New Lawyers and Law Practice: the Velociraptor You Don’t See


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The #1 concern of new lawyers considering starting a law firm is usually how to get clients. It is a perfectly reasonable concern, but for some it becomes nearly all-consuming. These new lawyers starting new practices are so laser-focused on marketing that they are likely to get blindsided (clever girl) by the other essential parts of a law practice: lawyering and running a business.

The results are predictable: their practices do not usually last very long.

The One-Person Show

Lawyering is, to a great extent, a one-person show. This is obviously true for a solo, but it’s also true for any lawyer at any job. You are responsible for your own work as a matter of law, ethics, and fact. You are also responsible for your clients — and often for getting them. You are responsible for doing administrative stuff like tracking time, and if you are a solo, for managing back-office tasks like balancing your accounts and licking stamps.

If you devote an inordinate amount of time to marketing, everything else will suffer. And you can’t afford to ignore those other things.

If you neglect your finances, you are more likely to slip up and violate some obscure trust accounting rule. If you neglect your education (not law school or even, necessarily, CLE, but actually learning how to be a lawyer and run a business), your business will get out of hand. And if you neglect the actual practice of law, you will never develop the skills that you need to represent your clients, or that will enable you to get more efficient so you can handle more clients, or that will enhance your reputation so that people want to refer more clients to you.

Moderation in All Things

There are three things you should be working on at all times — three velociraptors you need to keep track of — in this order of importance:

  1. Lawyering
  2. Administration
  3. Marketing

These aren’t equally important, but you do have to do all of them in order to have a successful law practice.

Take care of your existing clients. This is the #1 most important thing you need to be working on. Be a good lawyer. Second, take care of administrative tasks, like paying your bills, balancing your bank accounts, and ordering new office supplies. This stuff is usually tedious, but it just has to get done. Third, take care of marketing. Network, write blog posts, work on your website, and manage your ad campaigns.

Although they are not equally important, you do have to do all of them. If you don’t work on your clients’ matters, you will be missing the whole point of being a lawyer. Plus, you won’t be earning your fee, and issuing refunds won’t help your bottom line. If you ignore administrative tasks, your business will crumble, so you have to find time for that, too. And if you don’t market, you won’t have any clients next month. Any one of these velociraptors can land you in hot water with the ethics board, your clients, or your balance sheet.

That’s three velociraptors to keep track of. (Okay, two if you work for the government or in-house or in public interest and don’t have to think about marketing.) Don’t miss the one in the bushes off to your left. It will eat your head law practice

Originally published 2012-09-24. Last updated 2014-09-16.

Featured image: “red traffic label with dinosaur pictogram” from Shutterstock.


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  • Great points Sam. As a solo I am always in need of reminding about this three headed monster.

    • Dinosaurs, not monster. Three dinosaurs. My metaphor doesn’t need any more torturing, thanks very much.

  • shg

    You forgot to mention iPads. And iPhones. That makes it five dinosaurs. Oh, and logos? What about logos? Six.

    • Those are T-Rexes. You have to drop everything to work on your logo, obviously.

  • Marketing is job one. No clients, no law practice. If the new solo is good at marketing all other problems are eminently solvable. Got too much work? Hire some highly qualified attorneys. There are lots of good attorneys looking for jobs. Need admin? Hire a good assistant. On the other hand, you can be a brilliant lawyer and a crackerjack administrator and starve. It is not true that if you devote most of your attention to marketing, the other things will suffer. It will simply mean that you need to hire or outsource. I suppose Sam could argue that once you do that, you are no longer a solo and are therefore excluded from this discussion but I think that misses the larger point: the most important of those three dinosaurs is marketing.

    • This is moronic.

    • Ben

      Really?! You don’t think being a good lawyer is the most important part of, you know, being a lawyer?!?! I get it. You sell marketing services, so you want lawyers to think marketing is REALLY important, but a comment like this is just so ridiculous.

    • Turk

      Marketing is job one.

      When I first saw that, I assumed it was to lampoon and mock marketers. Then I had the misfortune to click on the link you so helpfully provided.

      OK, I’ll play. If lawyering isn’t job one, then how does this person know who to hire to do the actual lawyering? And how the hell can you possibly supervise someone when you don’t know what you are doing?

      I understand, of course, that some people regret having gone to law school and wish to do other things, be it journalism, business etc.

      That’s OK. If you don’t want to be a lawyer, then don’t.

      But pretending to practice law is not only deceptive (to the client), but a recipe for disaster.

      Outsourcing your marketing (and ethics) to someone that thinks lawyering should take a back seat to other pursuits is a series of problems waiting to happen.


