My first few years out of law school, you could not keep me out of the courtroom. I was motivated by justice — or at least my clients’ sense of justice — and truly believed that filing a motion was the best way to resolve a dispute. My early mentor instilled “finality” in me as the one and only value: “Some people just can’t work out their disagreements. You could let their matter drag on and on or you can get ‘er done — bring the issue to trial and have the court make a ruling.” And so, I eagerly followed and did just that. For a long time. Too long.
I wish I could say that I woke up one day with an epiphany — people deserve better, especially ex spouses who now have to find a way to co-parent together — but that wasn’t my initial reason for changing the way I walked through each case. I changed because I was plain old burned out. I was tired of long, early morning court commutes, late nights working, bringing the emotion home with me, the happy clients celebrating demoralizing their ex, the angry clients who blamed me for losing their only asset(s) and the unpaid client invoices. I was bored, too. It was the same approach to every case, the same expert witnesses, the same results (big wins and big losses), and a totally predictable day — week in and week out.
That was not why I went to law school. And it certainly wasn’t who I was when I went to law school. The personal faded from the professional, and my life felt more and more compartmentalized — and I was a far cry from the pink mohawked, platform boots wearing, super creative Erin that pursued a law degree after my own triggering, confusing, and frustrating experience with the legal system as a teen.
Not being one to do anything half-a*sed, I made big changes — that ultimately led me to founding a legal technology and development company, Hello Divorce. But long before that, I reworked Levine Family Law Group, and to date, it’s my most satisfying accomplishment yet. If you are looking to find balance between the personal and professional, increase revenue, clear your conscience, and actually enjoy the practice of law, read my tips below.
You don’t have to implement all of them. Heck, you may choose to implement none — but my hope is, at the very least, it will inspire you to craft your own career and (re) create your vision so that you are deliberately living each day in a way that makes the most sense and provides the most satisfaction to you and your clients.
Find your niche.
I used to complain to my staff non-stop: Why do all the crazies come to me for their legal issues? It felt as if everyone Googles, “I want to destroy my ex at whatever cost,” and my name pops up. Well, that wasn’t too far from the truth. My content and marketing efforts were centered on being the most “aggressive advocate” and “doing whatever it takes to get you the result that you deserve.” I was afraid to have a practice that was too nuanced because I thought it would limit our leads — and with a hearty staff, I did not want to take that risk. And then I did. We rethought our manifesto. We did some soul searching and team building to determine which type of cases and people we wanted to work with. And we re-tooled our website, networking efforts and content marketing. Yes, we received less leads (at first) — but the ones that came were far more quality — and far more interesting and likable. Within one year, we went from two lawyers to six, and increased profits into the seven figures.
Practice smarter (and less)
When my kids come home after a long day and are exhausted, I could say one meaningless thing and you’d think it was World War III. The same thing happens with me when I work 14 hour days. An opposing counsel makes one disagreeable statement, and I’m filing contempt actions and swearing under my breath. When I began to put true strategies in place and proactively work my cases, as opposed to just being reactive (because that’s all I really had time for), everything changed. I felt more in control, clients were happier because they felt more involved and (also in control), and I was now running the case — not the other side. By putting standard operating procedures in place, upgrading my systems (making them work for us), I could do more with less work and have more satisfied clients. And for the first time, it looked like we had our sh*t together. And hey, that’s an awesome feeling.
Hone your negotiation skills (and take a course in psychology)
What’s the first rule of law practice? “You are too expensive to be a therapist — focus on the facts and the law, not emotion.” But that misses. Big time. By learning about the personalities involved and understanding what triggers each party and what makes them tick, we gain a huge advantage when it comes to negotiating settlements that our clients can not only “live with,” but that they feel invested in, and grateful for. I get it — there are certainly times when litigation is inevitable, and when that happens, by all means, go after it. But there are also times (most often), when resolving a dispute is best handled outside the courtroom.
Explore sustainable billing options
I am not saying ditch the billable hour. It’s been good to us, I know. But it’s also a prison and does not incentivize us to be efficient, and it doesn’t really capitalize on our experience. Example A: Billing 18 minutes (only) on a pleading because we’ve spent 20 years perfecting our template. How does that serve you? While not the subject of this post, I am a huge advocate for flat fee, subscription models and products that provide passive income. It’s not the right fit for every practice — but there are so many helpful options out there that you can explore. When we founded Hello Divorce, we recognized that not everyone (even with an amicable divorce) can get through a purely DIY divorce (no matter how great the web application is) or a document preparer-led divorce, without help from a lawyer. Offering access to fixed fee legal coaching became a really great way for clients to find really great value (paying for lawyers to do what they expect them to do — problem solve) and for our lawyers at Levine Family Law Group to get a break from litigation — and instead, revel in the satisfaction that comes from helping people with real issues in small increments. We get to really help — without taking on the enormous responsibility of full representation for every case.
Consider diversifying your practice
Almost every lawyer was told at some point in their lives (usually by a close friend, family member, teacher or mentor), “you would be a great lawyer.” Think back to those days. What is it that they saw in you that convinced them you should go to law school? Were you a really persuasive arguer? An unapologetic decision maker? Could you resolve fights on the playground with words, not fists? Did friends come to you to give advice about personal problems? Perhaps mediation, minor’s counsel, specializing in appellate work or being a special master would fit your skill set. Think about what you enjoy and what you’re good at (sometimes those are one and the same) and then consider how you can diversify your practice or establish yourself as thought leader in a niche practice and do it.
I don’t have all the answers. You don’t either. But you don’t need to have them all — you don’t even have to have half of them to make a meaningful change in your work life that brings real joy, revenue, and professional satisfaction to both your personal and professional lives.