in the best position to handle it, as long as they understand your specific vision, your firm can be designed to run like clockwork, even in your absence. This is how leverage actually works, and when it is in place it is the difference between staying at your office late into the evenings trying frantically to run your practice, or sitting back in a pub in Dublin sipping a tall glass of Guinness (which is what I will be doing in about 72 hours from now).