What are the skills that an independent practitioner must learn?
You are not merely responsible for performing the tasks that your senior delegated to you, or for ensuring that you deliver a great quality of service to the clients of your senior or law firm.
As an independent practitioner, or someone who builds a small law firm, you have the following additional responsibilities as well:
- Consistently generating new clients and having a steady stream of work flowing in.
- Maintaining necessary cash flows for expenses and salary payments, if you have juniors.
- Ensuring the profitability of your practice.
- Building your brand and reputation.
- Expansion into new areas.
- Hiring the right talent and training them to be productive.
- Quality control of the output of your juniors.
- Automation of certain aspects of your practice so that you can focus on growth.
In order to handle these responsibilities effectively, an independent practitioner must learn some new skills, which are not covered in law school syllabus.
Which skills are these?
#1 – Use of spreadsheets to measure various key performance indicators or (KPIs) of your practice
Lawyers are trained in using language and therefore very comfortable with word processing softwares.
However, as an independent practitioner, use of Excel or Google Sheets is very important to measure important data about your practice.
With excel, you can create a management information system (MIS) to measure some key performance indicators (KPIs) for your law practice, such as:
- Revenue and cost forecasts.
- Number of incoming inquiries per week and per month.
- Number of blog posts/ articles written and videos released.
- Number of discovery sessions and free training for existing and prospective clients, per month.
- Number of clients successfully closed and onboarded, per week and per month.
- Number of potential clients in pipeline, per week.
- Percentage of incoming inquiries converted into paid clients.
- Clients for whom successful delivery is completed, per week.
- Time taken between receipt of an inquiry, completion of service and receipt of full payment.
- Number of positive and negative feedback received, per week.
- Current and expected bandwidth requirement based on pipeline (this will indicate when you need to hire), per month.
- Realized and pending revenues, per week and per month.
- Average revenue per client, average revenue per service provided and average time taken to complete delivery.
- Volume of clients generated through referrals, per week.
As your practice becomes more sophisticated, you may need to create more KPIs.
You can also deploy a practice management software such as Clio later on to measure some of the KPIs, such as conversion rate, pipeline value, etc. It can also automate billing, tracking time, apportionment of costs, managing client communications and scheduling your calendar.
There is a 14-days free plan to try out, and the cheapest paid plan costs around 50 US dollars per month, i.e. approximately INR 3500 per month.
If you work on improving these KPIs, it is possible to build a practice from scratch from no income to about 2 lakhs or more in a new practice area.
#2 – Learn how to build your website and keep it updated regularly
In the digital world, a website is the equivalent of your office in the physical world.
A swanky office in a marquee location may no longer be necessary for a lawyer who consults clients virtually, but having a great website is.
A great website enables potential clients to find out more about your work, showcases your expertise and research, the industries you cater to, covers latest news and updates in the industry, and so on.
It also enables potential clients to engage with you, by subscribing to your newsletter through a subscription form.
Read this article to learn about the key elements of a great law firm website.
Most lawyers I speak to struggle with identification of a suitable web developer, getting the website built within a reasonable budget, monitoring the quality of work and timely delivery of the project, and in getting updates put up on time.
One of the simplest ways to build your own website rapidly and without any knowledge of technology is through a plan provided by Wix, which has a free plan and a paid plan starting from as low as INR 3000 annually.
It has specific templates for law firms and independent lawyers.
I built my dad’s website in about 2 hours using Wix.
Wix allows you to include disclaimers on the website, a practice used by lawyers and firms in India to comply with BCI’s rules against solicitation.
You can find my free video on how to build your website using Wix here.
I strongly recommend you to take out 3 hours to build your website today.
#3 – Learning how to build great brochures, client proposals and trainings
From time to time, independent lawyers need to create the following materials:
- A brochure of the firm which will be frequently sent out to clients upon request.
- Brochures for specific teams or practice areas.
- Proposal for services for a specific client.
- Weekly fortnightly or monthly newsletter to update clients about new legal. developments.
- A powerpoint presentation for a client training, e.g. on data protection, insider trading, competition, negotiation, anti-corruption, employee code of conduct, POSH, etc.
