Follow The Show

Follow or subscribe now so that you don’t miss an episode!

Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazon MusicTuneInPandoraGoodpodsiHeartRadioOvercast

Episode 139: Law Firm Profitability Secrets To Run Your Firm As A Business

by Heather Moulder | Life & Law Podcast

Feel overwhelmed when trying to figure out your firm/practice finances (never mind trying to project into the future so you can hire someone)? Today’s episode is for you. Listen and learn how to create law firm profitability and run your firm as a true business from today’s guest (Fractional CFO Leah Miller).

In today’s episode, we get into:

  • The most common causes of anxiety when it comes to law firm financials (and how to combat it).
  • What to pay attention to when it comes to your firm/practice financials.
  • How to determine when you can afford to hire a new employee.

And so much more!

Become as exceptional at the business-of-law as you are in the practice of law.

Get your FREE copy of the Lawyer Business Plan Checklist to:

  • Sharpen your ideas for growing a financially secure business.
  • Turn your business dreams into a strategic plan of action.
  • Increase your business acumen (& confidence).

Download it here.


Episode Transcript

[00:00:48] Heather: Welcome, everyone! I’m Heather Moulder from the Life & Law Podcast. Today, we have a special guest: Leah Miller, founder of LMN Financial Services. Leveraging her in-house law firm CFO experience, Leah aids law firms and small businesses with financial needs through bookkeeping, consultation, and fractional CFO services. Her mission is clear: alleviate clients’ financial anxiety while fostering a comprehensive understanding of their business’s financial health. When not crunching numbers, Leah enjoys the sunshine with her husband, three daughters, two dogs, and two cats. Welcome, Leah.

[00:01:28] Leah: Hello.

[00:01:28] Leah: It’s great to be here.

[00:01:32] Heather: Before we dive into today’s topic—helping ease anxiety for lawyers dealing with financial health, practice stability, projections, and goal planning—I promise we’ll discuss that shortly.

But before we get into that, let me delve a bit into your story. I think I saw, and we’ve discussed this before, a recent post about your winding path to where you are now. Could you share a bit about your educational background? What did you go to school for, and what were your career aspirations?

Leah’s Winding Path To Becoming a Law Firm Fractional CFO

[00:02:08] Leah: It was a winding path. I hung up my degrees recently, prompting this story. I started school at 17, aiming to be a doctor. Then, political science and all—I didn’t know 17-year-olds shouldn’t decide that.

After moving back home, I started at a law firm. I had no idea about anything with law firms and interrogatories. The first day, I was like, what is that? What does that word mean?

But I fell in love with it. I got my paralegal degree. It took me a couple of years, got my associates in paralegal studies. I worked at a bankruptcy law firm. I wanted to transition to personal injury, so I got a job at a personal injury law firm. It was eleven years ago today when I started there. I had plans of being a paralegal.

[00:03:07] And maybe one day when I was in my 40s, which seemed super old at the time, at 25, I would be a law firm manager. I just wanted to manage a law firm. Through hard work and being in the right place at the right time, I was promoted to firm administrator of that personal injury firm after only two years. I was 27, 28 at the time.

[00:03:30] Heather: Oh, wow.

[00:03:32] Leah: Our law firm manager left. I looked at my boss, who I’ll be forever grateful for, and said, “I can do this. I can manage your law firm.” He said, “Okay, let’s do it.” That’s what started that journey.

During that time, I had gone back to school to get my bachelor’s degree in business—the fastest degree with the credits I had. I just wanted to finish my bachelor’s degree to prove it to myself. I didn’t need it at the time. I started falling in love with business. But again, I was doing what I always wanted—managing the law firm. During that time, I had my two daughters. Then, I went back to school for my MBA because I liked business and education.

[00:04:16] Leah: I went back for my MBA and had my third daughter in my last semester. I graduated in 2019. That’s when my role at the law firm morphed from firm administrator to CFO.

I was running everything—financials and still being a paralegal. I was the trial paralegal, overseeing the staff. I never thought I would leave. That was the dream. That’s what I wanted to do.

I think Covid started the change for me. We were home for four or five months, and I was home with my kids, working from home. That opened my eyes. Then, in September 2022, where I live in Florida, we got hit by a hurricane. Our office flooded—2ft of water in downtown Fort Myers. We worked from home for almost six months before purchasing another office. I saw what it was like to be home. I have three daughters, four, seven, and nine now. We purchased an office and moved in this past January. My commute was about an hour long.

[00:05:36] That makes a significant difference when you have kids in dance and gymnastics.

On the side, I started doing bookkeeping and financial consulting for small businesses, recognizing the need for it. This past May, I was able to quit my job at the law firm—a move I never thought would happen.

Now, I work for myself full time with my company, providing fractional CFO services and bookkeeping, primarily for law firms but also for all small businesses. It’s a winding road of where I am, not where I expected to be, but the right path for me.

