I recently downloaded and read Alexis Neely’s Law Business Manifesto. It’s an interesting approach. Of course it is written like a marketing piece, because it is, but there are still some gems. I’ll be doing a full review soon, but in the meantime I’ve started implementing one of her strategies: not taking unscheduled phone calls.
The Shingle Life
There are many people who advocate a niche practice over a general practice. I tend to agree, but it is tough. This year alone, we have turned away four clients already. Of course we refer these people to other attorneys, but it still feels like turning money away. As a result my partner and I have discussed expanding our practice. But how can one expand into unfamiliar areas of the law?
A strong law partnership can be the start of a lifelong two-person firm. Or it can be the beginning of something larger. After all, Reed Smith started with just two people. In a recent post, Roy discussed the ups and downs of two solos partnering up. Unfortunately, I think he focused more on the risks and down sides of a partnership, as opposed to the benefits a partner can bring.
Of course partnering with someone is a very personal decision. It, like marriage, should not be decided lightly, and choosing the right person is tough. But having a partner has many benefits. Partners can balance out each other’s weaknesses. They can split up the many skills any solo practitioner must learn. Finally, and most importantly, a partner can be just that: someone else in the game with you.
As the end of the year approaches it’s natural to reflect on the past year. Did you reach your goals for the year? What have you learned in the last twelve months?
Of course, this year has seen me leave a full time job to open a two-person law firm. Since February I’ve learned that keeping overhead low requires a balancing test; an office is a great investment; how to deal with senior attorneys; and that sometimes you can lose a hearing without being in the courtroom. I’ve contemplated why I became an attorney, and what it means to help people.
I’ve learned a lot this year. A lot of it was intentional, sought after, or planned. But a lot was not planned. Many lessons, learned the hard way, were not sought after. Because there are some things you cannot learn from a book or a mentor. You have to experience them first hand.
At some point, every lawyer has a client they cannot help. I’m not talking about the clients who are so guilty there is no defense. I am talking about clients who, because of some failure in the system, will not “win” their case. Whether winning their case means getting their kids back, getting off probation, or being paid for injuries they’ve suffered, sometimes no matter how good a lawyer is, the client is unlikely to prevail. I’ve had a handful of clients that fit this bill recently. It’s easy for the lawyer to get dragged down and worn out in these cases. But it’s not necessary.
My partner and I recently sat down and did a self-audit of our firm’s productivity. We looked at where our time and money have gone since we started the firm. We found that we spend a lot of time doing menial tasks, and as a result we end up struggling to meet deadlines and taking longer to complete substantive projects (like writing a brief, drafting client opinion letters, etc.) Three major things were taking up our time, so we found outsourcing solutions for each of them.
There I was, sitting with my client along with his mother, the victim in the case, and several witnesses. My client agreed to testify against an alleged co-conspirator, and we were all waiting for the prosecutor to arrive. When he finally showed up the meeting went without a hitch. As we wrapped up, I had this encounter:
Prosecutor: So, Josh, when did you graduate law school?
Prosecutor: So you’re what, 28?
Me: There abouts.
Prosecutor: Wow. I’ve got underwear older than you.
If I could raise one eyebrow (a talent I desperately wish I had) I would have. Instead, I just responded “You need to go shopping more often.”
One of the benefits of being a former fat person is that I have extremely thick skin. Comments like these don’t really get to me. I also understand that a little hazing from a senior lawyer isn’t the worst thing in the world. But when comments like these are made in front of a group, including clients, they can be frustrating. So, as a young lawyer, how does one deal with more senior members of the bar?
In an attempt to get more cases coming in the door, my partner and I both placed ourselves on various court appointment lists. This was no easy task. But after lots of letters and phone calls we managed to make our way on to a few lists. These lists have kept us extremely busy. In the month of September alone, I’ve been appointed on over fifty cases so far. We can get off these lists at any time. So the question becomes: are the cases worth the stress?
I recently reached out to several peers and mentors to discuss fear. For a week or so it felt like I was just treading water, trying to stay alive in my practice. I spent a lot of time just writing down all the things I had to do in order to make sure I didn’t miss anything. But I didn’t have enough time to cross things off the list. And there, constantly in the pit of my stomach was a little ball of fear. Fear of missing a deadline, letting down a client, messing up in general, or getting disbarred. I was also concerned for my future, knowing that fear leads to anger, and anger doesn’t help anyone.
The need for a physical office is far from new advice here at Lawyerist. In fact, it’s one of the most common pieces of advice when starting a law firm. Nonetheless, we’ve been using a PO Box and our apartments for all this time. Now that we are finally opening a physical law office I’ve realized that it’s quite an undertaking.