Lawyer Business Advantage podcast is dedicated to helping attorneys earn more money. Get better clients, and spend more time with family. Host Alay Yajnik is a founder of law firms and provides smart business guidance for small law firms. In the episode, Alay Yajnik, invites Unlock Legal founder Miranda McCroskey on-air to discuss her life as a business owner. In the episode, Miranda talks about the freedom and flexibility she’s gained from running her own law firm and what she’s learned along the way. Listen to her tips in the podcast on how to grow a great team and gain the skills you need to run your own business.
Things to Remember About Starting Your Own Law Firm:
- Lawyers typically lack the necessary business management skills to run a law firm; it’s just not part of their mindset and how they were professionally trained.
- Invest in the people that can help you build a successful law firm.
- You can’t not afford to hire support. You need a team to keep your law firm successful.
- You don’t need all the answers, but you have to be willing to grow. Work on yourself. Be patient. Put in the work to make your team better.
Below is a partial transcript of the above podcast.
How did your law firm get started?
One of the things I love about our conversations is that you are an attorney and you’re a really good one. You’re also a really good entrepreneur and you have structured your law firm to run like a really good business, but it may not have always been that way. So take me through, you know, from when you got started and then what were some of the things that happened where you decided, “you know what, I want to run this thing, like a business and here’s how I’m going to make that happen.”
There was a process…in the early 2000s, I was on my own, a scrappy criminal defense attorney, just kind of hand to mouth. Then I got married and had a couple of babies and actually being on my own was beneficial at that time because I needed to have flexibility with the kids and all that. But in about 2014, I started my own podcast called Lawpreneur Radio. The idea was I would talk to entrepreneurial attorneys and ask them how they found the courage and inspiration to leave government law or leave corporate law and go out on their own. And after about 150 interviews and learning things like systems and leverage and things that I didn’t have in place, you know, like a bookkeeper or a business plan I really had a breakdown that led to a breakthrough around like, wow, I don’t know anything about running a law firm.
And the irony is I started the podcast to talk to people about running a law firm. I did another a hundred or so interviews after that. Every one of them was a coaching session for myself and how, how people were succeeding out there. I started to see what was really missing in what I was doing. So that led to the transformation. And then since then, I’ve educated myself a lot and through different programs and different books, and I have an ongoing business advisor, and all of those things in order to run this from more like a business.
So that is a really interesting story because of the evolution you went through and how you did it, you did it through all of these interviews, 200 or 200 plus, which is really cool. And a lot of attorneys don’t do that. And I’m curious to get your perspective because you made this transition and really have embraced the concept of being a business owner. Why is that something that not all attorneys just do?
Why don’t all attorneys run their own law firms?
Oh, I think the E-Myth by Michael Gerber would tell you the answer to that. He would say that we come out of law school as technicians, and we know how to practice law like a dentist, a veterinarian, but that doesn’t mean we know anything about running a business like management skills, operations, P&L…those are a whole other skillset. Another cut on that would be as lawyers, we’re trained to have a win-lose mindset, right? I mean, that’s what I’m doing. I’m fighting battles for my clients all day long. And in my world, it’s against the government. Other people are against the government or against private individuals. When you’re a business owner, you have to have a win-win mindset with your employees. You have to learn to listen and care about their opinions. And that’s not what we’re normally trained in. So your question was why don’t more attorneys run their firms like businesses. I think they’re just not educated to do it. It’s not a mindset that they’ve adopted.
Yeah. It’s something that seems to be almost a different reality. As you said, a different mindset, a very different way of approaching their daily life, and, Miranda, what are some of the benefits that you’ve seen as you’ve run your firm as a business?
Well, the first one I’m going to say kind of cuts both ways. There are attorneys out there who are going to hear this and not consider it a benefit. And that would be not practicing law that much anymore. My hands are pretty full managing my team and all the things that come with running a business. I’m okay with only bringing my skillset in to assist the attorneys under me with, you know, subtleties and nuances and bringing resources to the table. But I’m not knee-deep in the day-to-day practice of law. So for me, it’s a benefit, but again, that’s something I ask young attorneys all the time, how are you wired? Are you wired to run a business and be an entrepreneur or are you wired to get the work done? We need both kinds. And so if attorneys who are listening are wired to get the work done, like they pride themselves on their intellectual prowess – like they can write a mean patent application because they have all this scientific background and legal background or whatever, they might not be so enthralled with running it like a business.
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Well, they might, if they hear about what a day is like in the life of Miranda McCroskey. So if you wouldn’t mind taking us through a typical weekday that you have in your current role.
What does a day in the life of Unlock Legal look like?
I have five direct reports. And so on Monday, I spend time meeting with them and making sure they’ve got their weeks planned out and asking what their top initiatives are. And just making sure we’re all on the same page. And then the rest of the day I have check-ins with them. And then I get my business, the things you have to do to run a business. I do that throughout the rest of the day. I have long days. I don’t have to though. That’s the beauty of all of this, right? I read recently you can invest in, this is probably a sweeping generalization, but you can invest in stocks, real estate or people. I thought that was really compelling. And I basically am investing in these people to assist me in running Unlock Legal. So that would be a synopsis of a typical week or day investing in these people.