What Lessons You Can Learn From Leah’s Story

Lesson 1: Don’t Stay Because of Sunk Costs

[00:06:16] Heather: Okay, a couple of things I want to highlight. Number one, many lawyers get started and somehow realize they’re not on the right path. They think, “I have to stay here because of the schooling or the time invested.” Did you struggle with that when deciding to change your path, or was it never a consideration for you?

[00:06:42] Leah: I think at times I struggled with it. One of the challenging aspects was giving up my Florida registered paralegal status when I stopped being a paralegal. It was hard because I worked hard for that. It was something I achieved. Yes, it was difficult to consider alternative paths that kept me in the legal field, which I love. There was a reason I wanted to do it, but I didn’t love the paralegal work anymore. I wasn’t super passionate about it. So yes, at times, it throws you for a loop, like, “Should I do this?” But no, yes, for sure.

[00:07:26] Heather: So it highlights the fact that what was hard for you was that you’d put in the time, effort, energy, money to do it and you were giving it up. Giving it up because you weren’t passionate. It kind of just shows how the mind works, right?

Oh, but I’ve got all this time, effort, energy, that whole sunk cost fallacy, but I shouldn’t give it up. And I think that’s important for everybody to remember.

Just because you’ve invested time, energy, money into something does not mean it’s something you have to continue doing if you decide that’s not what you really want.

And I will note that it doesn’t mean what you did was wrong or a wrong path. It just means you needed time for exploration and it was part of the path that you needed to get to wherever you’re going next. Even if you feel like you’re not using it, you often do because you learn from it and you take those learnings to move forward.

[00:08:19] Leah: Absolutely. When I was writing that post earlier this week about my winding path, it’s like because I’m connected to doctors and things like that on LinkedIn, I’m like, well, I don’t know if it makes me look like I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I didn’t do it right away. And so does that make me lesser then?

Because it took me this winding path and I didn’t get my degree in four years. Exactly. And all of that. But I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it weren’t for that winding path and all of those lessons I learned along the way. So yes, it would have been nice to get my degree in the four years you were supposed to get it, or whatever that is. But I wouldn’t change any of that now because I’m happy with where I am and the path that I found.

[00:09:02] Heather: Yeah, I think that’s important for everybody to hear and to hopefully take inspiration from if they’re considering “Maybe I’m no longer on the right path, maybe I’ve never been on the right path. Maybe I need a course correction.” And they’ve been allowing themselves to be held back by…”But what if that makes me less than? But what if that means what I did was not worth it?”

I think you can take something from what you did and utilize it to move forward no matter what that was.

Lesson 2: Time Will Pass Regardless (Might As Well Do What You Want To Do)

[00:09:32] Leah: Yeah. And I also think, and I tell people all the time, the time is going to pass anyway. So if there is something you want to do and you do want to do that course correction, do it, because waiting around it was never the perfect time. It wasn’t the perfect time to go back to school either time. It wasn’t the perfect time to quit my job. That was stressful, but I’m seeing it’s worth it because the time is going to pass anyway, so you might as well just do it. And I’m definitely learning that.

[00:10:03] Heather: Yeah. I mean, I like to tell people there’s no such thing as the perfect time because perfect doesn’t exist.

The time is when you choose it and you have that choice at any given time, you get to choose. And I will say, this happens a lot. People will often come and talk to me, I want X, Y and Z. Can you help me? And then they get excited, but then something stops them. Well, I’m not ready, and they’re not ready mentally, which is fine, but then they come back later, sometimes a couple of months, sometimes a year more.

And every single person who does this without fail says, I wish I had hired you back then. I wish nobody ever says, oh, no, I’m so glad I waited. Right now, what I would say to them is, you weren’t ready at that time, so you weren’t in a place where you would have benefited. And that’s okay. So don’t regret, just be happy you’re here now. But again, you choose that time to make these changes, to discover new things, to take that leap of faith. And if you never choose, it’s never going to happen.

Lesson 3: Doing What You Love Is Still Hard (But Worth The Hard)

[00:11:11] Leah: I think when people are choosing to work with you or I on what we do, they have to be open to the hard work because it is hard work.

I get people all the time. They’re like, oh, it must be so nice. You get to leave in the middle of the day and go to your kids school, and it’s like you’re not seeing all the work that I’m doing on the out.

And I’m up till midnight working after my kids go to bed. And so when you choose to work with somebody like you or me on your business and you’re growing your business, you have to choose the hard work because it’s not ever easy. And we may make it look easy, I guess, because people think it is, but it’s not like you have to choose the hard work at that time to do it.

