Building a law firm, if you want to make it a really good one, is extraordinarily hard work. Particularly as you grow larger. How do you delegate while making the work consistently excellent? What can you delegate at all? How can you always be available for clients while trying to have a life? How do you handle the constant personnel issues? How do you develop more business? How do make sure every client feels like the only client? How do you beat big firms or big government when they try to push your smaller firm and your client around? How do you use size as an advantage? Why are my employees sad? Why do my employees look too happy? What do I do when my “right hand” abruptly quits? How do I run the firm when I am in trial for three weeks? How do I think like a lawyer and an entrepreneur and a CEO, while keeping the lawyer brain first?
There are a million questions like this. And there are even some books and articles (not as many as you would think) that try to answer these questions. As I have tried to start and grow my boutique firm, Charlotte-based Terpening Law PLLC, I have found that most of the “how to build a law firm” books and guides out there a mixed bag, often not that reliable. This blog is my modest contribution toward fixing that. I want to offer whatever advice I can based on my ongoing efforts to make a great law firm. Whatever I pick up during my journey, I will share here.
No, I don’t have all the answers. Just ask my employees, former law partners, or anyone else. But what I do have is a capacity to observe, learn from my mistakes, and get better. After working as the managing partner for the Charlotte office of a national law firm, and before that as a lawyer at an even bigger international firm, I left and started Terpening Law because I had the arrogant notion that I could do it better. Over three years on, I think I was right: I have done it better.
We started Terpening Law based on the idea that we could provide a superior level of attention and loyalty to demanding clients (often other professionals or executives, but folks from all other walks of life as well) in criminal and civil crisis (very often, in federal court). In an era where many lawyers are too afraid to go to trial or do battle to stand up for their clients, I wanted to have a law firm where we acted in our clients’ interests, negotiating based on a position of strength and without fear of trial or extremely hard work. In time of “cookie-cutter” work and corner-cutting, I wanted a firm that did everything correctly. We have great academic backgrounds, and I wanted us to be intellectual but “roll up our sleeves” and practical. I wanted to be always available to clients. I wanted clients to know we are always in their corner. Finally, I want us to be the best litigation boutique, based on those standards, in Charlotte, and eventually in the region. I think we have successfully built such a firm as for some of the foregoing criteria, and we are well on our way to achieving the rest of what I outlined above, despite many setbacks and “learning opportunities.” At least in my highly-subjective opinion. We still have a lot of work to do — probably decades of it — but whatever I’ve learned that may help you start and grow your own law firm, I will include here.
There have been incredible growing pains. I have made constant mistakes, not so much as a lawyer, but as a “chief executive” and manager of people. I have hired or associated with people I should not have, etc. It is all a learning process. I want to take what I am learning and put it all here. You will also hear from other members of the Terpening Law team on a regular basis.
I encourage you to contact me if you have questions, whoever you are: about starting a law firm yourself, or what you should look for as a client hiring a law firm, or for any reason at all. You can get us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us at (980) 265-1700, contact us through other social media links on this website, or check out the Terpening Law website for more contact info.
Will Terpening and the Terpening Law Team