A friend recently asked me, “How many cases should I take in a year?” Unfortunately, there’s no magic number to answer that question, perhaps that’s because it isn’t the right question to ask – it’s looking at the problem from the wrong end.
A better way of getting to the information that I think my friend really wants to know is by starting from the outcome that you want to achieve. This will be different for every practice. What matters really isn’t the number of clients, per se, but whether you’re accomplishing what you want and need to with your practice. “Too many” clients may just mean that it’s time to expand your practice and bring on some help, or start taking on higher value, but lower volume work. “Too few” clients may mean that you aren’t charging appropriately for your services or you aren’t effectively marketing yourself.
Instead of looking at the problem from the angle of “how many clients should I take on this year,” which, translated, really means, “how many clients do I need to take to get where I want to be financially and to satisfy my other needs related to the practice, i.e. professional fulfillment, etc.,” try looking at it from the opposite perspective and define what those needs are, and then you can work backwards to determine the best way to get there.
Looking at your practice from this angle is similar to looking at the vision you have for your practice (you can read more about that here.) Once you have the vision, you can determine the steps you need to take to get there. Once you know what you’re looking for from your practice in the next year, you can determine what kinds of cases you need to take, how many to take, and how much you need to charge to reach your goals.
Some things you might want to consider (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) are:
- What kind of practice do you have?
- How many current cases are you handling?
- How much time, on average, does it take for you to handle each case?
- Are the kinds of cases you’re handling now the kinds of cases you want to handle, or are you looking for something different?
- Are your cases ‘high value/low volume’ cases, or ‘high volume/low value’ cases?
- Can you delegate some of the ‘lower value’ or administrative work you do to another person, whether it’s another lawyer or an assistant?
- Do you practice in multiple areas of the law, or just one?
- What are your expenses, including retirement, medical and dental expenses, among others?
- How do you charge your clients – flat fee, hourly, contingency?
- What fees do you currently charge?
- How much do you want or expect to make this year?
- Do you plan to take some cases on a ‘pro bono’ or ‘low fee’ basis?
- How many hours of your day can you reasonably expect to bill?
- What is the going rate for legal services in your practice and geographical area?
The bottom line for me is to figure out what you want your year to look like, and then determine how many, and what kinds of cases you want or need to take.
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Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices
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