Unless you’re independently wealthy and focus exclusively on pro bono legal work (in which case, congratulations!), you’re working to make a difference in your clients’ lives and make a profit while doing so. A profit, not just a living.
Taking profit from your practice shouldn’t be treated as a bonus, it should be part of your operating principles. At Atticus, we teach our clients to take 35 percent of total revenues off the top as profit, with the remaining 65 percent for everything else, including your market-rate salary.
Pay yourself a salary that reflects the work you do, no matter whether that’s $75,000 or $500,000. You pay your staff and associates (if any) a good wage, and you have to take one, too. That 35 percent before expenses is more time with family and friends, more and longer vacations, more satisfaction from the work you’ve chosen.
To get there, you might need to break old habits and adopt new ones.
As a solo or small practice attorney, you’re responsible for nearly everything that goes on in your firm — but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything. In fact, trying to do too much can stunt your growth and profits by taking time away from activities that promote both. Playing the hero — the “Only I can do this” mindset — decreases your revenue and profits because you’re stretched too thin.
Your activities should be focused on complex legal work only you can complete and marketing your firm. If there’s a No. 1 rule at Atticus, it’s that marketing makes your practice. If you’re meeting one marketing contact per week, increase that to three and watch your profits soar.
To spend your time wisely, learn to delegate. You should never be making a photocopy (or calling a repair person when it inevitably goes on the fritz) or making coffee or returning phone calls when a paralegal or office staff member can do the job. Basically, anything someone else in your office can do, they should do.
The modern legal field is no place for Luddites, so don’t ignore technology that can create better systems and streamline processes in your office. Some of the most common office tasks for an attorney involve generating documents, pleadings, contracts and more, much of which could be automated with the right software or technology.
With a mindset focused on growth and profits, bill your time contemporaneously. That way, nothing slips through the cracks, and for an hourly rate practice this is easy to do daily. For other practice areas, don’t complete a form or write a short paper without billing for it. It might not take much effort, but your time really is money.