listserv, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

The Practice: Debating Failure, Solo Version

Hardly ever Every so often an interesting email comes across a lawyer listserv. The good ones are hard to find in the middle of, “Does anyone know a really fantastic and also really cheap lawyer in (some town no one’s heard of where there are no lawyers or courthouses) for my friend who got fired for being late 16 times but he says he was discriminated against,” or, “I know this question has been asked before (every week) but….,” or, “What is the best printer for a lawyer with no practice?”

And then there’s Solosez. This is the listserv for solo practitioners that has all the answers, except to many of the lawyers there who believe it is evidence of the end of the profession. Every once in a while I see an email from Solosez, sent by a young solo who wants to show me evidence of why they may off themselves. (Note: As a result of this disclosure, there will be an email on Solosez reminding members not to forward any evidence that what I’m saying is true emails to Brian Tannebaum anyone.)

Recently, in a moment of rare honesty by a lawyer, a solo wrote to tell fellow Sezzers (I did not make that up, they actually call themselves this) that they had failed at solo practice….

It was much more detailed than that, causing the CEO of all that is Solo Practice, Carolyn Elefant, to write three posts. Her first two were about the email, and the third was a response to New York criminal defense lawyer and blogger Scott Greenfield, who, after verifying that this young solo was in fact not on his lawn, wrote a counterpoint, meanie that he is.

And this is when the internet becomes fun — when two practicing lawyers disagree. (Shock: Carolyn and Scott are friends, even though Carolyn was so so very mean to Scott with, “I didn’t care for the tone of Scott’s post (felt it was way too harsh). . . .”) You may know that disagreement is otherwise known today as “bullying.” That’s right, non-practicing social media mavens, branders, and marketers view contrasting points of view as “bad for business.” Cheerleading is a better way to deal with colleagues — just tell everyone you love what they said, and thought, and all will be stupendous.

On to the email (summarized):

Regretfully, I will be leaving solo practice at the beginning of next month. I will be starting a full-time job at a non-profit, practicing consumer law, which has been half my solo practice.

I came to solo practice through a wholly voluntary decision to leave a partnership-track position at one of the most prestigious and high-paying “white-shoe” firms. I had a significant pool of savings to draw on as start-up capital and to cover living expenses during the early going.

The reasons for leaving my position were two-fold: no interest in practicing high-stakes business litigation, and a desire to have more time to spend on family and personal interests.

. . . My essential plan was to finance contingency civil rights work with revenue from flat-fee criminal, immigration, and consumer work and contingency FDCPA work.

(Lots of blah blah blah about how nothing worked.)

In retrospect what I would have done differently: not rented my office ($18,000 in unnecessary rental expenses over 2 years, plus probably $4,000 in gas); turned down a couple clients and required a couple others to pay expenses; done more revision of my web marketing earlier (started to generate lots of leads when it was basically too late to do anything with them as I was already in discussions over this new job).

(The “stay at home and practice because that is the future of law” crowd cheers!)

I know, you’re saying, “But what about the awesome internet?”

I started a blog on blogger, which I promoted on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I wrote substantive content at a rate of 2-3 articles per week. I also systematically used Twitter to tweet or retweet updates and news relevant to my practice areas. I targeted local people and attorneys in similar or related practice areas as followers, and went from 200 to over 500 followers. I also reviewed my presence in various online yellow-pages type sites and found that with respect to many that I had thought I was listed in, I either was not or the information was sparse and not up to date. I submitted to dozens of listing sites and submitted updated information to others. I created a JDSupra profile and Justia profile, answered Justia and AVVO questions, and linked together my website, online listings (where possible), Q&As, JDSupra profile, and blog.

Several of my blog articles were retweeted or +1′d or forwarded around from LinkedIn. Finally, I slightly revamped my website to update my contact me form, and to ensure that contacting me was an option in more places, and I also added content about certain practice areas and removed content about practice areas I neither ever got nor any longer wanted contacts about. And I added a Zopim chat box on my site, which I now need to turn off.

Ready for it? I’m going to break your heart.

At first all of this activity seemed to have no effect, but within the last month I have been getting a lot more calls or emails from people who say they found me on the web and who are interested in things I actually do such as debt defense and FDCPA.

You know those leads — the calls that begin with: “I found you on the internet?”

Greenfield says:

The saddest, most astounding aspect is the shockingly absurd leap from the silent telephone to the belief that had he “revised” his web marketing earlier, his solo practice might not have failed, as it “started to generate lots of leads.”

Leads? You mean people calling and emailing for free advice, to find out how soon you can jump on their case pro bono, to inquire about whether you could do their murder case for $1,000? Kid, it’s easy to get leads. Any idiot can get people with no money, bad attitudes and lousy cases to call. That’s what they do after the first ten lawyers whose name they got through personal referrals sent them away.

I commend this lawyer for coming forward and admitting failure. Other than the collection of basement dwellers and miserable cogs in the wheel of the commentariat, it’s rare that lawyers use the internet to let everyone know they have failed.

The lesson? There’s many. You may be a failure waiting to happen. Generally, it’s that regardless of what the hucksters want you to believe, there is no one way to develop a practice. There are no silver bullets. You can even try a mix of internet marketing and networking and still end up broke. Those of you that come here looking for answers, there are none — just ideas and suggestions.

Tell you how to make money? Okay, become competent in a practice area, do well for a client or two, and keep doing that. How do you get those clients? Figure it out. Try a combination of things. If it doesn’t work, you can write about it on the internet and maybe save some other idiot from the same failure.

A Departing Solo’s Post-Mortem on the Practice That Didn’t Cross the Finish Line (Part I) [My Shingle]
Companion Post to the Solo Practice That Didn’t Finish (Part II): The Marketing Plan That Started to Work
[My Shingle]
Solo Practice Post-Mortem Part III: Would He Have Made It and Was Soloing a Bad Idea? [My Shingle]
Solo Post-Mortem: Seizing Failure [Simple Justice]

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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