Last week I introduced you to Michael McCubbin, a young lawyer who, after articles, took off on a four month trip around the world, and returned to Vancouver to start up what has become a successful law practice in Gastown. If you find yourself on this page and you haven’t read part one of his story, I highly recommend heading here to check it out. Year one at The Law Offices of Michael McCubbin is not a story you want to miss out on!
As I mentioned last week, by the end of his first year Mike was running a successful law practice, but the problem was he spent too much of his time doing just that: running the practice. That and learning the unspoken rules of each practice area of the wide range of cases that came through the door. Needless to say, he was ready for some of that to change.
So this week I’m going to share with you some of the strategies he employed to get the business side of his law practice functioning more efficiently. As Mike explained, “the second year was the business learning curve.”
Narrowing his practice areas
Turning a profit came with the added benefit of no longer being required to take everything that came in the door. (And here’s where the knowing what you want becomes important yet again.) He began referring things out, weeding out practice areas that weren’t of interest, and keeping the ones that were.
Mike told me his main interest is public law. He wants to do work that is socially and politically important to the community. He wants to do work that matters. He began to carve out a practice in three different areas of law that often have a public law component: criminal; employment and human rights; and general civil litigation (all plaintiffs’ side).
When I asked Mike if doing plaintiff’s work was a conscious decision, or whether it was just easier to build a plaintiff’s side practice, he said it was definitely conscious. He told me that his practice is very individual oriented because he is very individual oriented.
Although having many small clients may be more difficult than a few bigger ones, Mike told me that he wouldn’t consider switching sides. “I identify with the little guy, he explained. “Everyone deserves to have someone stand up for them.”
Doing less admin work
Focusing his practice areas eased, what I can only imagine must have been a feeling like he had to know everything, but Mike still wanted to eliminate (or reduce) the four hours of admin work he put in per day. As a sole practitioner hiring a full time assistant was not financially viable and he was on the lookout for other options when a solution came to him over a phone call (there seems to be a trend emerging – maybe I should have asked Mike to share that secret – how does he get good news to come to him over the phone?)
As I mentioned earlier, Mike was becoming quite comfortable with referring cases out to other lawyers. On one such occasion, in the hopes of referring out a particularly unruly criminal case, he called up Neil Chantler (counsel for the families of 25 of the missing or murdered women in the Pickton Inquiry) to see if he wanted the case.
Ultimately, Neil declined to take it on, but countered with his own proposal: office sharing and (key for Mike) a shared administrative assistant.
And just like that Mike moved in at 58 Powell Street, and began sharing office space and an assistant with Neil Chantler and Cameron Ward (http://www.cameronward.com/), and they continue the arrangement to this day.
Office sharing has given Mike the ability to hand off a lot of those administrative tasks that were bogging him down, but it also came with a host of new responsibilities, including learning how to be an effective employer, and dealing with difficult situations, such as hiring and firing (both of which he’s now had experience in).
Office sharing also gave Mike something else: connection. Someone to bounce ideas off of; someone to talk through a difficult issue with; someone to share a laugh with when the day would otherwise be overwhelming or lonely. Mike told me that he had mentors in the legal community to reach out to when a tough issue would come up, but nothing compares with the ease of being able to walk down the hall and ask a quick question.
He took the time he gained doing less admin work, and began focusing on more high level business development. He started with document handling procedures internally, and has done some research to find out what’s out there in terms of new legal software and technology – including software that allows clients to sign in and see what work the lawyer is doing...in real time. (What? Yes, this really exists. See for example, Viewabill.) He explained that although it’s not a financially viable option for him at the moment, he knows of at least one lawyer in Vancouver who uses it, and would keep it in mind for the future.
And one more office management tip that Mike threw out there for any of you thinking of starting a paperless firm, or in a firm thinking of going paperless in Vancouver – a great off site printer is Resolution Reprographics: http://resrep.com/, conveniently situated a block from the Courthouse.
And those are some of the ever developing business strategies and tips from year two that Mike was kind enough to let me in on. I hope you will find them of value.
So where is Mike going next?
Well, he’d like to narrow his practice areas a little more. He says he likes the variety of his three current practice areas, but he still feels kind of like he’s dabbling and that he would further increase his confidence if he were more specialized.
Right now he’s following his own advice and taking stock of what’s important to him. Getting clear on what he wants and where he sees his future going. “Maybe I’ll partner up,” he told me, “maybe I’ll take on an associate, or maybe I’ll even become an associate.”
The future is wide open.
All I can say is, wherever Mike’s going, I have no doubt he will continue to do GREAT things. And I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of him…
So to sum up the moral of this story in six words…
DREAM it. PLAN it. LIVE it.
Here’s to us all living a little more in that spirit.