Balancing the Budget: Necessities for Small Law Firms

It might seem impossible, especially at the beginning, to find a healthy balance between earnings and expenses. The first step in becoming a cost-conscious firm is to focus on expenses and spend on the essentials to run your office. Every small firm needs an up-to-date computer system, printer, telephone, and email system.

A quality computer system is the most essential, and a decent system is necessary. Your computer system’s power must be relative to your practice’s needs. For instance, if your clients require you to use a high number of applications at the same time, you may need a higher-end system. However, most firms can function with a computer that has basic hardware, such as 2-3 GHz speed, over 1 GB of RAM, and no less than 500 GB of hard-drive space.

You might find it difficult to purchase this type of system, since this will be the largest expense of all the necessities, but it is an investment. With regular maintenance, this computer system should last (without becoming obsolete) for about five years, possibly more.  And, remember to include a compatible printer that will enable you to look professional when you send letters and presentations to clients.

There are several options for email providers for your firm. Free services such as Gmail, or traditional services such as Outlook (now Office365), are solid options. What is important for your firm’s marketing and client relations is creating custom email addresses with your firm’s name included. Seeing a “@gmail.com” address both looks unprofessional and is more likely to get caught in a spam filter. Gmail, along with many other email providers, makes custom addresses easy and relatively inexpensive to incorporate.

Once your computer and communication systems are put into place, it will be time to purchase accounting, practice management, and case management programs. The most important factor in purchasing these systems is not their price. Rather, your focus should be on compatibility. Case and practice management software are used hand-in-hand at every step of handling a case, but not every case and practice management program is compatible with one another. A handy chart is available on the ABA’s website to determine which programs are compatible with one another, and which are compatible with other software on your system (i.e. Microsoft Word, Quickbooks, etc).

At  Protexure, we are here to help small to mid-sized law firms operate at their most efficient level. If you are a small firm or solo practitioner seeking Professional Liability Coverage, we are here for you!

Please visit our website (www.protexurelawyers.com) or call (877) 569-4111 for a Quick, Free Quote. Our policy rates are extremely competitive and geared towards the needs of small firms and solo practitioners. Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and, as always, follow this WordPress Blog for the latest news, tips, and guides for small firms and solo practitioners!

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Protexure’s Tips for the New Year

What are your peers’ biggest concerns in the new year? As part of their annual “Small Business Sentiment” Survey, the online marketing experts at Yodle.com polled over 300 small business owners nationwide across a large array of service industries, including law firms and CPA firms about their happiness, work life balance, and their concerns. Here at Protexure, we want to help you stay informed, and help you succeed in 2014. Here are some of the highlights from Yodle’s “Small Business Sentiment” Survey:

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  1. Finding New Customers

Especially for new practices, finding new customers is the biggest issue for many small firms, and it comes as no surprise. Finding new clients is difficult and takes time. There is no magic way, or hidden secret to legal marketing. There are, however, several ways to market your firm. The first step that every solo or small-firm practitioner should take in building their client base is to get an online presence. This means registering for local bar attorney referral programs, gaining presence on your state bar’s website, building a website (go for basic and clean to start out), and creating pages on social media. This will give your firm a solid foundation to reference when you get into step two. Included in this most critical step are networking, word of mouth advertising, and new client meetings that build referrals. After step two comes the waiting game and tweaking your marketing tools all the while expanding it through direct mail and marketing research.

2. Affording Healthcare and other Employee Benefits

A relatively recent trend this year, and perhaps overtaking the typical tax concerns that pop up year after year in annual small business surveys, health care concerns loom large over many small businesses and small law firms alike. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains several benefits for small businesses, including price benefits. Although the law has not been fully implemented at this point in time, it contains language that reins in the cost for health care and health insurance for small businesses. Other employee benefits such as those that benefit work/life balance are tough. So many firms allow for flex-time and it can harm recruiting if your firm does not. It is something that is constrained to your budget, and sometimes you can’t offer it all to your employees, but that doesn’t mean you won’t someday get there.

3. Keeping Current Customers

Like we said before, it takes a lot of time and effort to gain new clients. But, what is the best way to keep them coming back? Again, there is no magic process! It takes perseverance and a little extra attention to detail to best retain customers. You must first have a great understanding of your client’s biggest needs, goals, and issues. You do not want to treat them as “any other client”, and the more interest you take in the client’s bottom line, the more likely your client will keep coming back. Try to provide added value to your clients by thinking outside the box. Sure, the scope of your relationship is attorney-client. But, something as simple as sharing an article that you thought they might be interested in, or sending a holiday email can further develop your relationship. Finally, remain diligent in handling business for the client. This is the most important task you have. There is nothing more valuable to a client than certainty, and if they know that you will stay on track with deadlines, and there are no surprises, it is likely that they will employ your services again.

