Solo Practitioners

Soon after I started my solo practice, I realized that I needed to develop and execute a plan for getting new clients. At first, I did it the old-fashioned way: networking, joining organizations, giving elevator speeches, passing out business cards, and doing contract work for other attorneys. This method took time and cost money and it didn’t work to the extent I had hoped. So I asked a few colleagues whether I should hire someone to help me improve my business.

I received the names of consultants, SEO experts, and coaches. Someone even suggested I talk to Tony Robbins. Some people swore by them while others said that the “advice” they provided was a bunch of hooey and can be found on the internet or at the library for free.

Over the last few years, I have become very skeptical of business development professionals (sometimes known as “marketeers”) who claim that they know the “secret technique” for improving my solo practice. A number of them are lawyers or ex-lawyers who — for one reason or another — decided to go into consulting and coaching. Also, some of these “experts” have questionable backgrounds and may not understand the professional rules that we lawyers have to follow.

I should point out that the purpose of this post is not to badmouth any particular person or the legal business development industry. This guy covered that already. But click onwards to find out the reasons for my skepticism and my thoughts on when it might make sense to retain a business development professional….

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The first question people usually ask me when they find out I am a lawyer is: “What kind of lawyer are you?” My response is usually: “I am a story teller.” A good deal of my practice involves helping lawyers tell stories, because no juror ever said, “Well… I’m not really sure that I understand the plaintiff’s point of view completely. Let’s give him $10 million.” I usually advocate for the cyborg approach: part human and part machine. I think you can tell an effective story without a computer, but from my experience, jurors are a reflective part of the population that consciously moved out of the radio era and into CGI-laden-movies era.

I use neat hardware (sometimes cheap hardware), I use neat software, and I almost always use a whole lot of custom graphics. Talking about how to make a great graphic is almost impossible. Most of the good ones are good for unique reasons. Most of the bad ones are bad because they fall into a few general categories. Here are a couple of those categories:

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Of course I took an interest in Jordan Weissmann’s Slate articles saying that now could be the best time to go to law school. He argues that because of the continuing drop in law school applicants and the supposed increase or stabilization in law school recruiting, future graduates have a good chance of getting entry-level positions in law firms or those “corporate positions of distinction.” Despite this, Weissmann warns readers that “most people should not attend law school,” and that “some lower-ranked schools will continue to deliver miserable job prospects for their students.

But Weissmann’s articles — as well as Elie Mystal’s and Joe Patrice’s excellent responses to them — did not adequately address one question that was important to me: How seriously do employers consider experienced attorneys for entry-level legal positions?

Click onwards to read about my personal experience applying to one of these entry-level positions, and my thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of hiring a newbie versus a veteran….

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On Monday, we noted the surprising news of a young partner leaving Wachtell Lipton to start his own boutique firm. Given the rarity of partner departures from the super-lucrative Wachtell, my colleague Staci Zaretsky described the news as “basically like seeing a unicorn.”

Why did Jeremy Goldstein, a 40-year-old partner in the firm’s executive-compensation practice, leave WLRK? The American Lawyer piece about Goldstein’s move painted a happy picture of a lawyer striking out on his own to be more entrepreneurial and to run his own business.

But we wonder if there’s more to this story than meets the eye….

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I didn’t know what Prezi was at the beginning of the year. I first heard about it at LegalTech New York in February. Since then, I’ve seen it all over the place and heard of lawyers using it in trial. I have since used it a couple of times, so I am going to explain the benefits and the drawbacks and how to use it effectively.

What Is Prezi?

When you start a Prezi presentation, you begin with a big blank slate. You place pictures and text boxes on your blank slate and pan and zoom into them. Instead of going from slide to slide, you pan from focal point to focal point on your big canvas. The cool part about it is the zooming. You can zoom way into something. So, say you are doing a case about blood clotting and you want to show what it looks like on a cellular level, you would do it like this:

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Keith Lee

The other day I walked into my local Starbucks. It was moderately full but there was only one other couple in line. I placed my order after the couple in front of me (tall, skinny chai, extra hot), then sat down to wait. I pulled out my phone and thumbed it to life, scrolling through emails, checking Twitter, the usual. After a bit, I realized I had been sitting there for a few minutes without hearing my order.

The couple in front of me had gotten their order and were doctoring their coffees with condiments. The barista behind the counter had a flicker of motivation as he looked down at the ready area of the Starbucks bar. He was a typical-looking Starbucks barista — mid-to-late twenties, tall, skinny, bearded, with thick-framed glasses. A general demeanor of indifference.

“TALL SKINNY CHAI EXTRA HOT.” I walked up to the bar to get my order.

“Uh, your order has been ready for a bit but, uh, they forgot to call it out. If it’s not hot enough, I guess I can make you a new one or whatever….”

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I’m writing today’s column from New York City, where I’m covering Thomson Reuters Vantage 2014, a great conference focused on mid-sized and large law firms’ use of technology. There have been fascinating discussions about how larger law firms are adapting to change and are incorporating some of the latest technologies into their IT infrastructure. Not surprisingly, however, it turns out that like solo and small-firm attorneys, large and mid-sized law firms are often just as reluctant to adopt new technologies and processes despite overwhelming evidence that doing so is the best way to stay competitive.

But the good news gleaned from this conference is that some larger firms are adapting, just as many solo and small firms are. And that’s my goal with this column: to showcase how individual solo and small-firm lawyers are using new technologies in their day-to-day practices. In the process, my columns will hopefully encourage and help other lawyers to do the same.

In today’s column I’ll be featuring Jill Paperno. Jill is a long-time assistant public defender, having worked at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office in Rochester, New York for over 27 years. She’s currently the Second Assistant Public Defender and is the author of Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense (affiliate link). In other words, Jill is a diehard criminal defense attorney and has dedicated her life to defending our constitutional rights.

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I participate in at least one group discussion per month where a lawyer — employed or not — asks the collective for advice about starting a solo practice. These nonbelievers envy our independence and our ability to adapt quickly to client needs and changing trends.

We respond with the usual tried and usually true advice: Get ready for uncertain income. Don’t overspend. Don’t underspend. Find a mentor. Find another one. Practice in a unique niche you are passionate about, but also serve the needs of the community. Have a sales mentality. And did I mention network?

After the jump, I will talk about a few other things an unemployed lawyer aspiring solo practitioner should also consider — and rant about the worst reason to start a solo practice….

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Are you tired of getting the same questions over and over again from prospective or existing clients?  Should I choose an LLC or incorporation?  Will I lose my house in bankruptcy?  What is a power of attorney?  How long will my divorce take?  Rather than respond to these same questions over and over, why not school your clients instead?

These days, schooling clients is easy. With the rise of online training and college courses, a broader segment of the population is now familiar with online education. Plus, there are a variety of powerful free tools to create online educational programs to educate clients so that they’ll have a grasp of the basics.

Here’s my experience with some of those tools….

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No, this isn’t another Reema Bajaj story, though she might have benefitted from this law firm’s marketing strategy. There’s a fine line between selecting a catchy firm image and becoming fodder for this site’s mockery. This firm is dancing on that line.

On the other hand, you’ll never forget this lawyer’s web address…

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