How to Keep Your Law Firm Stagnant: 7 Strategies You’re Already Using (and Why You’re Losing)

13 minutes to read

Let’s compare the experience of a law firm owner over the past few months to a race.

If we told you that you had to run 10 miles, could you do it? What if, 10 miles in, we told you that you actually need to run 20 miles? And at 20 miles in, we upped it to 40 miles?

At 40 miles, you’ve barely made it, and we tell you… We don’t actually know how long this race is going to be. You just have to keep going.

What do you do now? Do you slow down? Or are you going to improve your endurance and set a new baseline? There’s an indefinite timeline. You have no idea how long it is. That’s exhausting.

How could you have prepared for this?

You can easily draw similarities between this concept and the experience we’ve all endured in 2020 due to the global pandemic that has upended our lives and businesses.

We’ve talked about leadership through adversity, maintaining hope and clarity, and strategies on innovating, adapting, and pivoting. But this is not a “what to do” guide. This is exactly what not to do.

It’s very easy to get stagnant right now, considering the current landscape — but we’re giving you the tools to ensure you avoid that.

Crisp Founder & CEO Michael Mogill called over 1,000 law firm owners and asked about the biggest mistakes they’ve made over the years to keep their firms stagnant. What they’ve learned is laid out here for you, told as cautionary tales.

You’ll learn how to avoid, at best, stagnation, and at worst, total collapse.

If there’s anything the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s that tomorrow is not guaranteed. The race isn’t over. Business leaders are always running it, because it never ends. Once you embrace that, you’ll accept the new normal — continuous growth.

7 Strategies Keeping You Stagnant and How to Avoid Them

  1. Be complacent
  2. Make it all about you
  3. Lead with ego
  4. Outgrow your network
  5. Think like a lawyer
  6. Chase silver bullets
  7. Stay in your comfort zone

1. Be Complacent

The first strategy to avoid — complacency. That feeling of uncritical satisfaction with yourself and your achievements. The idea that the past you’ve experienced should dictate your future. If you’re doing okay, then that’s enough for you. Take your foot off the gas and coast.

This is truly something that’s hard to avoid, because humans naturally gravitate toward a state of homeostasis; a state of stable equilibrium. We love mediocrity. Why would you want to swim upstream?

Take a look at our old friend, Blockbuster. At the top of their game, the former CEO turned down the opportunity to buy Netflix in its early stages, citing the idea that it was an irrelevant, niche market. It was a bet that Blockbuster was not willing to make, because they “didn’t need it.”

We don’t have to tell you how that panned out.

Now, it’s mind blowing to think that they couldn’t see how valuable Netflix would have been. But at the time, the reality of the situation was that their failure to adapt to changing landscapes put them out of business.

This is the danger of taking your foot off the gas. Ultimately, you’re either growing, or you’re dying — there is no in-between. It’s black and white.

Don’t fall into the illusion of thinking that you have an option here. You don’t get to pick whether you grow or don’t grow. There’s no real difference between doing worse and staying where you are. Eventually, both will put you out of business.

Stagnation is a death sentence, because there are always other ambitious and committed law firm owners out there who will keep improving while you stay in place. Your complacency will put you at a continuous disadvantage until you’re pushed out of the picture altogether.

You can avoid this, though, by having a future worth striving for — a future that you’re sold on, one that gets you out of bed in the morning.

Become a front runner with an insatiable appetite. Build a better team, work harder every day, and the marginal gains you make over time will put you ahead.

Law Firm Growth

Think about it this way: if you were to get 1% better every day, you would be 37 times as good as you were by the end of the year. The incremental improvements compound. But if you let yourself slip and do the opposite, you’ll decline to practically nothing.

So don’t let off the gas. Think about consistent improvements every single day.

2. Make it All About You

Tell us if this sounds familiar: You win a big case, which yields a sizable profit. You pay yourself first, then only invest what’s left back into your business.

But if you knew that a competing law firm down the street was instead investing their profits back into their business before paying themselves, would you continue paying yourself first? In five years, when that law firm down the street is much more successful than your firm, you might regret your decision.

This is a selfish mindset. Instead of asking how you can give the least and take the most, your focus should instead be on supporting your team, serving your clients, and impacting your community to a greater degree.

These are the factors that impact growth in the long term.