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Protexure Tips: Team Building for Law Firms

As a small law firm, you realize that working as a team is essential to the health and efficiency of your business. Sure, you’ve done team building activities such as scavenger hunts and tug of rope, but how effective are these activities after the first time? Try something new with one of the following out-of-the-box team building activities:

1. Involve a charity

Fundraisers are a great way for members of your team to come together for a single cause. Instead of having a traditional event raising money for a certain charity, why not directly contribute to it? For example, set up a bike build for underprivileged children. Have your staff get into small groups and assemble bikes together. Partners and associates can all connect in a way completely differently than they do in the office, while making a tangible difference in the community.

2. Engage employees in different ways

Whether they be physical, cognitive, or ice-breakers, changing up the types of activities is a smart move. Keeping the activities fresh and different can stimulate employees and help you learn the most about your team. Work the different activities into your monthly budget in order to get the most out of your employees.

3. Beware of costly activities

Price does not always equal efficiency when it comes to team building. Costly activities, such as interactive workshops, must be evaluated extensively. Most of these activities have been reviewed online, so take advantage of the information at your fingertips. High-priced team building activities might not be right for your firm. The nature of your team will dictate the type of team-building your firm should pursue. If you feel that your firm needs more camaraderie, try something like a charity bike build. If you feel that people need to become educated on a certain subject, try a team workshop. The possibilities are endless!

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Protexure Tips: Financing for the Small Law Firm

One of the hardest things to do when starting a small law firm or solo practice is to develop discipline with your finances. Many attorneys spend money on things such as hiring staff they don’t need and building an expensive website, before they have a solid client base. Here are a few financing tips that will help your firm at the beginning and at later stages as well:

  1. Focus on the client

What is the best way to gain clients in your area of practice? This is an essential question to ask yourself as you start to build your client base. Since clients are the lifeblood of your law firm’s success, this is the one area you can splurge on (every once in a while). Especially for a new firm, spending money on going to conferences, building a website (that’s affordable), and doing some basic online marketing (social media) will cost time and money. Based on your area of practice, account for building and retaining your client base in your budget and don’t be afraid to go over budget if you think something will significantly build your client base.

  1. Do things yourself

Like stated before, hiring unnecessary staff is a common mistake among small law firms. There are many administrative tasks that you, as a solo practitioner or a partner at a small law firm, can do yourself. For instance, drop off filings at the courthouse yourself. This may cost you some time, but if done in an efficient way can save you a significant amount of money and give you a constant pulse on your practice.

  1. Don’t confuse necessities for luxuries

Although there are a lot of ways to consolidate your expenses and reduce your budget, do not neglect the things you need most to keep your firm running. A common thing that lawyers neglect is insurance coverage. In any business, you want to protect your assets and the health of your business. Professional liability insurance can protect you from a suit brought by an angry client, and you never know when a suit may be brought against you. Even if you win this case unprotected, it could put your practice into a hole that is impossible to climb out of.

If you are a small Firm or solo practitioner seeking Professional Liability Coverage, we are here for you! Please visit our website (www.protexurelawyers.com) or call (877) 569-4111 for a Quick, Free Quote. Our policy rates are extremely competitive and geared towards the needs of small Firms and solo practitioners. Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and, as always, follow this WordPress Blog for the latest news, tips, and guides for small firms and solo practitioners!

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Solo Practitioners: Maintaining Work Life Balance

When you run a small business, you may feel as though the business becomes your life. Solo Accounting Practices are no different, if not more consuming. While dedication to your firm is vital to its success, balancing the business’s needs with your personal ones is just as important. It may seem impossible, but solo practitioners can achieve work life balance by following a few time saving techniques, outlined below:

1. Get the right Practice Management Software

Depending on the nature of your practice, you should first choose between a cloud-based or a more traditional practice management software. Solo practitioners looking to promote their work life balance should highly consider implementing a cloud-based practice management software. Though the 24/7 access to your firm may seem counter-intuitive to the separation of work and life. But, take this situation as an example: a solo practitioner with children has his/her parental duties as well as duties to his/her clients as their attorney. While waiting for the child at daycare, the attorney can check documents on the fly. Cloud based practice management software makes it easier to wear more than one hat, and set your priorities the right way.

The most important thing to look for in a cloud based practice management software is security. A practice management system that is password protected and backs up your data frequently is essential for protecting your information.

2. Get some helping hands

Several companies offer virtual workers that are both inexpensive and convenient for a solo practitioner. When we say “virtual worker”, we are not referring to computers. These are real people that can act as secretaries or receptionists. They allow you 24/7 access to your calendars, schedules, client meetings and more. This option is more cost effective than hiring a full time receptionist, and helps take some of the load off of you.