[00:11:53] Heather: Yeah, well, they don’t see the behind the scenes, right? They only see what’s out there publicly. But you can’t see everything and you can’t see all the hard work that goes into it. I would counter that just because it’s hard doesn’t make it not enjoyable. Hard work can be fun.

It depends on the mindset you bring to it. That being said, nothing, again is perfect. And there are activities and tasks I have to do in my business that I don’t love doing. Would I love to offload them?

[00:12:19] Yes.

[00:12:20] Am I willing to right now? No, because it’s not worth it to me. It doesn’t take that much time and energy, and it’s not worth it to me to give up the money to hire somebody. There are some areas where I am willing to offload things.

And so with any job, profession, business, whatever it is you choose to do, there will be things you love about it. There will be things you like about it. There will be things you don’t like about it. I think it’s finding the right mindset and the right balance of what you love, like and don’t that makes it worthwhile at the end of the day.

[00:12:55] Leah: For sure, because a friend of mine asked a couple of months ago, she was like, well, is it hard? I was like, yeah, it’s hard, but it’s so rewarding because what I’m doing now and helping people and building something that’s my own. And yes, I loved my bosses that I worked for at the law firm, and I did see myself there forever. But I was building something that was never going to be mine because I’m not an attorney. I could have never owned that firm. And now I’m building something that’s mine, working with people I love, working in the legal field still, which is so awesome that I get to do because I still get to talk to, I talk to my clients about their trials and stuff like that. I know all of that stuff.

[00:13:36] Heather: Right.

[00:13:36] Leah: So I get to do all of that. And so, yes, it’s hard, but it’s so rewarding at the same time.

Lesson 4:Flexibility Doesn’t Equate To Working Less

[00:13:43] Heather: Yeah. And something else you mentioned, because you were mentioning Covid and you were mentioning the flood and then being at home, but then you also mentioned flexibility.

I think that some people are starting, well, I think many people are starting to realize that flexibility is awesome.

But just because you have flexibility does not mean you’re not working as much or more.

I think there used to be this thought, pre Covid, pre working more remotely, that if I could only work from home more and have more flexibility of my schedule, then all these other things, I’ll have all this time to do other stuff. And it’s like, no, it doesn’t create more time for you. You still have to do a certain amount of work to make your business run and to make things work. And sometimes when we start these other businesses and go off on our own and create our own firms, it means a lot more time invested.

But you do have flexibility, so you have more control over when you do what, which is nice. I just think it’s important to go in with that understanding because some people get really dejected when they realize flexibility doesn’t necessarily equate to having more time. Like free time.

[00:15:05] Leah: Yeah, no, for sure. I thought when I left my job back in May that I was going to cook dinner every night and my house was always going to be clean and all of this stuff. And I really struggled this summer, especially when my kids weren’t in school all the time, they were in camps, but we weren’t in a routine. And so I struggled with stopping when they got home. And so I was finding myself working all the time, even more than when they were awake and stuff. It was a big adjustment to get into a good routine.

So now when they get off the bus at 3:30, I’m done until they go to bed. And I’ve been really good about stopping that because it is hard when you own your own business to kind of keep that separate because here all the time. But yeah, there’s flexibility. Tomorrow I’m spending all afternoon at my kids school to help because I’m on the PTO board, so I get to do that tomorrow. But that means I’m going to have to get some work done in between.

Definitely there’s trade offs for it, but it’s worth it for sure.

Lesson 5: Figure Out Your Right Mix of Trade-Off’s

[00:16:10] Heather: There’s trade offs for everything, I think. And it’s really important for each individual to figure out what are the best trade offs for you, given your values, your needs, your desires, and also your current circumstances. Because sometimes what’s best for you in your 20s or 30s is not what’s best for you in your forty s. And I think circumstances also impacts it.

So, it’s just something that kind of came from what you were talking about that I wanted to note that people want to be honest with themselves about understand and then really be intentional about it. And then you made a good point too, and I think he didn’t use this terminology, but from a coach speak perspective, it’s boundaries and standards for yourself.

If you’re working from home, whether you are creating your own business or firm or you’re just working mostly remotely for whomever, you have to have really good standards for yourself and also boundaries for others so that you can ensure you are working when you need to work and not working when you don’t need to be working.

[00:17:17] Leah: Exactly. I mean, there’s some days where I have to work when my kids are home. And my daughter one day, she was like, oh, why do you have to work? And I was like, look, dad and I have goals. Like, we have things we want to do. And right now, part of that is mommy working just a little bit on these off times. But in a year from now, two years from now, that’s going to translate to something else. And so there are trade offs, and I think they need to learn that as well. Even at their age, they’re very into my business and they ask questions about it, but they need to know because I can go to your school all day tomorrow. I just need 15 minutes right now to finish.

And so it’s been really good for our whole family to kind of get into a lot of that.