Mindset check: This is how most law firms approach spending money. They ask themselves,

  • How do I minimize my exposure?
  • If this has no immediate gain, why would I do it?
  • How long will this take? Not worth the delayed gratification.

News flash: People are not working with you because of the service you provide. It’s not strictly transactional. The biggest differentiator is going to be how you make people feel.

Reputation precedes revenue. A lack of revenue is not your problem; your lack of reputation is. Let’s break that down.

The reason you’re not making enough money or bringing enough new business is because you’re not well-known enough. You’re not well-known enough because your focus is in the wrong place.

Consider this: Successful law firm owners that do not worry about where the next case is coming from or how much revenue is coming in — they have built a reputation of giving. Not just in their community, but to other lawyers as well. That’s why they get the business that they do.

The amount of money you make is directly proportional to the number of people you help. Your growth rate is proportional to the amount you’re investing in your business.

When you’re giving something of value, really helping someone, you don’t have to worry about money coming in. True sustainability comes from being 100% committed to helping others win and succeed.

How can you develop the mindset of being willing to invest, but not worried about where the next case is coming from? If you’re ready to take action, start working on developing a cash confidence mindset by asking:

  1. How can I provide the most value to my clients?
  2. How can I support my team at the highest level?
  3. How can I make the greatest impact in my community?

When you’re willing to take a smaller profit, you can hire better people and make better investments in your business. Don’t focus on squeezing out as much as you can from your current business; focus on building a bigger and better business instead. Help OTHERS succeed.

It won’t happen overnight — it will take work — but investing back in your business, your team, and your community will be the catalysts to your firm becoming a market leader.

3. Lead With Ego

This one’s for all the know-it-alls. You know exactly what it takes to be the best — except you’re not the best.

Those big successful law firms don’t know what they’re talking about, right? You’re frustrated that you’re losing to them because they’re not as smart as you, not as good as you? Wrong. Who’s making more money? Who has a greater impact? Probably the people you’re too smug to learn from.

Here’s the truth: Maybe you’re not as great as you think you are. It doesn’t matter what you feel; the scoreboard is an objective measurement. The results don’t lie. If you believe you are the best and you’re not willing to accept help from anyone, you’re never going to grow because you’re being led by your ego.

Ego creates blindspots, and these are the greatest opportunity areas for growth. The audacity to believe that you know exactly how to get to a place that you’ve never been before will keep you from really getting there.

If you’re resistant to feedback, you will not level up, because ego shuts off your ability to learn.

So if you’re not improving yourself by joining organizations, tapping into groups, reading books, and attending conferences from which you can learn, you will stay stagnant. Solve this by embracing the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know. What you do know is a very small piece of the pie.

Law Firm Growth

The more you learn, the more you recognize just how much you don’t know. Humbling, right? In observing hundreds of law firm owners at conferences ourselves, one thing is clear — the people who ask the most questions and take the most notes are the most successful.

This is the proof that always being a student will take you far. Resistance to learning will make you obsolete. The learners inherit the future, while the learned find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

If you are not learning, you are bottlenecking the growth of your organization.

4. Outgrow Your Network (but stay with them anyway)

You will not make progress by hanging out with people you’ve outgrown. Staying with a group of people who don’t have the same growth mindset as you will keep you stagnant. People who are just “okay” will hold you back.

You’re not stuck with them — you just haven’t worked up the courage to move on.

As Jim Rohn says, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Take inventory of who these people in your life are, and use this exercise to decide who’s worth your time and who is not.

Law Firm Growth

The people who are happy and most engaged surround themselves with people who support them and their goals. You have to give up the good for the great.

If you’re sharing goals that make people uncomfortable, you’re in the wrong room. So take this information and find a room full of killers to hang out with instead, because you need a group of people that you can share ideas about the future with.

You can’t complain about the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do, and don’t hang out around people that do that either.

If you’re ready to level up your network, check out Crisp Coach. Our exclusive program for growth-minded law firm owners has limited seats available. We only accept those who are willing to put the work in to reach unreasonable success.

5. Think Like a Lawyer

BREAKING NEWS: You are the CEO of your law firm. You need to act like it. Educate yourself on leadership, hiring, training, finance, and all that goes into running a business.

