Stick to the Knitting
by Jeffrey Krivis
(County Bar Update, October 2003, Vol. 23, No. 9)

 

Stick to the Knitting

 

By Jeffrey Krivis at the request of the Law Practice Management Section Executive Committee. Krivis teaches at Pepperdine Law School and is currently the president of the International Academy of Mediators. He has mediated in excess of 3,500 disputes. The opinions expressed are his own.

 

Years ago, Harvard Business Review published an article advising companies to "stick to the knitting," the concept being that businesses should do what they do best and not try to do everything. Unfortunately, that advice has been overlooked by certain firms that have, for example, expanded into areas about which they know little or have opened branch offices in locales with which they are unfamiliar.

 

In operating the law firm, some partners who are good at marketing instead may be managing employees for which they do not have the skill set. Others may handle finances, yet may not be adept at marketing. Everyone has specific talents along with other areas where that person is not as gifted.

 

Finding your area of expertise may be easy; however, sticking to the knitting is hard. Oftentimes, we think we are expert in a number of disciplines and, in fact, that we can manage all aspects of operating a law firm. For small firms, it may be difficult to find full-time employees who are capable of running the law firm; yet, a cottage industry of companies can help in a myriad of ways.

 

Law firms can outsource many tasks such as

--  payroll (relieving the burdensome job of tax calculation),

--  photocopying and mail (ensuring that equipment is maintained and operable),

--  collections (contacting delinquent accounts and devising payment schedules to drive down the average number of collection days),

--  bookkeeping (paying bills with no duplication),

--  marketing (arranging speeches and articles),

--  technology (keeping hardware and software operational),

--  filing (organizing the system and depositing records in correct places), and

--  strategic planning (crafting the firm’s mission and vision).

 

In addition to outsourcing, partners can and should delegate tasks to employees. While certain partners insist on collecting aged account receivables, others delegate the job to an employee who may like collections and who may be very good at it. Other partners may enjoy working with computers, yet may not be as adept with computers as a consultant or an employee. Delegating the task frees the partner to perform billable work or other work more appropriate for a partner-level person.

 

When it comes to practice areas, certain firms strive to be "full-service" businesses. Although the firms may begin with a distinct expertise, they aspire to accumulate all of their clients’ work. Rather than focusing on one area, they diffuse their efforts with shallow expertise in a multitude of disciplines. Boutique law firms, on the other hand, develop a depth of experience in a specific practice area, focus on it, and oftentimes become renowned in the specific arena.

 

Similarly, individual attorneys, especially sole practitioners, may attempt to service clients in all aspects of law. A general practitioner with no area of expertise cannot develop a depth of knowledge that may lead to a higher billing rate and a more exclusive practice. In certain law firms, however, partners who do extremely well in developing business concentrate solely on marketing, while other partners perform the legal work that the rainmaker has generated.

 

By trying to become a jack-of-all-trades, the result may be that you are a master of none. Find your unique ability, whether a specific type of law or rainmaking, and stick to it.

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