Once upon a time in Tennessee I got my first client that was paying me six figures in legal fees every year. My firm consisted of me, an associate and an assistant. I didn’t have a strong desire to get much larger – I like the solo and small firm life. I proceeded to aggressively represent my number one client and along the way learned a few lessons. One such lesson is undoubtedly common sense to many of you but apparently not to me. Or perhaps I just forgot to slow down and think.
The first lesson I learned was to approach my practice with this in mind: Everything Changes. Isn’t that a law of nature itself? But there are things that I can do to increase the chances of change being in a positive direction rather than negative.
I had some wonderful years with that big client and a respectful number of others. However, what I did not foresee was that the client, a music business legend, would begin downsizing. And as he divested himself of companies and stress causing activities, I too began to downsize — but not on purpose! Eventually the annual fees paid to me by that client leveled off at about twenty percent of what they had been at the highest.
I remember setting in my office one day and thinking that I didn’t have much to do. And there was a lot less money left at the end of the month. My associate was handling the bulk of the work and my main job had become reviewing and revising his work. I was discussing the situation with an advisor. I have never forgotten what told me. He said that I had been focusing totally on the needs of the large client and had ignored the smaller clients. Then when the large client fees dwindled I did not have a good stable of other clients keeping the business healthy. He spoke as though I was not the first to stumble into this trap. This all immediately made sense to me. I did not need convincing.
I took action. I no longer needed an associate. I let him go. I also no longer needed a full-time assistant, a luxury for most solos. I let her go and hired a part-time assistant. I began to pay attention to all clients big or small.
Today my business is healthier than it has ever been. If I don’t believe I can give a prospect the needed attention and service then I do not accept them as a client. I have large and small clients. My assistant is still part-time. I engage independent contractor attorneys to assist with the work load on an as-needed basis.
Again – the lesson: I remember when things are going well that everything changes. However, the change can be for the better if I pay attention to all aspects of my business. And take care of all my clients – large or small.