Solo Practitioners

Keith Lee

Earlier this week, Carolyn Elefant questioned the value of joining bar associations. Particularly their value in generating business for solo and small firm practitioners. Elefant found bar associations lacking in regards to business development, and generally seemed sour on participation in bar associations for smaller firms. Though she did note a few exceptions:

“I’m not suggesting that solos and smalls steer clear of bar membership entirely; after all, bar associations provide a myriad of practice benefits including substantive information on practice trends, affordable continuing legal education (CLE), and advice on starting and running a law practice.”

While I’m inclined to agree with Elefant regarding the operation of small firms most of the time, in this instance, I have to disagree….

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Conventional wisdom says that solos and smalls should join a bar association — either the American Bar Association, a state or local bar, or a practice-specific bar (such as an association of telecommunications or criminal defense or real estate lawyers) — as a way to generate clients. Here’s but one recent article that recommends pounding the pavement at bar events to find clients.

I disagree.

I’m not suggesting that solos and smalls steer clear of bar membership entirely; after all, bar associations provide a myriad of practice benefits, including substantive information on practice trends, affordable continuing legal education (CLE), and advice on starting and running a law practice. But if lawyers think that they’ll find business through bar membership, most are sure to be disappointed….

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I noticed over at the Tax Prof Blog that the LSAC has begun releasing data on the most recent crop of LSAT information. At the Legal Whiteboard, Jerry Organ dives into the data and found that average scores are declining:

Across the 195 law schools in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii fully-accredited by the ABA’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as of 2010 (thus excluding Belmont, LaVerne, California-Irvine, and Massachusetts-Dartmouth) the entering first-year class average LSAT profile fell one point at all three measures between 2012 and 2013, from 159.6/157/153.5 to 158.6/156/152.5.  The entering first-year class average LSAT profile fell roughly two points at all three measures between 2010 and 2013, from 160.5/158.1/155.2 to 158.6/156/152.5.

The average decline in median LSAT scores between 2012 and 2013 across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was .98 among top 50 schools, 1.18 among schools ranked 51-99, .72 among schools ranked 100-144, and 1.13 among schools ranked alphabetically.

Which made me want to revisit a post on Associate’s Mind from last year, Top University Students Avoiding Law School, to see if that trend was holding true in light of the above data. The results? See for yourself….

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Biglaw partners from international firms don’t like to lose cases — especially not to solo practitioners. Biglaw partners think they own the world, and to lose a case to a lowly solo practitioner would likely bring shame to their firm and force them to commit ritualistic seppuku-style suicide in an attempt to regain their lost honor. (No offense, solos, but we imagine Biglaw partners’ horses are quite high.)

Watch out, solos, because you’ll get absolutely no love from Ho-Love if something like this were to happen. You might get stepped on — literally — and even get slapped in the face with a briefcase…

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Jessica Strom

How much do you think it costs to kill a lawyer these days? Would it depend on the lawyer’s pedigree and prestige? How big is his book of business? Does he wear a pocket square?

These are just some of the important questions that factor into the price for a lawyer’s head, and if we had to guess, we’d start the bidding at about $75,000, since that’s likely what the very average lawyer who’s been practicing for a while could expect to earn in a year’s time.

Using that number as a starting point, if you found out that someone you loved wanted to kill you and offered just a measly $1,000 to the contract killer, you’d probably be insulted. But wait — what if she also offered sex as an additional incentive to “blow [your] brains out”?

Honey, no offense, but you really aren’t that good of a lay….

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Keith Lee

To say that people want rewards without responsibility or effort is a trite observation. But often times it seems as though the problem is growing increasingly worse. For example:

Five days to fitness, to three minutes, down to six seconds. Of course, true fitness is a total lifestyle commitment that requires years of sustained effort involving discipline and sacrifice. But that’s an awful lot of work.

Far easier to blow $100 on some get-fit-quick scheme, haphazardly follow it for a few days, and then blow it off. Then you can blame your lack of fitness on the program. No need to take personal responsibility for your position in life….

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Recently, a group of Harvard Law professors released the results of their survey of 124 attorneys from 11 large firms, asking what courses Harvard students ought to take to prepare for Biglaw practice. Overall, financial courses such as accounting, financial reporting, and corporate finance, topped the list, as noted by Will Baude over at the Volokh Conspiracy. But the study got me thinking: what courses should lawyers interested in starting a practice — either directly after law school or a few years down the road — study in law school?

If you ask this question of solos or consultants, most will argue that law schools need to teach business-type classes like how to write a business plan or how to market a law practice. And while law schools should certainly make those classes available to interested students, I don’t view them as imperative. Let’s face it, most of this material isn’t rocket-science (high school dropouts open successful businesses, after all), and the web offers a bottomless treasure trove of this type of information. (As an aside, one of my personal faves is Canvarise, a one-page template that pulls together all of the elements of a traditional business plan).

Nor do I believe that substantive courses — bankruptcy, family law, immigration, copyright — are all that important. Substantive law is state-specific, so it’s tough to teach and it’s always changing. What you learn as a second-year law student may no longer be valid a few years down the road. Plus, it’s not difficult to pick up the basics of a new practice area on the fly. Think about it: most students studying for the bar gain a quick understanding of as many as 25 different substantive practice areas in a summer. No reason the same isn’t true in practice.

In my view, law students should focus on studying and acquiring the kinds of skills that aren’t easily found or readily mastered in practice. With that as a guide, here’s my top five list of classes that will help prepare students for solo practice…

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Keith Lee

It’s often incredibly difficult to let things go in today’s always on, always connected world. There is a desire to multitask and switch gears at all times.

Check Twitter, check email, review a letter. Write a couple paragraphs in brief, get phone call. While on phone, pull up Facebook. Phone call ends, check Twitter, back to brief. Another lawyer sticks head in office, wants to talk about an issue in a different case. Finish conversation, back to brief, an urgent email notification pops up. Read email, not really that urgent. Reply anyway. Couple more paragraphs into brief, calendar notification goes off. Lunch scheduled with another lawyer in 25 minutes.

What are the chances that any of the work you just produced was actually of high quality?

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At the recent ReInvent Law NYC conference, one of the speakers, Abe Geiger, founder and CEO of Shake, used an apt term that I’d never heard before: “tiny law.” As I understood the phrase, “tiny law” refers to all of those day-to-day contractual arrangements consumers enter into every day – only through standardized forms or handshakes or oral agreements rather than formal written contracts. And that’s the raison d’être of Shake: to help formalize those millions of tiny law transactions in a simple but custom agreement generated on a mobile device.

Will Shake displace lawyers, particularly solos and smalls who are most likely to handle “tiny law” problems? At least one piece by William Peacock, from a few months back, suggested that Shake could pose a threat to lawyers. But from a solo or small perspective, Shake is actually a godsend….

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Keith Lee

Imagine you are in the audience at a majestic Broadway play. The theater full, stage set, lighting dim. The curtains part and the play begins. Drama and tragedy unfold over the next two hours. The performance compels an ovation. Done with the play, you and your company depart for dinner.

You’re in Las Vegas at the latest Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event. It’s time for the main event. The lights dim and the crowd roars. Two fighters enter the cage. The championship belt is on the line. The chain link door is locked shut and a grueling battle of wills commences. In the third round, the champion knocks out his opponent. You and your friends slowly make your way out of the arena, heading towards the Strip for a night of fun.

Both the actor and the fighter spend weeks and months in preparation for their brief time under the lights and scrutiny of the crowd. The actor memorizes her positioning, recites her lines, studies her character. The fighter drills techniques for years, conditions his body for months, and studies tape on his opponent for hours. All for one night….

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