[00:18:00] Heather: That’s a great point to make, and I think that’s also a great point to understand for people who have kids, include them and have conversations around it, because you would be surprised how much they can learn from you around independence and business ownership and financial stability and all these things that we don’t often think to talk with our kids about from an early age. But it can really be beneficial for the family and then for them as humans one day.

[00:18:29] Leah: Sure.

[00:18:30] Leah: I mean, my kids, I talk to them about budgeting, like business budgeting. She knows what I do, and she always asks me if I need to get somebody to do my bookkeeping for my business because she understands all of that. I’m hoping, well, one day she said, maybe you can get somebody that actually knows how to do bookkeeping. And I’m like, I don’t know how to do bookkeeping. But she’s like, no, mom, you’re too busy to do it. You need somebody to do it for you.

[00:18:55] Heather: That’s hilarious.

[00:18:57] Leah: That’s funny. I do want to talk to them about that. And back to what you said about anxiety with finances and all of that. I feel like if I talk to them about that now and teach them about all of that now, that’ll help them down the road to maybe not have as much anxiety with their finances, because I think that’s where that comes from sometimes, is people just not knowing about the finances enough.

And so it scares them, and they just don’t want to deal with it because they’ve never seen a profit and loss statement or a balance sheet or anything like that. And so it’s like, if they don’t know about it, and they don’t feel like they are educated enough on it. They just don’t even want to look at it. And I think that’s a problem also.

Why Law Firm Profitability Starts With Your Mindset

[00:19:38] Heather: Well, I think that’s certainly a problem. This is a good segue into what my first question was going to be around, which is…You say you like to really ease the anxiety that a lot of your clients who first come to you feel around their finances in their business. And something I have definitely seen in my clients, because some of my clients are solo attorneys who are wanting to grow an actual business or attorneys who have started a law firm/have a small firm and want to grow it.

There’s so much anxiety around what I call the business of law.

And you got into a little bit of where that comes from. They don’t know it. A lot of lawyers aren’t business grads. They’ve never done it. So what else do you find causes some of that anxiety?

What causes financial anxiety for law firm owners?

[00:20:26] Leah: I think education is my biggest thing. Like I said, I love going to school and education. I approach my clients from that standpoint.

Not Being Fully Educated

I don’t think they’re going to do it forever. I don’t think they should be their own bookkeepers forever, if at all. But I want them to understand it and be educated about it and understand why things are done a certain way. Especially in their books, so that they can go in there and pull up a profit and loss statement and understand what it means and understand where their business is financially.

And so I approach my clients from that perspective of education, of let’s work together. I want to teach you about this stuff so you understand it, and then you can make intentional, strategic decisions for the growth of your business instead of just hoping it works out right.

[00:21:22] Heather: Which is where, what’s interesting to me is the number of lawyers who are in the hope category, because they refuse to learn it and deal with it and face it.

And they’re a lot worse off when they’re in the hope category than if they’re being more intentional, for sure.

[00:21:42] Leah: And I think the anxiety comes from that.

Growth Stress

And also, some of them have never made this much money before, so they’re starting off as a solo, like you said, and they’re making $200,000 – 300,000. They have their expenses like they’re good, that’s fine.

But then they start growing, and they’re getting towards that seven figure mark. And I think sometimes the fear of too much money is worse than the fear of not enough money. Because all of a sudden you’re managing a million dollars a year, you have to hire people because you can’t get all the work done. And so then you’re responsible for other people. You have your rent expense and the copy machine and the practice software that gets a lot more expensive when you start hiring people.

[00:22:34] Heather: Right.

[00:22:34] Leah: And so that anxiety comes because of more money, not less money sometimes. And so again, it goes back to educating of just like helping them understand the process of all of it, right.

[00:22:48] Heather: Because the more money and growth means more responsibilities, more obligations, more expenses, all of that, which is part of what scares them so much. And I see this a lot.

Law Firm Profitability Amidst Growth (And How To Balance Growth With Profitability)

This is a good segue into growing. I’m a business coach where I help my clients build their book of business. So if you’re building your book, you’re growing your book. You’re always in a growth mode. And at first it’s pretty easy because there’s all the strategies for marketing and networking, but then they start growing, actually growing, and that’s when their stress levels can go way up.

And it is because, well, okay, now I have too much and now I need help and now I have to hire somebody. And that just throws a wrench into everything as far as they’re concerned. So how do you help them with the planning aspect? Because they’ve got to make some assumptions, I’m guessing. Right. And that scares the hell out of them. They want certainty. They want to know.

So, how do you help balance that – making the right assumptions, helping them with how to make those right assumptions and projecting out so that they can feel comfortable enough to hire that person?

Your Starting Point For Making A New Hire: Know Your Vision/Goal

[00:24:08] Leah: So what I start with one is goals. Because what is your goal?

