Beware of tigers and don’t be fixated by the rear-view mirror, a lively Law Management Section conference hears.

How’s this for a dilemma: is it appropriate to wear trousers with rivets (that’s jeans to you and me) to the office on dress-down Fridays?

Sole practitioner Tony Roe claims that his previous firm, with its 25 partners, devoted an entire meeting to discussing just that.

The moral of the story, he said, is small firms are nimble and can make and act upon decisions fast. That’s a strength, he said, so maximise it.

Paul Bennett, his co-presenter at the Law Society legal management section’s annual conference, took a more cosmopolitan view of legal services than the cut of a man’s breeches.

Having enjoined us to consider risk management, he asked: what is the biggest loss ever suffered by a Las Vegas casino?

Card counters? Crooked croupier? No, it was when a tiger attacked its trainer during a cabaret performance. The man sued.

Roe and Bennett, while not quite the Ant and Dec of law firm management, treated us to a lively overview of how small firms can survive and thrive in the grave new world of alternative business structures, credit squeezes, moribund legal aid, Jackson reforms and government budget cuts.

Change conditions to payment on delivery of invoice, urged Roe. Reduce lock-up and always give amazing service so that your clients keep coming back, commanded Bennett.

Don’t be fazed by SRA statistics that niche firms are inherently risky, advised Roe. SRA data is retrospective and, in the same way you would never drive a car looking just in the rear-view mirror, you cannot run a law firm always looking backwards.

Expect to turn 10% of prospective new clients away, Bennett counselled. Ensuring you don’t take on board time-wasting clients, who are slow to pay and want more for less, will help your firm grow.

Make marketing part of your daily practice and of every breath you take, Roe exhorted.

And a final suggestion from Bennett: talk regularly to business owners removed from your practice to bounce ideas off them. Otherwise it can become very, very lonely sitting at your kitchen table staring at the walls.

Tony Roe is principal, solicitor and family law arbitrator at Berkshire firm Tony Roe Divorce & Family Law Solicitors. Paul Bennett is a mediation and arbitration partner at Cheshire firm Aaron & Partners.

They presented Keep Calm & Carry On! at a breakout session of the Law Society Law Management Section’s annual conference on 1 May. Read the feature article on the conference.

Jonathan Rayner is Gazette staff writer