The Day My Law Firm Imploded: An Attorney’s Worst Nightmare

It was the summer of 2018, I had just returned to Albuquerque after attending my daughter’s graduation at NYU. I was on a high of being an extremely proud dad and successful law firm owner. New Mexico Legal Group had grown to be the largest divorce practice in the state, Nebraska Legal Group was the fastest-growing law firm in Omaha, and I was preparing to launch Colorado Legal Group in the fall. 

This dream became a nightmare that following Monday morning when four of my Albuquerque associate attorneys walked into my office giving their notice that they were leaving the practice. Not only that, they were taking two of our most talented paralegals with them.

When $150,000 of Monthly Revenue Unexpectedly Walks Out

This was a moment of existential crisis. I wasn’t sure if the firm would be able to survive such a massive blow. Most firms in this situation would be forced to close but I had put too many years of hard work building this practice to allow that to happen. 

I had spent a lot of time on personal development, as an attorney and a leader, to be prepared to face challenges like this head-on. I did three things when this happened:

  1. See the problem for what it was. While this had the real potential to be a practice killer, I couldn’t afford to look at this problem worse than it really was. This was a survivable situation.
  2.  A razor-focus on the numbers. It was scary. The numbers with the departed attorneys were a bloodbath. That said, a way forward existed while losing money for a period of time.
  3. Reallocate resources. I cut our budget to the bone. Everything we didn’t absolutely need was gone, I cut my personal compensation to the minimum necessary amount to cover monthly expenses, but one thing we didn’t significantly change was our marketing expenses. While some programs like our monthly newsletter were put on hold, I knew this was the only thing that would ultimately save the firm and allow me to recruit the kind of attorneys I wanted for our team. 

At the time, this was one of the most difficult things I’d gone through. During this period I was working all day, seven days a week to lead my firm through this. 

What I Learned From This

This forced internal reflection on my role in the situation. I ultimately held myself accountable because I’d become lackadaisical as an entrepreneur and leader. While there were some great billers that left, it was also one of the best things that ever happened to my firm. The team as it was structured at the time was never going to achieve the goals and aspirations I had. There were certain personalities and attitudes on the team that I should have addressed earlier. I had allowed toxic relationships to fester and when you have a cancer in your organization, early prevention or removal is necessary or it will only become worse.

This allowed me to build in a new and better way. It was a culture reset. We became more profitable. We had more fun. 

It’s my hope that sharing this story does a few things. I hope it gives other attorneys the perseverance to tackle seemingly catastrophic problems. I hope it demystifies the perpetual positivity many coaches or consultants share — things will go wrong in your practice and that’s ok. It is also ok to admit that you were part of the problem. If you’re interested in resetting your firm to grow in a healthy and sustainable manner, feel free to book a 30-minute strategy session with me.

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