Is your goal to make a lot of profit and take home a lot of profit, or is your goal to work less hours and have more employees? Are you looking to get all the way to $20 million and have like a corporate structure with your law firm? Or are you going to be happy with just one $2 million revenue with one or two attorneys? What is your goal like that?

I don’t feel like you can make a financial plan without starting with a goal. Right. And so that’s kind of what we start with. And then to do those projections, then we kind of work backwards of, okay, what do we need to do to get to that goal? And then for the projections, what I start off by asking, and it really doesn’t matter what practice area you’re in, you should have some kind of list of your cases or your monthly billing that you do or something that shows you what you think you’re going to bring in in the next 3612 months. And it’s different for practice areas. So personal injury, where I came from, contingency, that is hard, huge.

But once you’ve been doing it for so long, you can look at injuries on a case and be like, okay, we think that’s going to be about $30,000 and it should take six to twelve months or whatever it may be. And so I encourage my clients, and it’s about 50/50 on the clients that are doing it or not, I encourage them to sit down and make a list, try to project that out so that we can then do a cash flow projection.

If you’re looking at my clients that bill hourly and bill so much a month, how much do you have to bill a month to one, break even with your expenses. Two, to make the profit that you want. Three, to support another attorney. And when you bring in another attorney, do you have the business coming in for that attorney to bill enough as well? Because you can’t bring in that attorney and then not increase your revenue. You’re going to have to increase revenue.

What To Look At When Deciding On Who To Hire (& Whether You Can Afford The New Hire)

[00:26:10] Heather: At some point, one of the sticking points that a lot of my clients have (and this gets, I think, a little easier after they make their first hire or two) but for that first hire…

If they’re solo and they’re needing help from somebody, and oftentimes it’s not another attorney initially, it’s somebody who’s not necessarily going to bill for them. This is the other scary thing. Right? They need somebody to help with the administrative and or paralegal type stuff, usually more administrative, though it’s not very billable. Some of it might be billable, a lot of it isn’t. So they’re not a big revenue generator.

In their mind, they’re a sucker – of the money. But they desperately need them because they’re doing too much of that. And so they’re unable to spend time on as many billables as they could, so they’re turning more down. And so I guess I may have just answered my own question, but how do you get them to sit down, and really put numbers to what that means?

How much work are you turning away? How much are you, do you get that? Do you have to counsel them on that so that they can start seeing the potential if they just hired that person?

[00:27:23] Leah: Yeah.

A lot of people are moving away from the billable hour. If you ever want to start a really good debate, ask that question on LinkedIn. I know, but a lot of people are moving away from it, and they’re doing flat fee and things like that, depending on the practice area.

I still encourage my clients to track their time because, one, it shows you how much time you’re spending on certain tasks. What tasks you can give away. If you say, like, I spent 15 minutes writing this email to schedule something, well, okay, that’s an admin task that you can give away that’s not actively generating revenue. And so for that stuff, I encourage my clients to still track their time so that they know they can look at their day and see where the time suck is or what practice area is profitable or not.

If they’re handling different types of cases or different practice areas, you can kind of gauge on what’s profitable, what’s not, things like that, so that you make sure you’re doing the work that’s generating the revenue and the work that brings you happiness because you also want to do that.

And so that’s kind of how I encourage people to look at, like, here are the admin tasks. This is what you can give away. And I’ve even had an attorney ask me, well, I can pull all the reports from QuickBooks that you can. So why do I need to hire you? Well, you can go bill $400, $500 an hour and pay me less than that on a fractional level to just give you the information that’s needed as opposed to you sitting down and trying to decipher it. So it’s really that getting in the zone of your expertise is really important.

Costs To Keep In Mind When Hiring

[00:29:05] Heather: So what about if they’re bringing on or looking to bring on a new attorney?

There’s more costs usually associated with that. How do you recommend they think through how to budget for that new person so that they can effectively understand, okay, here’s my real cost for them, because I would say you could totally disagree with me, but in my mind, you have to start at least with, well, how much do they cost?

So that, how much do I need to make up? What do we need? And then you have to start figuring out, well, how do I do that? Right? Because a lot of times when you’re bringing a new attorney in, you do not have enough work at the moment. You’re looking for that person to cover everything that they’re doing. But you are at least in a position to say, you know what? I’m turning stuff down. I’m seeing it build. I can’t humanly do anymore.

I must bring someone in so I can hand more over, so that I can actually spend more of my time productively to bring in other work, high level work, whatever it is. And I can see that that’s possible, but they need to get a little more clear first around what those expenses really are so that they can get a better understanding of what I need to bring in and how quickly.

[00:30:23] Leah: And it’s definitely a lot of people, they just think of salary, and there’s more to it than that because on a super basic level, you have your payroll expenses and your taxes. You have to pay for your, that’s like 7% or whatever it comes out to be. So that’s on a basic level.