How can you honestly say you provide your clients with the best possible experience and legal representation if your law firm is a mess? If you’re lacking processes, infrastructure, standards, and team alignment, you’re selling clients on a broken product.

It is a necessity, and your duty, to understand the business of law. If this isn’t for you, you can find a CEO to run your business or work for someone else at another law firm — but if you are CEO of your firm, you must educate yourself.

This can be done by surrounding yourself with people to learn business from. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who want to learn and talk about business strategies. You can train your team to contribute to overall firm development, because your law firm can only grow at the rate the people working in it are growing.

Focus on working on your business instead of in your business. As a law firm owner, your entire focus should be on improvement and growth, and less on working cases. Otherwise, you cannot expect progress.

Your own mental nutrition is also important as the CEO. Read books, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, and follow sources that educate you on business.

The ultimate growth hack? Learn from someone who has done it before. Learn how they think, how they make decisions, their biggest mistakes, and what they’ve learned. Mentorship is huge, especially if you’re learning how to get somewhere you’ve never been before.

Remember that you have the same number of hours in a day and the same number of days in the year as everyone else. If you take on more without leveraging unique strengths, you will hit your limit. How you spend your 24 hours will be the difference maker.

When you run your firm like a business, you are actually able to provide your clients a better experience and be a better lawyer. If your end goal is to grow and scale, you have to take the right steps to make that happen. Check out “Everything They Didn’t Teach You in Law School: The Mini MBA for Law Firm Owners” — a comprehensive guide on the basics of running your law firm like a business.

6. Chase Silver Bullets

There are no quick fixes for your business.

We’ve said this a million times and we’ll say it again — you just have to put in the hard work. Forget the holy water, pots of gold, and silver bullets, because there is no such thing. Believing that there is will only set you up to fail.

Being prepared to find real solutions and spend time and money building your firm is the only way to success.

You have the wrong idea if you’re looking for a quick fix to solve problems, because it won’t gain traction and you won’t make real progress. Growing your firm with patience and sustainable efforts is key.

A telltale sign that you’re looking for opportunities that are too good to be true: believing you have a lead problem, when you’re not doing anything great with those leads. You’re focusing on the wrong thing. Take a step back and think; do you have junk leads, or are you a junk law firm?

Maybe the leads aren’t the problem — maybe it’s your intake process, maybe you’re not marketing to discerning clients, or maybe you don’t have a good reputation.

So many law firms have a different SEO vendor, a different ads agency, and a different partner every other month — without putting in the time and effort to truly get results from sticking with something, you will not succeed.

You can’t fix your reputation — or any other major challenge in your law firm — with a “hack” or silver bullet. Tangible improvements don’t happen overnight. You must be committed and ready to roll up your sleeves. Don’t waste your time and money if you wont’ stick with something.

If an idea sounds like it’s going to require a lot of work, it probably will — but will also probably take you further. Embrace this challenge, gear up for the hard work, and watch your firm grow.

7. Stay in Your Comfort Zone

You could give a competing firm your entire playbook — how you do everything, all your strategies for how you make every single decision — and they will still never be you. Why? It takes courage to write the check. Someone could know exactly what they should do, but they won’t do it because they are afraid to take a risk.

A lack of courage will make you stagnant more than anything else. You’re limiting your opportunities because you’re not investing in anything that carries any degree of risk — which are the same opportunities that carry the most chance of growth.

The firms who are thriving are the ones who double down on their investments in uncertain times. Especially right now — those who pulled back in March 2020 are far behind those who increased their efforts

Courage is being terrified about something, but doing it anyway. No one ever saved their way to success, because true risk is not taking action.

Not making a decision truly is making a decision — and that decision is not a successful one. A lack of courage will be the single greatest thing that will ever prevent you from making progress.

The most successful firms are taking risks constantly — they are far more courageous than unsuccessful firms.

To overcome stagnation, you have to take the risk and get it done. In order to get to the next level, you have to make your current level unacceptable. The next level of success requires a leap.

Law Firm Owners

Final Thoughts for Law Firm Owners

Learning about strategies to avoid is not the end of this journey. This cautionary advice is just the beginning.

As our opening scene revealed, this entrepreneurial race has no end. Constant improvement is the only thing that will keep you from stagnating.

Start by taking this advice, learn how to not commit these seven deadly sins, and create good habits for yourself as a law firm owner, and for your practice.