How Solo Attorneys Can Reduce Costs


Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

Running your own lawfirm as a solo attorney has lots of great benefits and lots of new responsibilities—in the immortal words of Spiderman’s uncle “with great power comes great responsibility.”

One of the biggest issues for solo attorneys, especially new ones, is figuring out how to balance the books and keep your overhead and costs low. Here are few tips to reduce costs and hopefully make your firm more profitable.

Go paperless

Going paperless is good for the environment and it will also increase your ability to take advantage of cloud storage and run a mobile law office.

Another practical result is that you will have a cleaner and neater office. The only paper in my office are originals stored in a secure location, or documents that have yet to be scanned. I do not have to waste space for storage of hard copies. If you run a high volume practice, this could result in a huge reduction in rent—which is usually one of the highest costs for solo attorneys.

The only caveat is that you will need to spend around $425 up front to buy a ScanSnap, but that cost will pay for itself within a matter of months with the money you will save elsewhere.

Find alternative research sources

I admit that I miss the ease and utility of Westlaw. At the same time, like most solo attorneys, I do not have any desire to pay the rates that Westlaw charges.

As a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association, I have access to Fastcase. It is not nearly as robust as Westlaw, but it certainly gets the job done. A free option—Google Scholar—appears to be getting better by the day.

Check around to see what other options are available to you, especially if your practice is not motion practice heavy. Chances are good you can survive without paying a high amount for research. If you find yourself in a pinch, you can always use the public access terminal at your old law school.

Tackle your own administrative tasks

When things get busy, most solo attorneys dream of hiring an assistant to handle answering the phones, doing basic client intake, and handling the firm’s accounting. At the same time, once you get in the habit of handling those tasks, they will not drain as much time as you think.

Frankly, I like answering my phone, regardless of who is calling. Answering services and assistants do not always pick up on little details that can result in a case I can take. On top of that, I like creating that instant connection with potential clients—which leads to a strong client relationship once they sign a retainer.

Bookkeeping and other tasks take time out of my day, but even when things are booming, there is always some downtime during the week. Those are great times to balance your books, close out files, and handle those other administrative tasks. Lots of times, those tasks are a welcome break from actual lawyering.



Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • Hi Randall. I work with lots of solo attorneys who have limited budgets. Many of them have excellent blogs and websites that required little financial investment. They are building a wonderful asset for their practice each time they post a new article. The ones that really enjoy writing find blogging a welcome change from legal writing.

  • I think using alternative research services can be risky. It really depends on what other resources you have available to you, as well as your experience in your area of practice.

    Besides, most law library’s give you free Westlaw and Lexis access with your library card, so there’s no reason not to use them.

    One of the things I did when starting out was to build my own case law digest. I sifted through the local Law & Politics case law summaries, wrote up my own short summary, and sorted them into a binder. I kept it up for a few years, so that I had instant research at hand—if not in my head for reading about all those cases. Now, I just subscribe to the court notifications by email, which means I see anything relevant, as it is released.

    If you are up to speed on what you need to know, then Westlaw or Lexis become (arguably) less important. But if you’re researching something new, consider going to the library and using the books (gasp!) or the library’s research terminal.

  • There’s a lot of good advice in this post. I just wanted to add that using other tools can increase your total billables, which is the flip side of making more money. Using time-keeping and invoicing tools such as Clio, Expensify, and QuickBooks to promptly bill clients. Stale bills tend not to get paid, and it’s far better to send two or three smaller bills rather than one huge bill for the same total amount. Furthermore, don’t write off costs or expenses thinking clients will appreciate it. Be a good lawyer, not a cheap lawyer. Do good work for the rate you’re getting. If clients do complain, then consider revising your billing structure (or your continued representation of the client). Moreover, keeping track of your expenses also lets you become more efficient at tax time. You cannot deduct expenses that you’ve forgotten about.

    As far as reducing costs, work hard on knocking down the cost of consumables. Printing out your own letterhead and bluebacks can save some money right off the bat. Joining Staples Rewards or Office Depot’s customer loyalty plans can save you a lot of money on toner, paper, folders, and the like. If you send tons of letters like I do, will save you a lot of time in going to the Post Office. And time is money.

    • Be a good lawyer, not a cheap lawyer.


    • Agreed on using tools. Clio has been great for my practice and well worth the monthly expense. Combining that with Quickbooks has also made it easy to meticulously track my expenses, which will pay big time (as you note) during tax season.

      And echoing Sam, awesome quote.

  • Great post Randall! Regarding your last tip “Tackle your own administrative tasks,” many solo & small firm attorneys do try and do everything themselves – including the bookkeeping and accounting. However not all attorneys understand how to properly perform these functions (or stay on top of them), and often end up in some serious trouble. One attorney came to us because he hasn’t reconciled his bank account since January, 2010! Outsourcing your bookkeeping activities can be a lower-cost alternative. We wrote a post about it here:

    Keep up the good work!

    • Agreed. Randall may find this out when he gets to the end of his first tax year, but it’s not as easy to do your own bookkeeping as it looks. I have survived only with the help (sometimes a lot of help) of accountants who are generous with their time. And, for a couple of years, a bookkeeper who fixed all the things I screwed up.

      • Fortunately, the accountant who prepares my taxes has already looked at my books. I am terrified of doing my own business taxes.

        That said, reconciling my bank accounts usually only takes a couple hours a month, at most. It was awful at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not bad.

  • Ever heard of Frankly I like it MORE than Westlaw and almost as much as Lexis and it’s only like $450 a year. All jurisdictions. Maybe I’m missing something, but in the last five years it seems like it’s been incredibly reliable and, together with the current caselaw updates I get from my own state Bar, I feel confident it gets a good job done.