And then are we talking about benefits? Because if you were a solo and you’re bringing more people on, what kind of benefits are you going to offer? People want health insurance. Health insurance isn’t cheap, so you need to kind of think these things through and what you’re going to offer.

I also am big on investing in your employees to help them feel ownership in what they’re doing. So, like giving them the good equipment, making sure they have the computer that they need even if they’re virtual, giving them the equipment they need and the software they need to do their job accurately. That shows that you are willing to invest in your employees and that helps them feel ownership over that. And so even if you can’t give them the salary and the bonuses right now that maybe they want, you can make them feel a certain way with other things so that they’ll stick around and they’ll invest in you as well.

So that’s like on the basic level of what it costs, like salary, health insurance, technology, education, are you going to pay for their continuing education? That’s not cheap and things like that.

Are they going to need an assistant and all that? That’s the basic level of expenses.

Attorney Consideration: Business Development Prospects

And then the conversation that I have with clients when they’re talking about hiring an attorney especially is, are you hiring somebody that’s going to be able to go out and drive in more business? Because you can only bring in so much business. You’re doing that right now. And so you need to make sure that you’re hiring somebody, especially for a small firm.

So like corporate firms, attorneys can go in and they’re just handed cases because it’s a big corporate firm and all of that. But on a small level, you need to hire somebody that’s going to get out in the community and talk to people and bring in cases. So you need to look at your expenses and your revenue and your cash reserves and all of that and say like, okay, I can sustain this person’s salary for six months without them doing anything extra, just working the cases I’m bringing in.

But in six months, they need to be generating their own cases. If you’re talking about personal injury, those cases are six to 18 months out. So you hire somebody tomorrow, that person brings in a case, you’re not going to see revenue from that for 18 months sometimes.

Do you have the cash reserves or do you have the caseload to sustain that person? And so that’s kind of what you need to look at. And that’s what I help people look at and talk about is like, hey, you’re good right now, but in six months, you’re going to have cash flow issues.

[00:33:30] Heather: Right.

[00:33:30] Leah: Either need to generate that revenue, you need to do something about your wage expense, you need to cut another expense from somewhere else to be able to do that, because your wage expense is going to go up as you’re growing. So it should be 25, 30% of your revenue on a good day. But as you grow, that’s going to creep up. But at some point, the percentage has to go back down. You have to increase that revenue. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense.

[00:33:56] Heather: So you bring up a good point, though, because I think that a lot of lawyers I talk to assume that when they hire their first attorney, it’s going to be a low level associate. And sometimes that is the case; it is the best hire. But not always.

And so you’ve got to think through again, this is why I think, what are your actual goals? Where do you want to get to? And it sounds like you start with a more long term plan. That may not be where you’re getting in a year but where do you want to be in three, four, five years? Start there and move backwards so that you can actually figure out what the best hire would be.

Because I’ve had clients who the best hire was a paralegal and then a more senior attorney, not a low level. They thought it would be a low level, but it actually ended up being more senior so that they could take over more of the work they were doing and then also help over time with business development. Then they bring in the lower level person that can help with that growing work. It is dependent somewhat on your goals, your practice, what you need, but it’s not always going to be what you assume or think. And it’s surprising, I think, to some people.

[00:35:10] Leah: Yeah, for sure. And I think what that also comes down to, and I’ve met a lot of attorneys and they kind of fall into two sides.

Two Types of Attorneys (Which One Are You?)

There’s the attorneys that own their firms, and they want to practice law, and so they eventually want to hire, like, an office manager, somebody to do all of that admin. They want nothing to do with anything except for practicing law. They want to hire a marketing company, do all their marketing and all of that.

And then you have the lawyers that want to do the business development. They want to be business owners. And so that may be the lawyer that hires the senior level associate to come in and work all of their cases and do all of that.

And so, again, you’re right. That’s where the goals come in of what is your financial or what is your goal, and then what can you afford financially? Because it has to make sense to your firm and your personal goals financially as you’re doing that, growing. And there’s all these options.

And so that’s going back to education and just educating my clients. I don’t ever tell my clients, like, this is what you need to do. I’m like, here are your options. You can do this or you can do this. This is what this outcome would be. Let’s look at this. And I give them all of those options, and we talk through it, and then we can decide together, or they can decide what makes most sense for their firm, because every firm is different.

And I don’t pigeonhole my clients into one thing or anything like that. It’s like, I learn about them. I get to know them so that I can help them work through these financial issues and make the strategic, intentional decisions when it comes to their firm.

[00:36:50] Heather: Yeah, and I love that you said every firm is different. Sometimes lawyers think that because law firms look a certain way, or most law firms, especially those who used to be in big law and go out into this solo or build your own practice mode. They believe that, because that’s what they’re used to, that’s what it’s supposed to look like – and that is not the case.

