Welcome to The Optimized Law Firm Podcast, where we chat with legal pros who can help you run a more profitable and enjoyable business.
This week we’re talking with Nermin Jasani of Wildly Successful Law Firm. She helps solo attorneys and small law firms get set up for success from an operational perspective. From answering questions like ”Are you actually suited for the lifestyle of being a lawyer and also being a business owner?” to streamlining your invoicing system, Nermin’s hacks and guidance help firms become wildly successful.
Listen in to find out why you should care about your firm’s operations and how you can make more profit and have more fun and peace of mind doing it.
What’s in This Episode?
- Who is Nermin, and what is Wildly Succesful Law Firm?
- Why should attorneys care about improving their operations?
- What are the top two operational issues that hold law firms back, and how can you get past them?
- What separates the firms who really crush it with operations from the rest?
What’s up, I’m your host Patrick Carver and today on The Optimized Law Firm we’re going to talk with Nermin Jasani about how improving your operations can lead to a better bottom line on your business.
All right. So I’d like to introduce Nermin Jasani, and Nermin is an attorney originally by trade, and now is a whisperer for businesses who wanna grow and become a lot more profitable.
And she’s worked with a lot of attorneys, and I think most recently, she just launched a new course based on her consulting work called Wildly Successful Law Firm, and it is… I’ll let her describe a little bit more in detail, but it sounds like a really awesome program for smaller growing attorneys who are trying to take that next step and expand their business, get out of survival mode and get into thriving mode. So pleased to have you, thanks so much for taking a moment to chat with us.
Thanks Patrick, it’s good to be here.
Yeah, absolutely. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your consulting business in the past, how you got into working with attorneys.
Yeah, absolutely. So like you perfectly touched on, I am a recovered attorney. I practiced law in New York in 2010, so right when the markets crashed, and it was the best time to be practicing law, that’s exactly when I graduated. I did a little bit of work on Wall Street, and unfortunately for my law career, I realized that I actually didn’t enjoy the day-to-day practice of being a lawyer, and I stepped out of the day-to-day practice.
But prior to even being a lawyer, I worked as a legal admin/paralegal for personal injury firms, insurance defense firms, and a cute little family law office in Georgia. So I’ve got a significant background when it comes to actually knowing what solo attorneys and small attorneys go through and sort of the headaches and the stress of moving money around from your trust account to your operations account, to your own personal account to make sure that you’ve got money for food and groceries and rent and all those things, and all the headaches and the tensions that come with being a small attorney, so I get it.
So tell us a little bit about Wildly Successful Law Firm and how you got to, or why you thought there was a need for it, comparative consulting business and kind of who… What it’s all about, who it’s for, some of those type of questions?
Yeah, perfect. So How To Have A Wildly Successful Law Firm is exactly what it sounds like. We go through the steps that it takes to set up a law practice that you want to have, and the first place that we actually start is figuring out what kind of a lawyer you are and what kind of a law practice you have, and if even you should go out on your own.
So I’m sure that you know a lot of solo small attorneys who you just think to yourself like, “Wow, maybe they shouldn’t have gone out on their own, or they’re working on their own,” or maybe they try it for a couple of years, and then they end up being of counsel or going back into big firm practice.
And those questions are so important to ask at wherever you are in owning your own law firm, because you could very quickly realize that maybe you are better suited for a larger practice. And that’s perfectly okay, but it also is a time for you to then realize that it’s time to close the doors instead of stressing yourself out of wearing the lawyer hat and the business owner hat.
And some attorneys do it well, some attorneys don’t do it well, and that’s really where we start in the course is trying to figure out, “Are you best suited for this small firm lifestyle and being a lawyer and also being a business owner?” From there we go into all the courses that touch on everything that you need to know as a business owner, not just as a lawyer.
Because you could be a great lawyer but be a terrible business owner. So we touch everything that you didn’t learn in law school that you probably should have if you wanted to have your own practice. We talk about finance, how to know what you should be charging every hour for your time, and if you should do package rates, by that I mean charging for estate plans and certain types of business contracts that are pretty fundamental that you know that are sort of a high volume thing, employment agreements, handbooks, things like that.
