Guide to Running a Small Legal Practice | Martindale-Avvo

Guide to Running a Small Legal Practice

small law firm management

Running a small law practice is as exciting as it is challenging. It requires juggling case management, practice growth, and financial management, often all in a single day.

From organizing your workflow to marketing your services, here’s how to make your practice thrive.

Workflow and Client Experience

A successful small law practice operates smoothly and earns clients’ trust and satisfaction. To make that happen with a small staff, you need organization and a plan for success. 

Refining Your Organizational Structure

When you rely on a small staff, everyone needs a defined role and clear expectations. Most small firms have a relatively simple operational structure, which may include:

  • Senior partners
  • Associate attorneys
  • Paralegals
  • Support staff

Smaller firms often have fewer lower-level staff. A smaller payroll means lower costs, but don’t overload your support team. Document the responsibilities of each staff member and check them against your workflow. All essential tasks should have specific responsible parties, and everyone should know how those processes work.

Perfecting Billing and Collections Procedures

According to the 2022 Report on the State of US Small Law Firms, 54% of small firms find securing client payment significantly or moderately challenging. That number is down significantly since 2020, as many small firms have implemented effective strategies.

Two of the most successful strategies are refined collections processes and higher retainers. Practices have also improved payment rates by accepting credit cards and digital payments. 

A recent Forbes survey shows that 53% of people use digital wallets, such as PayPal or Apple Pay, more often than traditional payment methods. Accepting this convenience helps clients pay you faster while showing them you value their time. It demonstrates your commitment to a relevant, in-touch practice. 

A Marketing Plan

Small-practice legal marketing can’t be haphazard. You need an actionable strategy with goals, target channels, and a plan for measuring return on investment (ROI).

Establish your budget, then set measurable goals you want to achieve with that budget. Be as specific as possible, giving yourself goals such as “a 10% increase in personal injury clients by X month” or “25% more inquiry calls year-over-year.”

Use your goals to decide where you’ll market. Consider a blend of channels, including digital and traditional marketing. Possibilities include:

  • Direct mail
  • Email campaigns
  • Newsletters
  • Google Ads
  • Social media
  • Blog posts, videos, and other content

Aim to have marketing campaigns for clients at all phases of the decision-making process, from prospects encountering you for the first time to leads almost ready to retain you.

Must-Have Resources

Every successful small legal practice has a toolkit that keeps it going. You don’t need cutting-edge tech in every area of your practice, but you do need the following basics to attract and serve clients.

A Professional Website

According to a recent Reuters survey, more than 75% of legal customers visit two to five websites before contacting an attorney. Your website is your first impression with each of those potential clients, and it says much more than you might think.

For example, if your practice website is clean and easy to navigate, it tells visitors that your firm is approachable and client-friendly. If it’s cluttered and confusing, people will anticipate being confused when they talk to you.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who needs your services. Ask yourself what website pages they’d need to find and what will help them choose you. Include detailed information about each of the following:

  • Your practice areas
  • What types of clients you serve
  • Your background and credentials
  • Client reviews and testimonials

Finally, verify that your website’s look and tone accurately convey your style. For example, a family law firm’s website might feel gentler and more compassionate, while a criminal defense attorney might be more straightforward and include language like “fighting for you.”

A Legal-Focused Answering Service

When Reuters respondents finally settled on a first-choice attorney, more than 70% reached out by phone. Nearly half couldn’t reach an attorney on the first try or didn’t hear back quickly, prompting them to call another attorney.

An answering service helps you meet more clients’ needs at the most critical moment — when they first reach out. Picture a client who calls you at 2 a.m., desperate for help. Top-notch answering services work 24/7 and pick up the phone within 20 seconds, earning that client’s trust before they’ve said a word.

Practice Management Software

Don’t assume you don’t need advanced tech because you’re a small law firm. Practice management software lets you run your office more efficiently by streamlining administrative tasks, from document storage to appointment scheduling.

Most major solutions have pricing structures for all firm sizes, including entry-level pricing for smaller firms. Choose a basic package or bundle with case management or billing tools for even greater efficiency.

Investments for Growth

Wise practice leaders always have an eye on the future. Invest in technology and services to reach the next step in your evolution.


Automation technologies let small firms get more done. They take repetitive tasks out of the hands of your administrators, paralegals, and associates, empowering those professionals to spend more time on case-critical tasks.  

Of the many ways law firms can automate, the most useful to small firms include:

  • Lead intake: Today’s conversion tools let you qualify leads, start conversations, and record data to convert up to 27% more clients
  • Live chat: Communications tools are now available that will automatically connect your website visitors to live operators, who will process their information  
  • Client scheduling: Reduce your staff’s time on phone calls and emails by adding an appointment booking tool to your website. These tools let clients instantly book appointments online based on your availability.

If the learning curve is a concern, start with one or two automation tools and add more as you feel ready. A digital marketing partner can help you choose and integrate the right tools.

Outsourced Marketing

Handling your marketing in-house may seem like a good cost-saving measure when you run on a small-firm budget. And while you can attract new clients this way, it doesn’t quite compare to the reach an expert outsourcing partner can offer.

At Martindale-Avvo, we work with you to develop and launch a customized solution to your practice’s needs. With us directing your marketing, you’ll be free to provide the excellent service your clients deserve.

Fast-Track Your Marketing Today

Martindale-Avvo has helped numerous attorneys and practices to reach the next level. From advertising to search engine optimization, we help you get more leads and convert them faster.

Don’t spend another day trying to market your firm alone. Reach out today to have a Martindale-Avvo marketing expert contact you.

Want more insider info? Check out the Martindale-Avvo’s Academy article Guide to Running a Small Law Practice.

Related articles that may help boost your small firm’s reputation include:
Small Law Firm Marketing Funnels Explained
6 Solutions for Small Law Firm Legal Intake
The Importance of Testimonials for Small Law Firms
How a Small Law Firm Can Succeed Today
Future-Proofing for Small Law Firms

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