3. Take advantage of mobile devices

Having a smartphone and a tablet can do wonders for your firm, no matter if you are solo or in a large firm. The important thing to remember about mobile devices is: though they are accessible 24/7, they are not to be accessed 24/7. It is easy to read every single email right after it comes in, but setting a schedule can help you keep your work life balance in check. For example, an attorney makes a rule: no responding to emails after 8 PM, or before 7 AM. Be sure to upgrade to a commercial account through your provider for enhanced security and Internet speed.

Though many attorneys go solo in order to have a better work life balance, but find that instead they have a harder time finding that fine line with the added responsibility that comes with owning their own business. By following these tips, along with a conscious effort to keep your several priorities in check, we hope you achieve a healthy work life balance.

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Protexure Tips: Specialization in Niche Law Practices

What is a niche?

Often tossed around legal circles due to the increased specialization of the field, a niche is primarily referred to as an attorney’s or a firm’s practice-based area of specialization. In this sense, a niche is an area of practice within a broader area of practice.

How to Find your Niche

A common misconception about niches in the law profession is that you must have a background or extensive knowledge about your niche before even thinking about making it a central part of your practice. A niche can be developed over time by gaining knowledge about a subject that you are generally interested in.

A niche primarily results out of the obvious: the assignments and cases you deal with on a daily basis. Examine what types of work you bring in the most frequently and what you enjoy to work on most frequently. Knowing what you’re good at will help narrow it down. Next, find the types of people you want to serve. What is your target market? Is it low-income or high-income? Are they corporate clients or private? These are questions with valuable answers. Answers you can use to find your niche.

Ok. So you’ve found your Niche, now what?

This is the fun part. This is the time where you start implementing your marketing strategies from the ground up. Like we have stated before on this blog, to start a Solo Practice or small firm, you have to get yourself out there and have an entrepreneurial spirit. A good first step is to join associations related to your niche. This will create networking opportunities and keep you up to date on all the recent developments in your niche.

Your firm’s website is a great avenue to get noticed by potential clients outside of the ones you meet face to face. The days of handing out your business card and waiting for the phone to ring are long gone. Your website must be easy to explore and easy to access. If external marketing services are within the budget, consider Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services. There are plenty of sites online that can teach you some SEO basics. More on niche marketing in a later post.

Whether you are starting your own practice or already running one, having a niche is one of the keys to success. By both growing your reputation and establishing a solid client base, it can be the driving factor in getting your practice off the ground.

If you are a small Firm or solo practitioner seeking Professional Liability Coverage, we are here for you! Please visit our website (www.protexurelawyers.com) or call (877) 569-4111 for a Quick, Free Quote. Our policy rates are extremely competitive and geared towards the needs of small Firms and solo practitioners. Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and, as always, follow this WordPress Blog for the latest news, tips, and guides for small firms and solo practitioners!

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Protexure Tips: Starting up a Solo Practice

For many reasons, opening a solo practice is more popular among practicing attorneys than ever before. Whether you just need a change of pace or you’re struggling to find satisfaction at your current firm, you might be thinking about opening up your own shop. At Protexure, we pride ourselves on being advocates for the solo and small firm. If you’re preparing to fly solo (or just feeling entrepreneurial), check out some of our most useful startup tips below.

1. Control your overhead costs

As reflected in a previous post, one of the first decisions you need to make when you open any law firm is what type of infrastructure you want to implement (check out this post for details). If you’re just starting out and want to keep costs at a minimum, choose a home office setup. This will avoid costs related to rent, operating expenses, and may save you some money on your taxes. Try to let your firm grow naturally, by hiring staff only when business picks up enough to make it necessary. Patience is huge in any small business, but it is especially important in a solo law practice.

2. Take advantage of online marketing

The best thing about marketing in the 21st century is that it can be done less expensively and more effectively than ever before by taking advantage of the internet. Content marketing through blogs is an effective way to spread your message. Many small businesses attempt to take advantage of online marketing, but they sometimes miss the target with the content they put out. Your marketing campaign must highlight your knowledge of your area(s) of practice and your willingness to help potential clients. To start out, create a free blog on a site like WordPress, Blogger, or Weebly, and write articles answering the questions you get asked the most. Promote your blog through other social media networks and direct email advertising, and reach your target audience. (We will discuss Small and Solo Firm marketing tips in more detail in a future article)

3. Don’t be afraid to get started

Diligence is key, and you don’t want to rush into anything without the necessary planning. But, some solo practitioners are understandably reluctant to make the leap after doing the necessary amount of planning. Gather the equipment you need to get started (a computer, printer, scanner, practice management software, etc.) and go for it!