We go through marketing and what kinds of marketing are actually suited for your kind of business. We go through figuring out your ideal client profile and trying to figure out what systems you should be using in your practice, and if you need to hire an admin or a paralegal, or if you just wanna be a solo attorney doing everything on your own forever. So we touch on everything that it takes to actually run a wildly successful law practice.
The most important thing that I wanna emphasize here is, wildly successful, for me, might be very different from what it would be for Sally, and it’s gonna be very different from what it would be for Bob. And oftentimes as lawyers, you tend to look at what someone else is doing and you think that you have to do that same thing, and the reality is that whatever kind of practice they have might not be suited for you based on your lifestyle, based on who you are, based on what your financial goals and objectives are. And so it’s really important to understand that it’s very individualistic when you create your own law firm.
And the reason that I think that this course stands out from the others is because I think that we’ve all gotten… We’ve all seen a lot of marketing materials from a lot of other courses out there, a lot of sort of Masterminds, group coaching programs…. And the one thing I can say is that every lawyer is different, and so the kind of law practice that they wanna build is gonna be different. And a lot of those other courses are sort of out-of-the-box solutions that don’t really tailor their advice based on the size of the practice or on the type of lawyer that they are. So I think that it’s incredibly important to build a practice that actually reflects who you are rather than sort of just following Joe Schmo’s path to having his law office.
So what I’d like to say is, this is really suited for those solo small firm attorneys. If you have your own practice or if you are in a two to three-person practice, this is really who this course is built for.
It’s a do-it-yourself course. You pace yourself through the videos. There’s 29 videos and over 15 hours of lecture. You do your own assessments, you complete Excel worksheets, you answer questions based on where your practice is right now, and all of that information just gives you grades and steps and creates a very clear path that goes, A B, C, one, two, three of how to build the law practice that you wanna have. So if you are a DIY-er and you can learn on your own, then this would be one of the best options for you.
And what are some of the benefits that you see for law firms to improve their operations?
Yeah. So one of the most simple things is you get to bill more. Right? When you have streamlined processes in place, you’re not focusing on, “Oh wait, where is this and did this get done and what happened here?” You’re focusing exclusively on the task list that’s at hand, you get to meet with clients, you get to do the work, you get to bill for it. And I’m sure you’re already familiar with the statistic, but I think back in, I think 2016 or 2018, they’ve done a survey of solo law firm attorneys and they found that they work eight hours and bill for two, two and change, I believe is what it was.
So that’s an insane number if you think about the weeks in the year and the time that you’re spending. So you’re only charging for 25% of your time, that’s incredibly inefficient. So by having better operations, by having a smoother process, you are able to work eight and bill for closer to that eight, right? It may not be a full eight. It might be a seven, it might be a six, but that’s much better than a two that you get to bill for. So that is really one of the greatest benefits, of course, you get to bill more, that means you get to make more, you get to make more, which means, you either get to pay your student loans off faster, you get to buy that house faster, you get to buy that car faster.
So really, when you think about law firm operations, think about it like, “Well, if I improve this, what can I buy with it?” Don’t think about it like, “Oh god, this is gonna be so incredibly stressful. What does this even mean? How do I even do this thing?” Just start thinking about the benefits that you’re immediately gonna get from actually having better operations, and it becomes more money in your pocket to get the things that you really wanna buy.
Money is a fantastic one, but I also think that, and this goes back to a point you made a little bit earlier, where success will look different for different people in different firms. And I think the focus on operations also gives you peace of mind, and can reduce anxiety, and can just make it more enjoyable…
Being a business owner, not feeling so stretched out thin throughout your practice.
Yeah. And there’s that concept of work-life balance that gets thrown around every so often at CLE seminars and things like that, right? Like, “What does work-life balance actually look like?” Well, it means that when you have smooth operations, you can actually have work-life balance. You don’t have to be a slave to your law practice. You actually get to leave the law practice knowing that everything is still okay. So absolutely, Patrick, peace of mind and just having more success for sure.
That’s great. Starting a business is overwhelming, I think even for people who like business. Do you have any recommendations for how attorneys, whether they like business or not, can take that first step in improving their operations without feeling overwhelmed?
