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Big Ways for Small Firms to Grow Now

by Carolyn Elefant on March 11, 2010 · 3 comments

in Growing Your Practice, Outsourcing & Hiring, Solo Practice Trends

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A few weeks back, I posted about several innovative business models that might work for small law firms.  Along those lines, yesterday’s online issue of  Time Magazine offers eight quick and decidedly twenty-first century tricks to grow a business in a down economy.  I’ve focused on two below.

Outsource: Outsourcing is a theme that I’ve covered here at MyShingle several times (such as discussing use of virtual assistants and outsourcing as the new leverage) as well as in Solo by Choice.  My friend Lisa Solomon of Legal Research and Writing Pro has been at the forefront of this movement.  Through outsourcing, a solo or small firm can acquire a far more experienced lawyer (like Lisa) or support staffer than it could otherwise afford on a full time basis.  That’s because you outsource only when you have the work and therefore, you can match hours spent on extra help with increased billable matters.  The Time article discusses outsourcing in the context of software development, but it holds equally true for small firms.

Another interesting outsourcing idea mentioned is teaming up with universities to work with graduate and research students.  From the article:

This [team effort between a private company and university] is truly a collaborative effort,” Hines points out. “The school loves the opportunity to give students real-world commercial experience, and if the scientists there come up with a patentable technology, I have the option to license it.

With so many law students eager for real world experience, maybe law schools would be willing to back a similar arrangement.  I could certainly do a lot with a team of students working for me at no cost but experience and mentorship – couldn’t you?

LicensingTime discusses the licensing option as a way for small businesses to generate revenue without giving up large hunks of equity to venture capitalists.  Small firms can do the same.  Perhaps a small firm in a highly specialized area could license content to larger firms for use in materials for clients.  But the licensing model can work for lawyers in any practice area through of counsel arrangements.  After all, of counsel agreements resemble licensing agreements in that of counsel lawyers essentially “license” expertise to another firm for a set amount of time.

I noted one irony in the Time article, here.  It quotes Andrew Sherman, a partner at Jones Day on what small business can do to grow.  Sherman’s advice is right on point; he says:

Now is the time business owners have to become bootstrappers and reinvent all their strategies — from how they finance their business to how they market and sell.

It’s only unfortunate that Sherman’s biglaw colleagues have yet to take his advice.

Note: I’ve been thinking a lot about new business models myself, particularly as my own practice has been fairly busy these days.  I’m hoping to give a talk on one of my ideas at the Ignite Law event that Matt Homann is organizing for TechShow, and if my proposal is accepted (or not), I’ll eventually share it here.

By the way, feel free to chime in — what are you doing to grow these days?

  • http://www.brockmanlawltd.com Sharra

    It’s been my experience that in a down economy, law students are thrilled to build their resume with externships. Get in touch with a professor who teaches in your practice area, and ask that person to spread the word. Solos, especially, are sought because we can offer “real” legal experience. My clerk’s faculty supervisor is already asking if I can work with other students in future semesters.

  • BK

    How incredibly depressing. I’m one of the unemployed who needs to work with a solo/small firm to get experience and maintain my skills.

  • JustinGreene01

    There can be a lot of ways for small firms to expand their operations. I liked your discussion of potential business strategies like tapping universities and outsourcing. Outsourcing is worth mentioning since it was able to effectively take part in almost all industries across the globe. Now, it's taking a new role by becoming a function specific provider.

    Like outsourced lawyers providing consultations, another interesting trend is outsourcing small business payroll services. Through payroll (Nevada) firms and accounting companies, small businesses are able to get professional accountants and bookkeepers to handle their company information. They install a software that can easily balance ledgers, tax remittances and employee compensation. The efficiency of these providers makes them a very smart choice for business owners.

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