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Don't Just Grow Your Small Firm, Grow it Smart

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Growth is good, right? More clients, more money, more opportunities for your business. Yet, for many lawyers, growth can be a headache, if not a nightmare. If you're running a small or boutique firm, growth can disrupt a carefully calibrated work-life balance, lead to extra overhead, and put you even farther behind on your obligations.

But not if you're doing it right. Smart growth, which focuses on planned, strategic expansion, can help you avoid many of the pitfalls that can occur when you simply add client upon client. Here's how:

Getting Smart About Growth

Lawyers shouldn't avoid growth, but they also shouldn't grow haphazardly. Writing for the Canadian Bar Association, Edward Poll lays out a smart growth plan that allows for specific, targeted growth while keeping in mind the need to maintain work-life balance and a practice's flexibility. According to Poll, responsible expansion should be specific, measurable achievable, reasonable and timely -- as an acronym, that makes SMART.

What does that mean? Specific growth focuses on not simply adding clients, but adding particular types of clients. Look to expand the clients that give the best return on investment, the ones whose matters don't take weeks or years to resolve, but who still provide a steady stream of income. Similarly, make sure you can measure that growth, that you've instituted metrics to monitor you firm's expansion. Your goals for growth should be realistic, reasonable and along a time frame that won't leave you overwhelmed.

Planning Around Growing Pains

Smart growth can be easier to talk about than it can be to achieve, however. Proper firm growth requires extensive planning. You will need to plan for infrastructure, for example. If you're growth will cause you to bring on new attorneys and support staff, will you be able to squeeze them into your current office, or will you need to relocate? Do you have the desktops, copiers, and income streams to handle new personnel?

If done correctly, smart growth can actually mean less individual stress. For example, Poll tells the story of one solo practitioner who, after three years, had built a growing and respected practice. Yet, she wasn't able to bring on a full-time associate, since here billables were still too low to support the cost.

After she examined her current practice and started to plan for growth, instead of dealing with everything in the moment, she cut the work she was contracting out, raised rates to reflect the increased value of her work, and shifted her development focus to the most profitable new business. With planning, she turned growing pains into something beneficial for herself and her clients.

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