Yeah, I think one of the most important things is you have to be realistic. So number one, most attorneys are type A personalities. I’m a hyper-type A personality myself, so I get it. When I think about something, I imagine that it’s done, right? But it doesn’t actually work like that. So you might be thinking, “I’m gonna set up my own law firm, I’m gonna start my law practice,” and you think it and it’s done, and that’s just not how it works. So I think you have to be…
Number one is be realistic about your expectations, know that this is gonna take some time, and that it is a trial and error process. Just picking your own case management software is a trial and error process. I would… I always recommend, try out a couple, figure out which one sort of flows best for you, figure out the one that feels the best for you. And it’s different for everyone. Some people swear by Best Case, other people swear by Clio. And there’s no rhyme or reason for it. It’s just the way that it is.
So if you’re gonna go through and start setting up your law firm, you just wanna know that it’s gonna be a trial and error process. If you go into it with that mindset, and you go into it with the reality that you’re gonna be trying out different things to figure out what works best for you, Google Docs versus Microsoft Word, Outlook versus Gmail, I mean there’s so many things out there, so many systems out there, but you have to pick the one that works best for you.
So go into it with trial and error, be open to making mistakes, be open to setting up 30 days around these things, trying out these things, and then make a final decision after 30 days. Don’t just immediately say, “Okay, we’re using Outlook because we’re using Outlook.” Try out different platforms to see what works well for you and for your team, and what’s the best tool out there.
Now, there could be other firms out there that are using Slack or that are using Salesforce, and you might just be a newer attorney, or you might not understand how to use those systems, or even wanna use those systems. It’s perfectly okay. It may not be right for you, but just because someone else is doing it doesn’t mean that you should be doing it.
Yeah. Makes sense. What does success for a high-performance law firm look like from the start to putting out fires and then you get to the endpoint. What does that look like? That kind of evolution.
Yeah, I think for a lot of attorneys, it’s the beautiful balance of still being able to practice law while not having to go into QuickBooks and actually invoice for their time, like the less that they have to use the systems, the happier that I find most lawyers are.
So, it’s typically… What I see is this structure that most people are happy with is one or two attorneys, one or two support staff, and the attorney gets to take client meetings, there’s structure around when meetings are taken… So what that can look like is, Mondays and Fridays are meeting days, that gives you the bulk of week, the center of the week to focus on court dates, to focus on getting client work done, to focus on marketing, to focus on maybe hiring, doing training, maybe doing employee assessments, whatever it is, you get the work done during the chunk of the week, but you do your marketing and other sorts of activities, client activity on Mondays and Fridays.
It’s also better, I think that way sometimes, because then if you miss a client on Friday, you can get back to them on Monday. So that nice little back-to back there helps a lot of attorneys. So it is definitely having a lot more structure in your day, than I think most attorneys anticipate when they set up their practice, so having designated days of activity is very important. Using a calendar system. I’ve worked with attorneys who will take notes on the back of an envelope and then they’ll lose the envelope, and then they’ll say, “Oh, where did the envelope go?” So, I think it’s so important that as an attorney, you have a system for everything.
So if you’re gonna take notes, you then now you have a binder instead of the back of an envelope, and that’s the thing that you take notes in and you have to keep training yourself on these systems and these processes. So don’t ever expect that you’re gonna create a new system and then bam, your brain is gonna now adapt to that system, it takes time. So give yourself the time. Give yourself two weeks, 30 days to do it and to learn it. It takes 21 days to build a habit.
Just go into it with that assumption and make sure that whatever system it is that you’re creating is one that actually works for you. So I could recommend the system for you, and you may not even think that way or work that way.
So the biggest difference I find with attorneys is technology versus no technology, so some attorneys prefer the paper calendar, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m not gonna force an electronic calendar on you or Gmail or G-calendar or whatever. Use your paper calendar, just make sure you sync it at the end of the day with your staff, so that you’re all on the same page and that you don’t have mismatched meetings. So schedule the time at 4 o’clock every day, review calendar with staff.
Such simple steps or there are such simple things like moving notes from a piece of paper to some sort of system, but it’s those things I think that are the backbone of a routine and then from once you get to that routine, you can actually optimize and improve and see what’s working and how to shave time off or do things a little bit differently, but it’s interesting ’cause it reminds me of how important just those little small tweaks are, and really set you up to make optimizations and improvements later on with that.