        Turk, who cares what you think, you don’t even have a nickname here.

        Love, stupid.

        • Turk

          You hurt my feeling.

          Lucky for you, I shall permit you a moment to repent. I think you have about 5 or 6 hours to take care of that.

          Don’t make me hurt your valuable Klout.

          • shg

            Would you please scroll down and see the additional comments before you start writing something serious when dealing with a joke like Merenda? There’s nothing to discuss with Mark. He shows up to slime up the joint with his pro-marketing nonsense, and hilarity ensues.

            Stop being so serious. This is why we can’t invite you to fun parties (unless, of course, you promise to wear the jester hat. I wish I could post a picture here).

            • BRIAN TANNEBAUM

              Shut up you (stupid) (moron).

              Your associate in stupidity.

              (Is this good marketing?)

  • Well, Sam, I suppose it’s not really necessary for me to point out that other than calling names, you made no answer and no argument.

    • I didn’t call you a moron. I called your comment moronic. It’s possible you are a moron yourself, but I’m not yet in a position to know.

      The job of a lawyer is to practice law. Any lawyer who thinks “marketing is job one” needs to go back and look a little more carefully at his or her professional obligations. Marketing needs to get done, just like the books need to be balanced, but if there is ever a question about whether marketing or clients comes first, lawyers had better know the right answer. It isn’t marketing.

  • You’re wrong. And your comments are moronic.

    • shg

      Hi Mark. Remember me? If memory serves, I called you an unmitigated whore and utter disgrace almost four years ago. You were deeply hurt. It’s good to see that you haven’t suffered any permanent damage from my ad hominem attack. It’s sad to see you haven’t changed any. But then, it’s hard to stop walking the streets in hotpants.

  • Greenfield, I briefly investigated my options for acting on your defamation. Luckily the people I know and respect, like those a SoloPractice University, “uninvited” you from your faculty appointment. You remain a name-caller and you remain completely and utterly wrong about marketing for lawyers. The last I read, your partner in stupidity, Tannebaum, had amended his position to say that only lawyers (not non-lawyers) who sold marketing services were worthy of contempt. You apparently haven’t changed your mind. You should seek help.

    • shg

      How sweet! You do remember me.

      First, a little housekeeping tip. You see the gray “reply” button below each comment? Well, it’s used so your reply comments can be replies. A bigtime important internet marketer like you must surely know all about such things as “reply” buttons, right? So if you fail to use it, it kinda makes you look like a blithering moron, which is ironic given your calling Sam’s comment moronic. Remember, the opposite of irony is wrinkly, Mark.

      Now to a more important point. When I agreed to help Susan by being a “professor” at SPU, I did so out of altruism, to help new solos learn how to be solo practitioners. What I didn’t know at the time was that SPU was going to end up being a cesspool run by marketing scum to see if they could market their own services to unsuspecting rookies. You inadvertantly saved me from sharing a toilet bowl with disbarred lawyers, lawyers who would end up in prison and, well, magnificent marketers like you.

      And for that, I owe you my gratitude.

      By the way, Tannebaum was never my partner in stupidity. At best he was an associate. That’s a lawyer joke. You wouldn’t understand.

      • Ken

        I for one regard Tannebaum more as “special counsel.”

    • “I briefly investigated my options for acting on your defamation.”

      Courts take the tort of internet butthurt very seriously.

      It’s a thing now.

      Trust me. I’m a lawyer!

  • Cameron

    Lawyering, marketing, and administration are all linked. Do a crappy job at one and you might likely not have to worry about the other two. That being said, I tilt the scale toward lawyering as the most important. You can get all the clients you want, but if you are a crappy lawyer there will not be many more clients as word gets out. Sure, there are always people that will not know about your lack of lawyering skill, but your peers will know. The point still remains that as a solo/small, you cannot go “all in” in only one area.


    Mark Merenda is still in business? I had no idea, because as I talk to lawyers around the country, no one ever mentions his name. I do know plenty of lawyers that made marketing their number one priority, they’re mostly disbarred or suspended as they couldn’t deal with the onslaught of calls and cheap work.

    Now listen up Merenda, as you peddle your wears to lawyers in the hopes that they can someday build a practice like mine, I haven’t changed my position on marketers. Lawyers shouldn’t hire former lawyers, nor should they hire people like you, you name calling big mouth. That’s my opinion, and I’m happy to share it with the world. You can share it with those you respect at solo practice university.

    Is that clear pal?

    And don’t call me stupid. It hurts my feelings, my brand, and my Klout score.

    • People who are not stupid know the difference between “wears” and “wares.”

