In an interview with NZ blog LawFuel, Jordan Furlong gave some advice to solo and small-firm lawyers who want to “avoid extinction.”

1. Learn to Use Technology Effectively

“Technology” is nothing more than a ten-dollar word for “tool,” so think of it this way: what tools do I need to command in order to run a successful and profitable law practice?

At the top of the list: learn to use the technology you already have (and probably don’t know how to use well). Furlong points out that Word, Excel, Outlook, and your firm’s tickler system are tools you already have: “they cost you nothing to install and maybe a day’s worth of training to maximize their benefit.”

You should stay on top of new technology, as well. Of cloud-based software options, Furlong says “these are easy wins: small efforts at minimal cost to upgrade your efficiency.”

2. Upgrade Billing and Use Flat Fees

Establish fixed fees as the default presumption and place the onus on rebutting that presumption to bill by the hour.

On billing, his advice is to (1) accept credit cards, and (2) make flat fees your default. This may not work for every practice area, but most lawyers can benefit from adding flat fees to their billing toolboxes. Flat fees shift your focus from time to efficiency and aligns your interests with that of your clients.

3. Focus on a Niche

The general practice solo is part of a history that’s passing. If you’re in a small community, it will hang on longer than in urban centers, but the eventual outcome will be the same.

If you don’t already have a niche, Furlong says you should focus on one or two practice areas because it’s not realistic for a lawyer to stay competent and up-to-date in multiple practice areas. The law and procedure are too complex.

4. Employ Emotional Intelligence

The good news is that, given how most lawyers are short on empathy and EQ, even displaying a moderate amount to those around you will vault you to the front of the line in this regard.

It’s easy to get jaded in law practice, but Furlong points out that being able to listen and empathize with clients is always going to be a legal skill that’s in high demand. Law is a people business.

The Small-Firm Advantage

Solo and small practice has its own built-in advantages, and chief among those are the ability to move quickly to adapt to changing market circumstances, run low-cost yet high-quality law practices, and develop a personal touch that clients find satisfying and memorable.

What surely won’t work is complacency. The future holds promise for firms that adapt and extinction for those that refuse.