Yeah, and one thing I’ll add in here too Patrick is we keep using the word system, and I think a lot of attorneys when they hear “system,” they sort of freeze and they’re like, “Wait, what system? What system?” And what you need to realize is that it’s just sort of a generic word that people throw around in operations, and really what system means is whatever system works for you, it does not mean it is technology, it does not mean it is somewhere online or cloud or whatever, it just means the process that you use, and it’s not exclusive to one format or another, this system is just the generic word, and the process is whatever you feel most comfortable with.
So if people start using that word system, don’t get scared, it’s that we’re just trying to figure out what works for you and what works for your team.
Definitely. Should firms dedicate time from the beginning to improving their operations, or is there an evolution to where at the beginning they should focus on client service or marketing, and then move in when they hit a critical mass or… What do you think about that evolution, where operations fits into that?
So what I like to say is that consistency is key in business. So when you start your business, you should do it with a task list that you should put into a binder that you check in with every single month, and if you take the course, you get a task list that you need to check in with every month.
But in any case, you should have a monthly task list. This is what I need to be doing every single month, and that way you are going to be on track. Now, that task list is going to evolve over time, that task list might end up with you giving some responsibilities to an in-house bookkeeper or to an admin or to a paralegal or to your marketing department. Part of that task list, maybe things that you no longer do. And part of it might be things that you continue to do as a practicing attorney.
So you just wanna make sure that you start with at least a monthly checklist and then schedule time into your calendar again, whatever calendar you use, whether it’s Google or Apple or paper calendar, schedule it at the beginning of the month to review activity from last month. And again, that list is going to evolve over time and as your practice grows and changes, that list will evolve and change, but just make sure that you’re checking in with yourself every single month on what you accomplished that month.
That’s great. There are a lot of areas that are covered by operations, do you see one particular issue more often than the not that is affecting law firms, or maybe a better way to describe is, what’s the number one operations issue that you see holding law firms back?
So there’s two that I would say come in at a tie for me, Patrick, the first is billing and invoicing. So oftentimes, I see a lot of the smaller offices not having a proper system for billing. So they will do all the work, but then they won’t invoice the client for it, on a proper schedule, which means that they then have a cash flow issue, so they’ve done the work and they haven’t built for it, they haven’t collected for it. And now it’s 30 days later and they haven’t collected the money and the work’s already been done. So that is one of the issues that I see repeatedly across the board, but I usually say is Look at your flow of clients and see if you need to have bimonthly processing of invoices or if it needs to be monthly. I usually recommend start bimonthly and then if you find that it’s too much, you just don’t have that much work, then switch to monthly, but at least start you should be doing it bimonthly.
The second biggest issue that I see, Patrick, is of course, marketing. Most clients, most attorneys are just sort of a hitter or miss, they don’t do things consistently when it comes to marketing. And I’m sure you see that as well, and that’s one of the things that I always say is, if you’re gonna do SEO, you stick to that thing for six months, nine months, don’t call them after three months and say, “What’s going on? I haven’t gotten 300,000 phone calls.” One, it’s just not gonna happen, and two, you have to be consistent with these things and you have to give it time.
So when you are doing marketing just to make sure that you’re gonna be consistent with it and make sure that you’re going to do it and know that it is an investment of time, not just the money, but the time as well. So know that you’re gonna be doing it for six months to nine months, at the very least, and be prepared to then have that money set aside every single month, don’t think your company have to come chase you for money.
We need to hire you just to go through the timeline for SEO. 100% agree with everything you’re saying, and that kinda answers one of the other questions I had, which is, what operational improvements have the best ROI for law firms? And it sounds like invoicing is a huge one. Is that accurate?
Yeah, I would say invoicing is a huge one, because once you’re actually able to collect the money that you built for, it makes all the difference in the world for a lot of practices, and they’re no different from other business owners, like cash flow is an issue, no matter what the size of your businesses. Back when the 2010 crisis hit and the market crashed in ’08, GE was having cash flow issues. So don’t think that you’re the only one, don’t feel like you’re a leper or something like that. It’s common to have business cash flow issues, so definitely a having a good system for invoicing is very important.
But again, marketing is just as important as well, not having the intention of being consistent with marketing. If you can just improve that instead of just, “Okay, I’m gonna do Facebook ads for one month and then I’m gonna do SEO for another month, and then pay per click for another month, and then I’m gonna see what happens.” That’s not a consistent strategy, you have to do it with the intention of, I’m doing this for six months, and that is really important to your operations because that is gonna bring in the flow of clients that you can actually do work for and pay your lease for and pay your secretary for.