      • Brian Tannebaum

        That’s all you got? I always expect more from shallow marketers just looking to peddle their wears.

        • Ben

          At least we know he is listening (if not responding).

      • Mark:

        When Tannebaum acts like a jerk on the internet, it’s usually pointed and funny.

        You just come off like a giant douchebag.

  • Bapa

    Thanks folks. Very entertaining comments; better than the article.

  • Daniel Gershburg

    You guys are silly geese! LOL!!!

    Hey Mark, what if there are about 1000 lawyers or so that practice a particular type of law in a really really small geographic area(let’s say, downtown Brooklyn)? They all use Facebook, all pay for SEO, all use Pay Per Click and have optimized sites with their own blogs. Let’s say Sam is speaking to lawyer #1001 out of this group. How would you instruct that lawyer to market his/herself to stand out, and, you know, stay in business and thrive and grow and $$$ , etc. since it appears that it’s so simple? I’m not really asking for tips here (frankly because I can do most of the things that are “taught” by marketers in less time than it takes Tannebaum to open a bottle of his egregiously overpriced wine) but I sincerely ask because I’m not so sure how marketing can have such a HUGE impact if everyone else is doing the same thing and still going broke.

    You said, “If the new solo is good at marketing all other problems are eminently solvable.” But how can one get “good” at marketing? And what if the solo is marketing in an area they’re not familiar with? Doesn’t that cause larger problems? Those that aren’t “eminently solvable”? I’m going to live about 10 years less than I would have if these problems were eminently solvable. Lawyers wouldn’t be going out of business if these problems were eminently solvable. I know Bankruptcy attorneys who are wonderful marketers but can’t make a dime because their work stinks and their back office stinks. These problems are not eminently solvable. Marketing is the easy part. I would say the easiest. It’s cake. In fact, I find a problem with people charging for it because it seems, to me, the simplest piece of the legal puzzle.

    I guess my bigger problem here is that we’re telling newbie attorneys who just came out of law school that marketing is the most important thing when the word is absurdly vague and, essentially, meaningless in the context of what Sam discusses. Marketing is great. Though, is it being done ethically if some non attorney is doing it (as is the trend)? Are they going to have serious issues because of it? Is it going to lead to actual BUSINESS. Not phone calls, but business. Huge difference that only Old Man GreenField (hereinafter “OMG”) seems to grasp. By the way, I’ve done all of this. I taught at SPU. Taught CLE’s about growing a practice. I recently did a CLE where I said I made a mistake by doing those courses in the first place. But I did it as a lawyer. I didn’t charge people for “coaching” sessions. I didn’t promise them the moon if they just blogged more. How could you tell someone that they should “hire some qualified attorneys” if they just graduated? You think they know what a qualified attorney is? What about cashflow? Space? Malpractice insurance? Disability? You get the drift. You think it’s tough to throw a pay per click campaign together? Try figuring out how to do 2 closings, a Memo of Law, return 12 phone calls and hire an intern in a day….with limited funds. I’ll take designing a “optimized website” any day.

    Marketing is an essential part of growing your practice, but by no means is it #1. If it was, many of the lawyers that quit law to do marketing would likely still be practicing.

  • Glen Brew

    I’m amused that Sam is able to put aside his indignation with lawyers/former-lawyers who focus on marketing first long enough to accept ad money from people like Alexis Neely and her minions here on Lawyerist. If you’re truly doing God’s work, wouldn’t you put a big disclaimer under their ad saying “Don’t buy this, instead focus on being a great lawyer.”

    I suppose the right balance really is putting the words in the comments, and then taking the ad money anyways. And who cares about the countless lawyers they fleece? Blood money is easy to spend.


    • I don’t think anyone who visits Lawyerist should assume that, by running an ad, we are either approving or disapproving of the advertiser. We are neutral. The content and the advertising are as separate as I can make them while I’m handling both tasks. One day, ads will probably be handled by someone with little or no role in the content, just as they were when Aaron had a day-to-day role in the site.

      That said, I can definitely imagine ads we would not run. We would not run ads with flashy animations, offensive ads, or ads for illegal products — including scams. But even lawyers are pretty casual with the word scam, and frequently apply it to things that are perfectly legal bad deals. If you spot bad deals in our advertisements, you are welcome to tell everyone that in the comments or in our forum, the Lawyerist LAB.

      If you think you have spotted a scam — or something shady or barely legal — let me know. Explain the scam and give me some evidence, and we’ll make a judgment call.