So, just for example, I have a client who is on a path. Her long term vision is for no ownership of the law firm other than her. But she does foresee having very senior people who just don’t want to be part of that. They will help with business development. They will be doing a lot of the work, but they won’t be in on the decision-making for the firm. She will be that person. Her name will always be the main name, and that is what that is.

And she’ll compensate people incredibly well based on percentage of collections, originations that kind of a thing.

Then I have somebody else who doesn’t want to just be the only one. She envisions that the next couple of years, as she grows, she will be (because that’s the role she is in). But five, six, seven years from now, she’d like to have a firm that has more people helping to make these decisions and that it’s not all on her.

Two very different future goals for their practices. And because of that, what they do now to make those decisions for growth are different.

But that’s why it starts there. And so it’s really important, to bring this home: you need to understand what you actually want so that you can work backwards from there.

You Can Change Your Mind

And a note: if you want something or you think you want something and you’re moving towards that, it does not mean you can’t change your mind. Because you can. It’s not as hard as you think, but you’ve got to have something in mind to work towards or else you’re going to be all over the place and scattershot and not intentional and not strategic. That’s not going to work very well.

[00:38:52] Leah: Absolutely. And you can change your mind down the road what you want to do, but you kind of have to have an idea of just where to go. And that’s why it’s good to reevaluate.

I mean, even with my business, I thought I was going to be doing one thing six months ago, and it’s just kind of morphing and changing. And a good example of doing your own thing is a lot of people are like, oh, just go for the big firms. Go for the big firms. That’s where all the money is. And I am feeling pulled for helping the people that are growing and the people that we’re talking about.

And so could I target firms making 20 million in revenue a year and make a lot of money? Yes, but that’s not what I’m feeling called to do. And what I am finding joy in right now, I’m finding my sweet spot in the 1 million to 5 million range and then even the people below the 1 million range. And so I’m doing my own thing. And I think that’s important for lawyers to do. And I think they have a hard time wrapping their head around that sometimes because they’re comparing themselves to the guy that they know or their friends and all of that.

They can do their own thing with their firm. They don’t have to do what’s always been done. The legal field is a very traditional everybody does it a certain way, and you’re seeing that change, especially on LinkedIn and stuff like that. Everything’s changing in the legal field, and I love it. And so I think it’s important for attorneys to know if you own a law firm and you want to do something totally off the wall, do it. If that’s what you want to do, do it well.

[00:40:30] Heather: And I do think that one of the good things that came from COVID is remote work really wasn’t a thing in a lot of law firms pre Covid. Now it’s become much more mainstream, and that’s just one small little thing. But I think because that was such a big upheaval change within the law firm environment that it’s allowing people to now start seeing, well, there are maybe other things we could be doing differently and they are opening their minds to. We don’t have to do it the traditional way.

And yes, there are some good things in the tradition, but sometimes it’s good to also switch things up, try new things, figure out what works for you, and do some things differently here and there based on your goals and the culture that you want within your own firm.

One thing I will ask you before we move on that we are going to get to, because I want people to know about how you envision helping kind of those smaller, growing law firms that aren’t ready to hire the fractional CFO yet and just give everything over but need your help. So we’re going to get that in a minute. But before we do…

Are there any final thoughts or tips that you would like to add to the mix for attorneys who feel like the business of law is a little over their heads, they’re a little intimidated by it. They realize they need to get more knowledge. They realize they need to get a better handle of it. What would be your biggest, best tip for them to get started?

Best Tip For Law Firm Profitability (Without Overwhelm): Get Help

[00:42:00] Leah: I think just getting into your financials and just looking at your profit and loss statement, finding somebody to work with that is going to help you learn and educate you on those things. There’s a lot of traditional bookkeepers and CPA’s, and they do certain things certain way for tax reasons, which makes a lot of sense. But there’s so much more you can do when it comes to just your basic bookkeeping to give you more information with your financial data.

And so I think finding somebody that will work with you in that way and have that vision with you and then just get into your finances, just don’t even let it scare you. Just look at it and read the financial statements and just take time every single month to look at your numbers.

[00:42:47] Heather: Yeah. And I would add this. So I think a lot of attorneys fear the business side because we’re not terribly trained in it and we have this incorrect viewpoint that we have to be super trained because of our lawyer training. But at the end of the day, you’re really smart. You got here, you’re smart enough to learn these things and figure it out.

And the best way to do it is to partner with somebody you trust who can help you through it. And it doesn’t have to be a coach. It doesn’t have to be Leah, even. It could be whoever your accountant or CPA or, you know, bookkeeper is to get started.