Tell me a little bit about the flexibility and the freedom that you have because you’re running your law firm like a business.
What are the benefits of running your own law firm?
The answer to your question is the flexibility is yes, once you have people who can do the work to the standards that I require, once I have those people in place, I am then able to go on vacation. I just got back from spring break with my family, and I checked in a couple of times. And that was probably more times than I needed. I think they like it when I go away. It’s definitely a challenge to bring them on and delegate. And then, but once you do, at least for me, I realized right away what an advantage it was to free myself up.
I’d love to get your perspective on how you’ve built this high-performance team that clearly you trust.
How do you build a high performing team?
The associates I have now are really wonderful. But her first 90 days with me, it was tough because she didn’t know anything about my area of law. And I was definitely feeling like I was investing so much time in her. And I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I couldn’t see the future. I just thought, whoa, this is a, time-suck about the four-month mark. It’s like the penny dropped. And she started taking these affirmative steps that I’d be like, oh, you did that? but I’d look at it and I’d say that you did it so well. And it grew from there.
So your question was, how did I grow a solid team? And the reason I told you the answer that way was to show it didn’t start that way.
I’m working on it all the time. So I don’t have a secret, like how I train her. I think being available to the team to, to ask, answer their questions. And I always like to tell them the reason behind things. I don’t just give them the tasks. I tell them what the results should look like and why that task is relevant to the big picture. I don’t know exactly how I get my results, but they’re good at the moment.
One of the questions I have for you Miranda, is something that really a lot of attorneys struggle with is this idea of business development and bringing in the business, but then having trusted associates do the work. So they’re not actually doing the work. A lot of them have challenges with that concept. They feel like if they brought in the client, they should do the work. What are your thoughts around that?
My thought is that sounds like me a whole bunch of years ago. And I was living hand to mouth. I brought in the work, I mean, I brought in the business to do the work. If you’re bringing in a lot of business, you don’t have time to do the work. I know what you’re pointing to. They think I’m the name partner. I have to do it, but I just disagree with that concept. I wouldn’t be able to have any growth if I had to do the work.
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There’s a lot of things that even though you’re not doing them yourself, you had to learn how to do those things. How does it compare if you think about learning to practice law in learning to run a business, how did those two compare with each other?
How does practicing law compare to running a business?
There’s a big, there’s a big difference. It’s kind of the answer I gave earlier where it’s the win-lose mentality versus the win-win mentality. And it’s dealing with people. I mean, for most of my career, I was a lone wolf. I decided really early in my law career. I didn’t want to work for anyone or have anyone work for me. I was tired of being in the law firm and all of the stuff that comes from being an associate in a firm. And that got me only so far. What’s the difference between learning to practice law and learning to run a law firm? Learning to practice law is an academic exercise. Law school does teach you how to think like a lawyer and it’s invaluable when handling people’s problems. Other people’s problems are different from managing your own problems.
I’m figuring out all the details, but you know what, I’m not a CFO and I don’t have a finance degree. So I just think they’re worlds apart. That’s been the biggest pain point for me is frankly, is giving up who I knew myself to be. And what I was good at, which is being a practicing lawyer and being, and doing something else that I don’t feel particularly skilled at. It gets better every single day and the results show I’m doing an all right job, but that’s something for your listeners to consider. The gap is painful.
And it is, it is painful and it is daunting. And so what were some of the things that you did and are still doing to start to cross that gap and to think of yourself differently? That’s, that’s a transformation.
Yeah, it is. I mentioned that I have a business advisor and I meet with him often. We’ve been together for four years in the beginning. I met with him once a month for three hours. And that felt like a huge expense, but, that, that worked for a number of months until we decided we weren’t getting any traction. So then I was stingy and I’m like, well, I’ll spit out three hours up into two times. So it’s an hour and a half here. And then that got silly. And so then we started to do more and more. Now we meet for three hours on Tuesdays and three hours on Thursdays and it’s worth every penny.
I’ve been reading in Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people, which has been around for 30 years, but it has these timeless messages that have actually really helped a lot and practice. As an attorney, who’s been doing my own thing I wanted to be the star. When there’s a meeting, I want to lead it. When there’s something to say, I want to say it. But I had to learn to shut up and back down and let the team say what they need to say so that they take ownership so that they can handle it.
Yeah, that’s gotta be one of the more challenging things to do is to just not say anything during a meeting and letting your team, let your team take that ball, especially when you see that, not exactly going the direction that you would go with this, you know, and it’s funny when everything turns out, okay,
That’s right. Everything comes out okay. Yeah. I like to take that concept and there’s something I heard called, do you want to be rich or do you want to be king? And I’m like, “rich,” of course, but you know, there’s a lot of places I want to be king. If you follow the distinction, it’s about ego pretty much. So, that’s been challenging, but the more I give up being the king and let other people do it, and I know they’re doing it for me so that I can be rich. That helps a lot.
What’s great is you’ve got that priority clear, right? You’re okay. You’re learning how to give up that level of control and that level of status to laugh all the way to the bank. That’s great.
Miranda. You have been so generous with all your experience and being open about it, sharing that in all your advice, congratulations on all your success. And thank you so much for being a lawyer business advantage.
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