      (For what it’s worth, I don’t have anything in particular against former lawyers doing marketing, as a general rule. I like Gyi just fine, for example. I think he’s able to take his background in marketing, add it to his time practicing law, and do right by lawyers who need help with marketing. On the other hand, as far as I can tell, Mark Merenda never was a lawyer, practicing or not. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t seem to understand why his comments are so moronic.)

      • Glen Brew

        I never used the word “scam” – you did.

        The service offered is, at once, a perfectly legal bad deal and a marketing-first view of the practice of law. My only point, and what you confirmed, is that you’ve decided to take the ad money even as it conflicts with your belief of where the focus should be.

        So we’re clear, you will take money from a perfectly legal bad deal marketing-first advertiser. I’m suggesting you shouldn’t. How and where you take your money should match your belief. This is your blog – have enough courage to understand where the money is coming from and keep it consistent with your beliefs. Saying you keep them separate is a cop-out.


      • shg

        Hate to tell you, pal, but Glen makes a damn fine point. Making money off Alexis Nealy (seriously, Alexis Nealy?) is fine as an abstract concept, but not when your content screams don’t even touch her at Burning Man when she’s naked and in heat.

        You can’t take the loot and ignore the message when it runs directly against your own. Either way, it makes your message facile and suspect, since you’re happy to sell it out for a few bucks. And Yodle too.

        • I understand where both of you are coming from, but I don’t agree.

  • Sam, I think your article is spot-on, except for the (seemingly obvious) caveat that you can’t stop marketing your services just because you’ve brought in X clients in the past several weeks or months. Due in part to actions I have taken after reading the articles and comments posted here, I have been receiving enough calls from potential clients to overwhelm the capacity of my solo practice…and I haven’t yet officially opened my doors or completed my Website (although that’s someone else’s responsibility, and another story).

    It’s tempting to me to stop putting so much time into getting my name out, and to start putting more time into finishing necessary renovations to my office, but I keep reminding myself that the renovations can wait (although it’s getting cold here for exterior painting), while clients can’t. I’ve spent several hours each week searching the internet for keywords that I think potential clients would use if they were searching for me, and if I don’t show up in the search results, I’ve done what I could to change that. I’d like to think that at some point in the near future, referrals will bring me all of the business that I need, but for now the internet is king, and I must bow before its throne.

    With respect to the comments proclaiming that bad lawyers will find themselves without clients, I wholeheartedly disagree. I take a great deal of pride in my work, and I am utterly disgusted by the sloppiness and dishonesty that I find in some other attorneys’ written work. Nonetheless, many of those attorneys who churn out documents that aren’t fit for submission to a high school teacher – much less a judge – have lucrative practices and a steady flow of paying clients. Many clients don’t know when they’re getting screwed, and many attorneys take advantage of that. While it might be true that bad attorneys get no respect from good attorneys, I don’t think it’s necessarily true that they get no clients.

  • Paul Spitz

    The good thing is that when you are just starting out, you will have more time than clients. So use that time to learn about your area of law, to build up your document library, and to learn about managing your practice. Most of your client development activities will happen at lunchtime or after 5 pm, so use the daytime effectively.

  • Jim Hart

    I agree with Cameron to some extent. You have to be at least a half-way decent lawyer, or else risk developing a reputation as a bad one (we all have one or two of those in our jurisdiction/practice area, don’t we?). The administrative tasks (including billing), must be taken care of, and if you ever stop marketing, you will not have a law practice for long. So I don’t necessarily think that any one of those items is more important than the other two. They are are vital to your success.

    In my opinion, I strongly urge young lawyers that are just starting out to write a detailed “practice guide” that they can send to prospective clients and referral sources. This accomplishes several things:

    1. If you are just starting out, you will learn a great deal about your practice area (hence making you a better lawyer);
    2. It will set you apart as someone who knows what they are talking about and it willing to provide a useful and free service to the public;
    3. It will help to educated your prospective clients and referral sources. For prospective clients, it will help them to understand the pros and cons of hiring a lawyer, and whether they should even do so in the first place. For referral sources that may cater to similar clients as you (think marriage counselors and divorce lawyers), it gives them an easy and non-intrusive way to refer business back to you; and,
    4. It will help to automate your marketing. You can “set it and forget it”, i.e. you only need to write it once, and you can set up systems to send it out (through auto-responders or via a paralegal or admin staff person). Therefore you can spend more time on the lawyering and administrative stuff.

    Also, as for administrative stuff – I don’t delegate my trust accounts, but anything else that can be done by someone at a lower pay grade, should be done by someone at a lower pay grade. There is no reason for you to be ordering office supplies when you can hire someone at $10 and hour to do that.