A law practice’s health can be undermined by performance challenges, spending habits, and management policies. These problem areas can be death knells to a practice if they go unaddressed for too long. Being able to identify problems and form actionable plans is essential to keeping any firm healthy.
Your practice’s health is integrally connected to attorney performance (either yours or yours and your associates’). If an attorney’s performance is on a downward slope, either in terms of fewer cases managed or (more importantly) upset clients, that’s cause for concern. If it remains unaddressed, it can have serious ramifications for that attorney and your practice.
Evaluating attorney performance should be a regular practice, and it should be conducted with quantitative eyes. Key Performance Indicators like matters handled per attorney, matters handled versus revenue generated, and the percentage of successfully resolved cases compile a summative view of an attorney’s recent work. But matters vary in cost, length, and complexity. More specific metrics like number of billable hours over time, client satisfaction rate, and amount of time to complete a matter type, over time, will provide more in-depth looks at how an attorney is performing.
But quantitative eyes only see far and wide. Given the preponderance of stress and risk of burnout in the legal industry, it’s important to evaluate attorney performance in human-facing ways as well. How is the work impacting you or other attorneys on personal, familial, and mental fronts? What is the personal story behind the metrics? What do attorneys wish they could do more efficiently to make the work easier?
These two aspects of a performance evaluation enable you to create actionable plans to improve performance. That means thinking about how law can be practiced more efficiently and in attorney-considerate ways. Legal technology is a powerful disruptor that enables attorneys to work more efficiently and manage more cases in the same amount of time. As you consider attorney performance, consider how the firm can support attorneys with tools that let them focus on the law, not the business side of it.
Often times, when we look at what we spend our money on, we realize that much of it is unnecessary or too costly to be sustainable. Who else already regrets impulse shopping on Prime Day?
In all seriousness, though: One of the best ways to evaluate your practice’s health is reviewing its expenditures. This evaluation should be routine as well (perhaps even more so than a performance evaluation), and it should cover an extended range of time. From the previous month to the previous fiscal quarter at least. That will enable you to identify essential, strategic spending habits and extraneous spending habits. If, for example, your practice has footed the bill for 12 catered lunches per month in the last three months, the decision to reduce that expense is probably a no-brainer.
Rate spending patterns according to their relevance to your strategic goals. If your practice endeavors to invest in technology, both in terms of a legal technology provider and new tech in general, which spending habits are non-essential according to that goal? This way your evaluation becomes more than just common budget management, but money management that reflects your practice’s goals for the future.
Practice Management Policies
The proverb “the fish rots from the head” implies that how you lead influences those around you. In this context, evaluating your law practice’s health means evaluating how your practice manages employee relations, develops budgets, monitors its attorneys (or, in the case of solo practices, how an attorney monitors themselves), and makes decisions that establish the practice’s overall atmosphere.
If, for example, associates have left the practice after a similar length of time for the last few years, why is that? What do resident attorneys have to say about how the practice’s management style has changed? What policies and procedures might be contributing to some grievances you or fellow attorneys are vocalizing?
Begin this evaluation with staff members. Interviewing them about their work experiences and thoughts on practice management policies will reveal how leadership decisions truly impact the practice at its foundational level. Alternatively, at a solo practice, you can just as easily perform a personal inventory. Encourage honesty (without the risk of repercussions) so that this inventory is as truthful and revelatory as possible. That way, it can do the most good for your practice.
Responding to All of This
Responding to this practice evaluation means developing a plan to reorganize elements of your practice. This will look differently at each solo and small law practice. Attorney performance, expenditures, and practice management will manifest differently at each law practice. Even so, this responsive health plan, of sorts, should, across solo and small law practices, have two things in common: The plan should be measurable, and it should be time-sensitive. This way, it will have in mind the difference it can make to the health of your practice within a given amount of time.