These materials must be slick to impress clients. You can’t use the excuse that you are a small practitioner and that you cannot afford to hire a professional designer.
You can’t clutter your materials with text in the same way as you write in a client memo or a petition – it will become too verbose and boring for readers.
This is where our ability to use software comes in to help.
We may not be trained in design, but we can use appropriate plug-and-play software.
For this purpose, I find Canva or Google Slides to be extremely handy.
Google Slides is entirely presentation focussed, and I have found it quicker to make presentations on Google Slides than on PowerPoint.
Google Slides also offers easy collaboration with your colleagues, superior presentation layouts and easy-to-configure diagrams or chart templates, as compared to other presentation softwares.
To learn more about how to get started with Google Slides immediately, you can refer to this video, where I explain the basics of making a presentation on Google Slides.
#4 – Use of social media
Some of us abhor social media, while others spend time unproductively on it.
It takes some time to learn how to use social media for specific purposes, but targeted use of social media can be very beneficial to your independent practice.
I suggest that you use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
You will need to learn what kind of content to write, and then you will need to ‘repurpose’ it.
To get started, here are a few initial steps to follow.
- Start with creation of your LinkedIn profile. Create an ‘all-star profile’ on LinkedIn.
- Ask those who have worked with you to give you recommendations.
- Create a YouTube account.
- I am assuming that you already have an Instagram, Facebook and Twitter account.
- Now, you must figure out a way to post content at least thrice everyday. You can post original content or share other useful content for your audience.
- Spend some time adding seniors whom you would like to connect with. They should be people who are at least 3 to 4 years senior to you professionally and have achieved what you want to achieve. If you are in law school, add people with 3-4 years of law firm experience.
- Comment on posts written by others in your network to engage with them.
Spend 1 hour everyday to work on social media. This is productive time, if you don’t get distracted with irrelevant activity.
You will also need to ‘repurpose’ your content for different media. For example, how can you put up content from a LinkedIn post on your Instagram profile or YouTube channel?
Do you want examples of how some thought leaders post great content?
You can follow Ray Dalio, Gary Vaynerchuk, Grant Cardone and Tony Robbins.
I also suggest you to follow journalists from The Wire, Bloomberg Quint, FirstPost and Quartz, especially those who cover stories around legal issues.
They are frequently searching for new stories and perspectives, and if a young lawyer is willing to help them out with something, they will be happy to publish a guest post.
You can later list out the names of the websites where you have published guest posts on your own site to enhance your credibility.
#5 – How to rapidly create engaging and valuable content for your audience
Creation of content for your audience is very important to build credibility and thought leadership.
Thought leadership is important for enabling people to consider you as a high-value service provider.
Your content enables you to stay on top of the mind of your readers.
If they have a legal issue and they remember what you do, they will come to you.
Many of my friends know of me as the only lawyer they can speak to for inputs, and contact me if they face a legal issue, even though I do not provide legal services.
Ensuring that you regularly write content, and sharing it on your website and social media will enable you to generate more incoming client queries and have more credibility with clients.
In turn, you will be able to maintain higher prices.
You will be able to stand out from the competition.
The next question is, what are the barriers that you will face while you take efforts to develop thought leadership?
Writing a client memo, drafting a contract or preparing a petition is very different from writing on the pain points of a potential client.
Most young lawyers are restrained from being active on social media because of their fear of being judged by others.
Others try to compensate for this fear by trying to write ‘smart’ posts only, which also hurts you. The goal is not to try and appear smart, but to genuinely offer value to your target audience.
Let me give you an idea on how to create original content.
Continuously track legal and commercial developments in a particular industry sector and share them with your inputs on your profile.
Every week, or at least once in a fortnight, write and publish one article on your blog, which you share on your social media.
Once in 3 months, come up with something really exclusive, such as conducting a series of interviews of the pain points faced by your target audience.
You can interview challenges faced by startup founders in raising the second round of investment, or in supplying products and services to the government.
Or, you could interview associates in the technology laws practice of multiple law firms and identify the categories of work that they perform. You can do this for other practice areas also.
It is a great way to explore the different kinds of work that associates perform.
This kind of strategy has several benefits.
