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How’s Business? Do You Really Even Know?

Eleanor Kay Southers


  • Early identification in three areas needing improvement in your firm can forestall later disasters.
  • The equipment and management in your firm should be part of your assessment.
  • Competency is your ability to have the confidence that you are current with the latest changes in your practice.
  • Your marketing assessment includes reviewing the financial health of your firm.
How’s Business? Do You Really Even Know?
Guido Mieth via Getty Images

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As an attorney coach, when I ask the question, “How’s business?,” I usually get a response in the area of “fine” or “could be better.” When we delve a little deeper, we find that the attorney has no idea how to answer this question or how to go about evaluating exactly how the business is going. Yet, we all know that early identification of areas needing improvement can forestall later disasters. I’m going to give you a solid plan to assess exactly how all aspects of your business are faring and what might need correcting. Much of this will also cover a virtual firm. Make it work for you.

To begin, it is important to understand that for our purposes, any business is made up of three elements: equipment and management, competency, and marketing. If any of these areas are lacking, the business is not functioning at its best. So, gather all your spreadsheets, latest tax return, monthly accounting containing your income and expense reports, marketing stats, and any other materials to review. Here we go:

Equipment and Management

Equipment includes computers, phones, desks, and all other permanent fixtures. Management is the aspect of the firm that is built by the “systems” that are set up and how they are operating. This includes the support staff and how effective it is.

The questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do clients have easy access to my office? Does this include new clients as well as present clients? (Major complaints to the bar come from this one).
  • Is my tech up-to-date and working? Do I need to add any new tech?
  • Are all my machines working at their full capacity? Do I need to update, add, or delete any?
  • Do I need more staff? Do I need less staff? Does my staff need more training?
  • Do I need to review any of my management systems? This includes monthly financial reports, how cases are handled by staff, closing cases, and all the other systems that have been set up to run the firm.
  • How is my firm’s financial situation? Am I covering my expenses? If not, how much more income do I need?
  • Do I have realistic budgets for my office and for personal expenses?
  • Is my trust account up-to-date? Do I audit it on a regular basis? Are payments that cannot be delivered being adequately and timely handled? (This is another one that can cause big trouble with the bar.)
  • Is there a system in place to address attorney wellness, including burnout and stress?
  • Do I have an up-to-date sexual harassment policy readily available? (If not, check your state requirements.)
  • Have I recently reviewed my insurance policies? Are they all up-to-date, especially my malpractice insurance?
  • As a solo, are my estimated taxes being deposited correctly and timely?


Competency is often thought of as being able to give clients and adversaries correct information about your area of the law. Actually, it also impacts your ability to have the confidence that you are up-to-date with the latest changes in your practice. This includes spending the time to keep current on ethics principles as well as any current influences on your practice.

  • Am I up-to-date on my MCLE obligation?
  • During the past year, have I had any cases causing me to research extensively? Should I explore this area in greater depth?
  • Do I want to add any other areas to my practice?
  • Do I want to consider a niche for my practice? If so, what will it take to start exploring this?
  • Am I current with any and all new laws in my areas of practice?
  • Am I current with any and all new ethics rules?
  • Do I have two or three attorneys I can call for advice?


Start your review of your marketing with your responses to the financial health of the business. If your financial goals are being met, then it would appear that your marketing is going well. You may then want to look at the financial numbers and see if you are also setting aside retirement monies, rainy day monies, children’s college fund monies, and cash on hand. You may then decide to increase your marketing.

Let’s take a look at your current marketing:

  • Do I have a sufficient number of networking opportunities?
  • Do I belong to worthwhile groups?
  • Do I keep track of where my referrals are coming from? Do I thank people who have referred to me?
  • Do I let my staff know that I am looking for referrals?
  • Have I designated a target market?
  • Do I have a mission statement?
  • Do I have a marketing plan?
  • Is my website up-to-date? Does it have an easy way to interact with it? Does it have appropriate recommendations? (I hate the term testimonials.)
  • Is my social media appropriate? Do I understand the dos and don’ts of using social media?
  • Do I have a LinkedIn account? Do I understand how to use it?
  • Is my marketing budget appropriate?
  • Do I do any writing or contribute to any publications in my areas? If not, should I add some?
  • Do I have a current contacts list? Have I “touched” people on my contacts list in the past six months?
  • Should I send a monthly newsletter to my contacts list?
  • What type of branding do I use for my firm? Is it working? Is it comfortable? Do I keep it current?

Now that you have spent an hour or so answering questions about your practice, what’s next? First of all, take a good look at the aspects of your practice that you want to work on or at least think about some more. What parts of your firm seem strong? Weak? Not sure? All this needs to be written down and reviewed. Goals can be set for further work on the weak areas.

How Is Your Personal Life Doing?

If you are not too exhausted from thinking about how your firm is working, you might want to take the leap to analyze how your personal life is doing. The rest of this article can help you do that. Or you can just take a nap.

We all know that an attorney needs to have a balanced life to do his or her best. There are several elements that go into making this balance. Let’s start by asking ourselves more questions to reveal where we are with personal satisfaction and happiness:

  1. Do I like to go to work each day?
  2. Do I like the people I work with?
  3. Do I like most all of my clients?
  4. Can I get my work done in 40 to 50 hours a week?
  5. Do I have enough time for my family each day?
  6. Do I exercise enough?
  7. Am I eating a healthy diet?
  8. Am I taking enough classes to keep up-to-date in my practice areas?
  9. Do I often feel lonely?
  10. Do I have mentors?
  11. Do I play and have fun on a regular basis?

You can see how these questions can relate back and forth with the ones about the business. The next question might be, “What do I do if I find an area I want to change?” Start out by looking closer at the areas where you are dissatisfied. Where is your dissatisfaction coming from? For example, take question number 7, “Am I eating a healthy diet?” First, you will need to define what is a healthy diet for you. Does this include no or little sugar? No fast foods? No fried foods? Once you have described a more nutritious diet than you are now eating, list the foods that you will be eliminating. List the foods you will add. Figure out your best calorie count. Now, work on how you are going to do this. Does it involve cooking more? Shopping differently?

Grab your calendar and note something simple to do for each day of the coming week. It can be just to keep a food diary of what you are currently eating. Or it can list small changes you want to make each day. At the end of the week, gather what you have found out. Keep up these small insights and goals until you have accomplished changing your diet to your satisfaction. You can also recognize if you feel better and your clothes fit better. This will help to keep you motivated.

Change that involves identifying a goal is difficult for everyone. Yes, some find it less arduous but are challenged by the process of creating a plan and then fulfilling it. Acknowledging the fear and resistance to change is the first step to overcoming it.

I’ve given you a lot of things to think about, but that’s my intention. Now, when someone asks, “How is your business?,” you can answer, “I just took inventory and worked on a few things, and it’s rock solid. I’m giving my clients better service than ever before and reaping the benefits.”