If you are a small Firm or solo practitioner seeking Professional Liability Coverage, we are here for you! Please visit our website (www.protexurelawyers.com) or call (877) 569-4111 for a Quick, Free Quote. Our policy rates are extremely competitive and geared towards the needs of small Firms and solo practitioners. Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and, as always, follow this WordPress Blog for the latest news, tips, and guides for small firms and solo practitioners!

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Beyond the Numbers: Valuing Your Firm

In many cases, Small Firms value themselves based on the amount of revenue that they bring in on a yearly basis. Revenue, however, is not the only determining factor in the valuation of a small firm. Here are three factors to value your firm upon beyond the numbers:

Location

The largest qualitative valuation factor for a Small Law Firm is its location. The location, and more specifically the population surrounding your location can significantly affect the value of your firm. Chances are your firm operates out of a single office. The success of your firm, in this situation, is dependent on how many people and what types of people inhabit your surrounding area. For instance, a firm in the heart of New York City is likely more valuable than a firm in the surrounding suburbs.

Developing a Niche

Developing a niche is huge for a small firm. The only problem is that many firms compete with each other directly by having the same niche. The key to developing a niche, then, is simple: differentiation. David Wolfskehl, author of “The Micro-Niche Method”, advises small firms to develop a micro-niche that places the firm “outside direct competition” and “justifies premium pricing”. This is a qualitative factor that, even though it doesn’t show up in any financial statement, can directly increase the value of your firm. If your firm employs experts in a certain field of Law, the value of your firm will skyrocket. The key is to be aware of the importance of having a niche.

Technology

In today’s market, it is extremely important for CPA firms to keep up with the latest in technology. Many firms now use a variety of technologies such as Cloud servers and mobile devices. Innovative firms that have a reputation of employing the latest technologies consistently can see enhanced value. For a small firm, keeping up with technology can be tough to budget and justify. However, just as improving your technology can enhance value, refusing to update technologies and equipment can lower the value of your firm.

Though these factors influence the value of your firm, traditional metrics such as revenue and number of employees are still heavily relied upon by clients, prospective employees, and others.

If you are a small Firm or solo practitioner seeking Professional Liability Coverage, we are here for you! Please visit our website ProLaw123.com or call (877) 569-4111 for a Quick, Free Quote. Our policy rates are extremely competitive and geared towards the needs of small Firms and solo practitioners. Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and, as always, follow this WordPress Blog for the latest news, tips, and guides for small firms and solo practitioners!

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Solo Practitioners: Click & Mortar vs. Brick & Mortar

According to the American Bar Association, solo practitioners make up 49% of all Private Practice firms in the United States (as of 2005). When an attorney decides to go Solo, there are two primary ways they tend to set up their practice. On one side of the coin, there is the traditional route: renting or purchasing office space in order to house your own practice. On the other side, some solo practitioners choose to run their entire practice from home. Running a practice from a home office cuts various overhead costs that would be present in a traditional office setting.

Though there are significant cost savings, there are also various problems that can stem from having a home office.

Finding New Clients

If you don’t have a solid client base before you start your Solo firm, it may be difficult to find them in a virtual office setting. Though it is true that marketing tools such as email marketing, social media, and online advertising are more powerful than ever, it definitely helps your practice’s credibility when there is a physical office listed as the address. Many virtual Law Firms have received bad publicity due to false advertising practices. You can read more about that in this article:

Blog of Legal Times: False Advertising

Client Meetings

If you choose to list your practice’s address as your home, you may encounter inconvenient or unannounced visits from clients. Client meetings require planning and access to readily available external meeting places. Many home office firms list a PO Box address for privacy purposes and pay a small fee to local companies in order to use their conference rooms.

Operating Expenses

Every solo practitioner has added duties and expenses that would not be present if they worked for a larger firm. However, there are a few that are unique to a practice run from home. It is likely that you, as the attorney, will be the only employee in the practice. In this instance, you must do all the billing, expenses, and reimbursements for your practice. The key to a successful solo practice is to make time for all of these additional duties while still maintaining a good relationship with your clients. There are a number of programs that can help combat these problems. For case management, a list of top-rated programs (compiled by the ABA) for solo practitioners and small firms can be found here:

ABA-Recommended Case Management Programs

Whether you choose Brick and Mortar or Click and Mortar, starting a solo practice is a difficult task. We hope these tips help you on your way to starting your own, or improving upon your existing practice. If you are a small Firm or solo practitioner seeking Professional Liability Coverage, we are here for you! Please visit our website ProLaw123.com or call (877) 569-4111 for a Quick, Free Quote. Our policy rates are extremely competitive and geared towards the needs of small Firms and solo practitioners. Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and, as always, follow this WordPress Blog for the latest news, tips, and guides for small firms and solo practitioners!

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