Firstly, you will learn a lot about what the industry or what the law firms need. You can then use this knowledge to narrow down on the areas in which you want to specialise.
Secondly, you will have a deep personal network with your target audience or senior associates. They will not hesitate to speak to you, because you are not asking them to give you an internship or a job, or paid legal work.
A few months down the line, if you need their advice on help, it will be easier for you to reach out to them, and they will be happy to help you, because of the familiarity that you built through this exercise.
Thirdly, your content will be widely read and shared, leading to your own credibility and recognition by a wider audience.
In future, when you send internship or job applications to different firms, you can share the content that you created while performing this exercise.
Recruiters will value such efforts because they are unique and focussed on real-life work.
Also, there are chances that recruiters from other firms may already know about you, and they will prefer you over someone who has a regular CV without this kind of ‘outlier’ experiences.
In general, the topics you write on should have some connection with the work that you do, or the area that you want to learn about more, or the target audience.
If you are a technology lawyer, you can write around developments on privacy, data protection, fintech, technology contracts and other such areas.
If you are an investment lawyer, you will talk about various kinds of investment transactions, news, legal developments, etc.
Most independent lawyers will need to write about new services which they want to provide, or new industries which they want to cater to.
Can I write about an area which I have not worked on before?
It does not matter if you have worked on client mandates earlier on these areas. You can start writing about them first.
In some cases, you will need to create new services which do not fall into the bracket of advisory, transactional or litigation services.
For example, if you are working with a technology startup, you may need to review the flow of customer data from one software to another and then identify whether it is compliant with necessary data protection and privacy laws and agreements.
If you are helping a startup improve its track record of money recovery, you can provide a new kind of service to ensure higher likelihood of recovery of money. This is a preventive strategy, and not a litigation strategy which kicks in after default.
Some of the ways to increase money recovery for a startup as a preventive mechanism are:
- Obtain an MSME registration for eligible startups.
- Review invoices to ensure that they enable the startup to take the benefit of the statute and inform the other side about its registered status and consequences of not paying in time.
- Review and edit contracts so that they are watertight and do not leave scope of dispute.
- Obtain a confirmation of acceptance right at the time of delivery of product/ service to eliminate the chances of a dispute being raised later.
- Create a process to send in appropriate reminders over email and also train a junior or secretary to make reminder phone calls.
Don’t you think that this plan will dramatically shoot up payment recoveries and reduce risk of dispute or defaults?
In reality, very few lawyers provide such comprehensive plans or strategies, and stick to billing for the usual services – drafting of petitions and contracts or preparation of opinions.
It is necessary to move out of the box in today’s times.
To be able to come up with such ideas, you will need to learn the skills necessary to provide those services.
Otherwise, you will not be able to effectively translate users who send in inquiries into paid clients.
What else do I need to do to translate incoming inquiries into paid client work?
Creation of content, web and social media presence is the front-end of your practice. Your excel sheets and KPIs are the backend.
There is a layer in the middle, which connects the front-end and the back-end, that is, your onboarding process.
The onboarding process has 3 steps, which must be implemented in sequence.
These three steps are crucial to translate incoming inquiries into paid client work.
Independent practitioners who are finding it difficult to generate new clients do not follow any of these steps.
Do you want to know what these steps are and how to deploy them to increase conversion rates?
Join me on the 27th in a 3-hour workshop on Building a Recession-Proof Practice, available at a special one time offer of INR 100, where I will discuss how you can deploy these for your practice.
We will discuss the three steps which are essential for successfully onboarding new clients, how to maximise conversions from incoming queries, how to create a pricing strategy for new clients, and how to offer high-value services to new clients.
Young lawyers can use these strategies to offer services in new practice areas. independently, get two new clients per month and reach a monthly income of INR 2 lakhs per month by implementing these strategies successfully.
As of now, I want you to start working on the five skill sets that I outlined above. Select a Wix plan, create the first draft of your website, complete your social media accounts and start posting.
Identify a topic for your first article, create a structure and start writing. Make sure that the article is connected to the work that you want to perform, or the industry that you want to cater to.
That will enable you to obtain more value from the workshop.
Also, do read tomorrow’s email. I will write more about how you are sabotaging your practice and why you fail to retain new clients.
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