And that’s where the money is gonna come from. So when you have that system in place, when you’re working with a great company like Constellation then you’re able to actually get the results that you initially signed up for.
I like the way you talk about it as well, because it makes it more approachable that these are bite-size things that you can do and take steps on, but also the consistency aspect of it. I think is also really important because people who change strategy every month, it’s just really difficult to then be successful at any of the things they’re trying to do because there’s so much turnover.
Yeah, absolutely. Spaghetti against the wall is fun as a game, but as a business strategy is completely ineffective. So don’t opt for the, “We’re gonna try everything and let’s see what works.” It’s not gonna work. I can tell you that now. Be intentional, be concise, be focused.
Through your work, I’m sure you’ve seen some law firms really take to the advice you’re giving them and really improve their operations. Of your clients who really crush it with operations, why are they so successful, what separates them from other firms?
Yeah, I love that. So what makes some firms more successful than others is that they’re focused, they’re so clear on what kind of law practice they have, they are so clear on what they do on a day-to-day basis, they’re so clear on who’s doing what on a day-to-day basis, who’s responsible for things and there’s no uncertainty.
That is what makes a law firm extremely successful. They know which clients they are onboarding that month, they know how much they are gonna receive in a retainer or what they’re gonna be receiving as the fees. They know how long they’re gonna be working on that client for. They also know where their next clients are gonna come from. Because they’ve got a great marketing strategy in place and there’s no questions.
They’ve got a clear understanding of, these are our targets, we’re gonna make $50,000 a month for the next 12 months, and this is where the money is gonna come from. And then from the money that comes in, this is where that money’s gonna go, and then after that, this is what’s left for me as a business owner. So, no questions, total clarity and certainty, there’s no muddied waters here.
Interesting, and I assume some people are just naturally built like that to provide… To get themselves in a position like that. But is there anything you can recommend or that you’ve just seen from your experience that helps people go from a chaotic mindset of trying a lot of different things to lasering in on that… Getting that clarity and then advancing their practice?
Yeah, I think one of the biggest things is you’ve gotta ask yourself the right questions, a lot of times, business owners don’t ask themselves the right questions. They ask the wrong questions. They’ll ask, “Well, what do I wanna buy this year?” instead of, “Okay, how much can I actually make this year based on the clients that I have?”
They’ll sort of set these big targets of, Okay, I’m gonna make $10 million this year, when the last year they made $2 million. Some things are just not reasonable. So I would say you really have to be in the mindset of reality and what’s actually possible instead of what’s impossible, and I’m all for reaching for the stars, but it’s gotta be a little bit more realistic.
So I think that that is definitely one of the most important things that you can do. And I think in terms of, is it possible to train yourself to have this mindset of consistency? Absolutely. You’re trained to be a business owner, nobody is born to be a business owner. I can tell you I have a very entrepreneurial family, and that’s not enough. It technically runs in my blood, first hobby entrepreneurs, but it’s certainly not something that comes natural, you have to train it, you have to…
It’s like going to the gym and going from 5-pound dumbbells to 50-pound dumbbells. It’s gotta be repeated consistently over time and you get better with it over time. And over time, you do learn what to focus on and what not to focus on, and what’s the right thing for your business versus what’s not the right thing for your business.
And one of the most important things that you can do is just sort of turn off the sound, if that makes sense. So there’s gonna be a lot of other lawyers who do what you do. There’s how many divorce attorneys in Atlanta and how many personal injury attorneys in Atlanta?
And the thing I always say is that you’re not actually competition to each other, and most attorneys are like, “What? What do you mean we’re not in competition? They’re a divorce attorney too!” And what I always say is, there’s no reason that one client is gonna hire that person over you. There’s always something different that sets you guys apart, and you’re really not competition.
So if you can focus on the thing that makes you special, that makes you really good at what you do, and you create an ideal client profile around that and you speak only to them; you’re gonna be much, much, much more successful.
