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Unexpected Advantages of Going Small

We are nearing the end of the first quarter of Durant Barristers being in business. Our firm formed at an interesting time for legal practitioners due to the phenomenon described in the media as the “Great Resignation” or the “Big Quit”. It turns out, we are not the only ones looking to do something different now as society begins to emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accordingly, we thought it would be worthwhile for the legal profession generally and those who follow trends in the industry to share some of our relatively unexpected early outcomes:

  1. Hiring a freelance bookkeeper who works with numerous small law firms was an extremely valuable first step.

  2. There is a small army of small firm true believers who (a) helped share what they have learned, (b) answered questions at all hours of the day and (c) referred far more work than was referred while working in a large firm.

  3. Clients like more predictable, regular billing and at flat rates (okay - this one shouldn’t be that surprising).

  4. Despite #3, uptake on subscription based legal services has been slow. We are not giving up on that model but may need to work with specific clients to pilot a subscription based model around their needs (rather than guessing what clients might want).

  5. Low overhead expenses allowed us to scale up on talented people quickly and profitably.

  6. Clients do not care that we do not have a central office. They do not want to travel to see us. I expect they never want to go physically into their lawyer’s offices again.

  7. In three months, we have had to send one piece of mail by courier. We do not have or need a fax machine, an industrial printer or a binding machine.

  8. We built a close team working entirely remotely. Daily check-ins, Zoom meetings, conference calls, Microsoft 365 group drafting, group and individual chats. Compassion. It has not been difficult and has been incredibly rewarding. People have shown an early willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty - I think because we like our work and our team.

  9. Going small does not mean going cheap. I am providing the same legal services to the same clients as I did at a large firm and the clients are prepared to pay for the skills and expertise. We are also far more exclusive in taking on new clients and are able to provide better and faster service. Being fully remote also allows us to operate in different markets - as we have people in Ottawa, Toronto and Barrie. My personal rate per hours worked has accordingly went up from going small - by a very significant margin.

  10. We have a some high volume, repeat clients with specific billing and reporting requirements. We built our systems around these clients. Bills do not get rejected. Everything gets submitted properly and on time. The ”little annoyances”, which can turn into big annoyances, have been dramatically reduced.

  11. Speaking of bills getting paid fast. If you want your clients to pay fast, sign up for a service like Law Pay (included with Clio) to allow for payment by credit card. The low administrative fees are well worth the instantaneous payment of accounts - especially during the first three months which are supposed to be quite lean. Between setting up systems to ensure easy payment of accounts for institutional clients and Law Pay, the average time to have my accounts paid decreased from nearly 50 days at my previous firm to about 20 days currently.

  12. There is technology out there to make your job easier that larger firms may be slower or reluctant to adopt. We are using: Microsoft 365 to its fullest (including on laptops, iPads, and iPhones), CiteRight, ACL, Clio, Law Pay, Adobe Pro, WordRake and are about to pilot AI fuelled legal research tools and an external evidence management service provider. I am not sure how I ever drafted a factum or large document before without multiple people having access to the same text for simultaneous editing. But I am never going back.

  13. Talented people want to work small and work remote. I wish I could hire all of them.

  14. Getting credit for a new firm is a huge pain. Even if you are profitable, have a practice and good personal credit. Plan accordingly. Fortunately, we do not have to incur a lot of disbursements given the nature of our practice.

I, personally, could not be happier that I made the leap to start Durant Barristers. What started as an easy escape to find myself, do some healing and maintain my practice while I considered what came next ended up being the best decision I could have made. Don’t be afraid to do the same.

Erin Durant

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