Developing Your Unique Practice: Reengineering the Law Firm Template

Rachel Rodgers headshot - SBBRachel Rodgers, the intellectual property and business lawyer for digital entrepreneurs. Rachel is here to talk about how to decide what type of practice you want to build and how to actually create the business. 

Welcome, Rachel.

Once you’ve decided to go solo and determined what kind of lawyer you want to be, you then have to decide what kind of practice you want to build.  The first thing you may be tempted to do is to follow the classic law firm template when building your practice website.

So What Exactly is a Template?

Dictionary.com defines a template as:

Anything that determines or serves as a pattern; a model. For example: “You can use my notes as a template for employee evaluations.”

When I talk about templates, I mean the mold or pattern for a specific action that is repeatedly used. For example, every lawyer has an About Page on their law firm website. It’s a pretty common practice to draft the language for your About Page by looking at some other lawyers’ websites and copying what they did.  This isn’t exactly plagiarizing or copying but rather taking what you see and then using a very similar format and plugging in your information for your own About page.

The end result though is why almost all lawyer’s About pages suck.  Because, templates stifle creativity. Instead of coming up with your own snazzy, creative, out of the box and eye catching About page, you use a template that someone else created. Instead of using the opportunity to tell your unique story in a different way so clients can really get who you are, you simply follow the template that some random lawyer once used on their website.  And trust me, I’m not here to judge. I am an offender myself. My first About page definitely missed the boat and failed to take the opportunity to really connect with my potential clients.

Templates Stifle Creativity

Let me give you another example of a template stifling creativity. I was asked by West LegalEdCenter to deliver a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar. Most lawyers and soon-to-be lawyers know that CLEs are notoriously boring. But of course I told myself that my CLE was going to be different, it was going to be fun! Go ahead, laugh. It is sort of laughable.

Anywho, I felt that one way I could make my CLE less terrible for attendees is by having a kickass PowerPoint presentation. I know PowerPoint being kickass is an oxymoron. Anywho, in my youthful exuberance I began doing research to figure out what makes a PowerPoint presentation interesting and entertaining.

I came across a presentation by Nancy Duarte on creating powerful presentations. One of the things that she talked about is the presenter’s process. Often if you are a presenter, you will write your presentation and then open up PowerPoint to create your slides. When you do that you are fed a hideous template with a section to add a Title and another section to add bullets. This particular construct for slides is used over and over again. Its the template from which everyone tells their story or presents their ideas even though its not particularly good. In fact, its particularly bad. The template stifles the creativity of the presenter and they fall into this default hideous PowerPoint and lose the opportunity to visually impact their audience in a way that boosts their ideas.

What the Hell Does All of This Have to Do with Building Your First Law Practice?

While watching this presentation and listening to Nancy Duarte, it struck me that we lawyers are suffering from the same problems as powerpoint presenters. We are stuck using a default template even if it doesn’t fit the way our clients want to be served and the way we want to provide legal services.

Trying to innovate within this law firm template is like me trying to create an awesome visual presentation for my CLE while still using the default powerpoint template.

As a law student or young lawyer, you are probably looking at a variety of law firms to get an idea of what’s already being done. The typical law firm template looks like:

Brick & Mortar Office + a Full Service Menu (meaning you handle everything for the client’s case or transaction from start to finish) + Billable Hours (insert template image)

Even when lawyer’s try to innovate we do so still within this construct. Jay Shepherd will tell you why you should stop charging hourly rates. Stephanie Kimbro & Richard Granat will tell you why you should consider having a virtual law office and how to offer unbundled services. However, each of these innovations still work within or coupled with the overall law firm template of a Brick & Mortar Office + a Full Service Menu (meaning we handle everything for the client’s case or transaction from start to finish) + Billable Hours.

So, I challenge you, young lawyer, to brush that all aside when you start planning your new law practice.  What if you did something truly radical? Something truly remarkable and outrageous? What if you started with a blank page instead?  What if you simply asked “what do my clients really need?” Then, sit down and create a unique practice that serves those needs.

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Thanks, Rachel!

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Rachel Rodgers is the intellectual property and business lawyer for digital entrepreneurs. Her one-of-a-kind practice, Rachel Rodgers Law Office, is run entirely online making her services accessible and convenient for tech startups, online-based businesses and thought leaders. Rachel co-wrote the most entertaining business law guide for entrepreneurs called Small Business Bodyguard: Cover Your Bases, Cover Your Assets, Cover Your Ass. Rachel and her practice have been featured in Fast Company, MSNBC, The Washington Post, Forbes and various other media outlets and publications.

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Read On:

If you liked this post, check out all the helpful posts in Rachel’s series.

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Got questions for Rachel? Leave them in the comments! And stay tuned for the rest of her series on creating a virtual law office.

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