And again, that requires a significant amount of training. You have to turn out, turn off the noise, you have to stop looking at what other people are doing, and you’ve just gotta focus on, “Okay, what kind of a practice do I wanna build? What am I really good at as an attorney and how do I build a practice that reflects my skill set?” Rather than “Let me go learn all these new different areas of law, and I’m gonna be the one attorney who can do criminal and personal injury and estate planning.” That is way too much.
You can have one attorney dedicated to each of those things, but for you to sit there and say, “Okay, so now you’re gonna take CLEs and all these things and you’re gonna start doing these things is just a little bit unreasonable. Focus on the thing that makes you really good, and then keep training that thing and become even better at it. So you know like they say, “Don’t be the best, be the only one.” So be the only one who does that thing, and it can be something that’s so super focused, that does divorces for rappers, or that does estate planning for divorcees, whatever it is, be the only one who does that thing.
Great. So the goal of this podcast is to help growing firms optimize their practice to be more profitable and enjoyable. Is there anything that we’ve left out or any other tips from your experience working with law firms that you can suggest to help them do that, improve profits or make it more enjoyable?
Yeah, it seems like something that’s so small. But it’s the smallest things that make the biggest differences, Patrick. One of the things that I say is communication. Communication as an attorney is so important, you can never overlook it. I can’t tell you, and if you look at the number of Bar complaints that happen every single year because of lack of communication from an attorney, that’s the number one reason why bar complaints are filed. “My attorney won’t get back to me, I have no idea where my attorney went.”
Look, I get it, personal things come up. There are some situations that will be uncontrollable. But what I really mean by communication is when you are in an industry that charges a high amount and sometimes takes a very long time to see a result, you owe it to your clients to provide, not just communication, but like excessive communication. It might seem excessive to you as an attorney, but as the client, they’ll be so thankful for it. And what’s going to happen is because of that level of communication that you’ve gotten from that attorney, they’re going to now refer you significantly more because they still enjoyed the experience.
So communication can come in many forms. You can just send an email to your client every Friday, saying, “Here we are on the case and there have been no… Nothing has moved forward, this is what we’re waiting on. You don’t need to do anything. Here’s where we are right now.” And really, that’s all it needs to say. And the time it takes you to do it is less than it would take for you to respond to an angry client, because what’s gonna happen is you’re gonna collect all this evidence and all this documentation showing, “Look, you did respond to them and they didn’t get back to you.”
And why would you do that? Why would you go to battle with your own client who’s already paid you? So I think you’re just in a much better situation if you have really clear communication with all of your clients. Make the phone calls, send the emails, even if you think that they’re unnecessary or they’re exhausting, send them anyway. And the other thing that I say is, if you’re communicating, please don’t communicate with legal speak. So if your client is the plaintiff, don’t say, “Hey, you’re the plaintiff in this case.” They have no idea what that means, it’s completely obscure to them, they didn’t go to law school, it’s not their job to know that they’re the plaintiff or the defendant, or what some document means or what a complaint means, or what an answer means, or what interrogatories mean.
They’re not supposed to know what any of that stuff means. So what I beg is that you not send your clients, like documents that you received from opposing counsel saying, “Please answer these interrogatories,” or “My secretary will call you to respond to these interrogatories,” and you send them this document in the middle of the workday, they’re gonna look at that document and say, “What does this mean? Why are they asking me these questions?” That is not effective communication with your client.
What you really wanna make sure that you do is you say, “This is what an interrogatory is, this is typical process, and discovery…Discovery means this.” Please stop using legalese as layman speak because it’s not… And I can’t tell you how many less emails you will have to respond to and how many less phone calls you will take if you just take the additional 15 seconds to create templated emails that explain what everything is before sending it on to your clients. Because what’s immediately gonna happen is they’re gonna call you and they’re gonna say, “Hey, what is this?” and that’s a voicemail you’re gonna have to check, and then if you don’t respond to them, then they’re gonna be more upset, and that’s just gonna add to your workload.
So be prepared, communicate ahead of time, communicate effectively, and that is really just one of the things that you can do. The number one tip that I could give you is just please communicate effectively.
Let the good times roll. All that is fantastic advice and I really appreciate your time. I think we touched on a lot of really good topics and then got a lot of really good actionable nuggets for growing firms out there.
So thank you so much for joining us and we really appreciate your time.
Thanks, Patrick, I appreciate it.