This article sheds light on common firm management problems and offers a possible solution for small- to mid-sized law firms. It is written from the perspective of two partners, Katie Lammers and Amanda Crain, and two associates, Blaine Balow and Jenna Eisenmenger, of Heimerl & Lammers, LLC, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

By Katie Lammers, Amanda Crain, Blaine Balow and Jenna Eisenmenger, Family Lawyers

“I’ve got bad news and I’ve got good news. The bad news is that the gauges aren’t working. We are hopelessly lost; I have no idea how fast we’re flying or in what direction and I don’t know how much fuel we have left. The good news is that we’re making great time!” – Gary Tomlinson, as quoted in Traction: How to Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman.

law firm management problems

Katie Lammers: If you are like me, that quote has probably resonated with you to some degree during your career. As equity partners, we were running into the same questions: How do we make more money? How do we better manage our staff? How do we grow our practice areas? How do we better forecast our firm finances? We found ourselves spinning our wheels, trying to gain momentum. This caused frustration and rifts within the business. We displaced blame and pointed fingers at others for not getting to where we need to be. We hid behind our practices and claimed to be too busy to focus on the business. Enter: Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino WickmanAfter our partners read Traction, we were persuaded that it was worth a try.  

Our firm had reached a point where staff was frustrated, we were losing good talent to our competitors, and partners were spending countless hours discussing problems without any resolution in sight. Employees did not know where to go with problems, and, if they did, there was no guarantee that their issue would be resolved. While our legal practice areas were thriving, we still felt stagnated dealing with the same ongoing interfirm issues. 

Amanda Crain: As someone who bills by the hour, time literally equals money. I had difficulty not only coming up with the time to devote to improving our business, but also difficulty justifying the time it took away from my billable. Traction convinced me that time spent away from the traditional attorney work and spent instead on the business was not only worth it, but it was also essential to ensure that our firm continued to grow.

Traction focuses on the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) model, which is an all-inclusive, self-sustaining system that addresses the six key components of a firm: 1) vision, 2) people, 3) data, 4) issues, 5) process, and 6) traction. The process forces you to think about and agree upon core values, execute an accountability chart, set a vision, create a scorecard to maintain and track weekly progress, as well as set quarterly goals that are clearly articulated and enforced throughout the entire firm. These mechanisms shift your firm back on track, set obtainable goals, and hold one another accountable. 

We started implementing Traction approximately six months ago. It has been met with frustrations, growing pains, and even shifts in department heads and hierarchy. But that is the point – you cannot grow a business until you fix the foundation and hold yourself accountable as business owners. We are now gaining traction, conducting effective weekly meetings, holding one another accountable, and no longer hiding behind being “too busy” or finger pointing.  

family law firm team meeting

Jenna Eisenmerger: If an employee does not have a clear understanding of a firm’s expectations of them, their position, and their role within the firm, then they cannot effectively perform to their highest capacity. When I first joined the firm, there were no clearly defined roles. I was unsure who to turn to with IT problems, human resource questions, or billing questions. The firm’s expectations of me were also not clearly identified, which made it difficult for me to set specific goals as a new attorney within the firm.

Since the partners began Traction, they have now set clear definitions of each employee’s role in their position and within the firm. Each employee knows who to contact for IT help, marking goals, employee benefits, etc. Meetings have been held with each department within the firm to discuss individual goals as well as department goals. Traction has helped grease the wheels, so to speak.

Blaine Balow: Prior to joining my current firm, I worked for a law firm of approximately 65 attorneys with countless staff, and I was an associate to a solo practitioner that launched a new law firm. That experience gave me an immense amount of respect for the difficulty and complexity of owning and managing your own practice. 

Our partners have taken organization, culture, and accountability to the next level. As a young attorney, culture is important to me. It helped me identify whether my personal ideals and goals aligned with the firm’s. It also helped the partners identify whether I would be a good fit within the firm. 

Traction’s strongest impact on my practices is my quarterly and monthly “rocks.” They are incredibly specific and measurable. None of my goals are quick fixes to a problem; nor are they too broad. My “rocks” are my way of contributing to the firm’s efficiency and growth. I have noticed a marked change in not only my efficiency, but also our staff’s efficiency.

Katie Lammers: As attorneys, we focus on the practice of law. While we focus on our day-to-day practice, firm management, growth, and finances take the backseat. Admittedly, we are not necessarily the best managers or business owners – especially if our practice is built on billable hours. It is not our fault – most of us did not go to business school. Yet, owning your own law firms demands a degree of business acumen. Managing your law firm requires a plan, which Traction helps solidify. It forced our partners to get on the same page, sit down, and work on our business. While we are in the early stages of implementation, and it certainly has not been a quick or painless process, our firm is reenergized and gaining traction. 

If you wonder whether your own firm could benefit from Traction, take the quiz:

Katie Lammers and Amanda Crain, partners,  and Blaine Balow and Jenna Eisenmenger, associates, are family lawyers at Heimerl & Lammers, LLC in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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