What I would say, though, is make sure it’s somebody who’s willing to partner with you and help teach you because, no, they should not be afraid that you’re not going to use them because you don’t need to be doing what they’re doing. But you do need to understand it and understand the why behind it because it’s going to help you make better business decisions, and it’s also going to help you ask better questions and ensure that they’re doing the right things along the way for your business. So that’s my two cents on it.

[00:43:54] Leah: I agree 100%.

[00:43:57] Heather: Okay, so tell us a little bit about, you teased this a little bit, but you are feeling called to not just work with the big firms that pay the big bucks, but really wanting to help people in those early stages of growth. How are you going to help them?

How Leah Helps Law Firms

[00:44:15] Leah: So, like I said, my sweet spot for my CFO services is people who are reaching that million dollar mark of revenue up to about 5 million. And so I feel like I can really help those people make those strategic decisions and things like that with my monthly CFO packages where I get into their financials and I dive deep into them and we go through spreadsheets and all kinds of stuff and have long phone calls every month. And so that’s what my CFO services are.

But at the same time, I have some bookkeeping clients who are a lot of law firms, and they’re in that like $500,000 range. And so having a fractional CFO doesn’t financially make sense right now. And so I’m like, how can I help these people? Because I am feeling called to help these people. I want to see them grow. I have clients who are making their first hires and all of that stuff. And I feel like with my bookkeeping, I help them some because I like to do my bookkeeping in a certain way to give them more financial data, and so I am helping them in that way.

So I was trying to figure out how I could help people. And so what I’m going to be launching in quarter two of 2024, but I’m going to do kind of like a beta group in early 2024 is a group coaching: where I give you videos and spreadsheets, and so I can teach you how to do that. And you get in there and do your own financials. And then we do a group coaching call.

You can bring your questions to me and ask me your questions about your financials. And so it’s going to be called Firmly Profit and it’s growth driven legal finance. And so I will be pushing that out on my social media and all of that in early 2024 and looking for some people to work with in the early stages of it. And so I just really want to find a way that makes sense financially for me and also for those small law firm owners.

[00:46:09] Heather: So I would say this, even though you’re not coming out with this publicly until Q two of 2024, if it’s going to happen in early 2024, where you’re like beta testing it for anybody listening to this, go find Leah. And I would suggest we’re actually recording this still in 2023, towards the end of 2023, but it’ll come out around that time. Maybe you can get in on her beta program and get that.

And if not, then be on the lookout for it in Q2 of 2024, because I do think it would be helpful to that knowledge piece, that education piece. And then also, it sounds like they’ll have you in monthly or some type of group calls where they can actually bring their questions to you and get them answered. And it’s, I’m sure, way more cost effective than hiring you one to one. So that would be really helpful for them.

[00:47:04] Leah: Absolutely. And that’s the plan, is to put out the video, give you the spreadsheets that you can fill in yourself, teach you how to do that within your accounting software, show you what to look for, and then have those group calls. Every other week we’re going to do quarter at a time. So I feel like you get a lot done in one quarter of the year when you’re talking financials. And so we’ll do one quarter at a time. Every other week we’ll have a group Zoom call and you can bring questions to me, and then I can answer those questions based on what you’ve put together and then that will hopefully help you grow is the plan and give you more of that strategic, intentional decision making.

[00:47:47] Heather: That’s awesome.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I know that I’ve never had anybody on this topic before. I think this is really relevant. It’s definitely relevant to what a lot of my clients are facing right now. So I know this is going to be really helpful to my audience. Why don’t you tell people where they can find you?

[00:48:10] Leah: So I post on LinkedIn just about every single day. I post tips, not just financial, operational as well, because I feel like with my background, I can bring all of that together.

And so even though I don’t coach specifically on operational, I can tie all of that in. And so I post every single day on LinkedIn. My LinkedIn is Leah Miller, MBA.

I have a Instagram account which I am going to be posting my group coaching and things on Instagram a little bit more. And so that’s LeahLNMFinancial and then I have my website, Anybody can send me a message at any time and reach out. I had a 15 minutes conversation in DM’s on LinkedIn yesterday about my LinkedIn post with somebody. And so like I said, education is my number one value that I have, and I just want people to have less anxiety around their business financials and just have an understanding of it. So however I can help people with that is my mission with my business.

[00:49:15] Heather: Thank you so much. I will include links to all of those places in the show notes so that people can find you really easily. Thank you for joining us today. This was wonderful.

[00:49:25] Leah: Thank you. I appreciate you.

About Leah Miller

Leah Miller is the founder of LNM Financial Services, where she uses her past in-house law firm CFO experience to help law firms and other small businesses with their financial needs through bookkeeping, financial consultation and fractional CFO services.

Her mission is simple: diminishing her clients’ financial anxiety while gaining a WHOLE understanding of the financial health of their business.

When not “crunching numbers”, you’ll find Leah enjoying the sunshine with her husband, three daughters, two dogs and two cats.

Connect With Leah: