In January, I finally did something that I had been wanting to do since graduating law school: I decided to practice law full-time. You don’t need me to tell you how the job market is, but suffice it to say that even with a few years of part-time practice and full-time legal writing on my resume, my choices were limited.
Here are a few lessons and surprises I’ve experienced along the way:
Down Time Doesn’t Exist
If you don’t have a client, work on your website or marketing strategy. Or study the practice guides. Or read the advance sheets from the newest cases. Or evaluate a new tool for your practice that can save you time when things pick up. Get your filing and billing systems butter-smooth now so that when you do have clients, you won’t have administrative nightmares.
Every Attorney Has Weaknesses. Bad Attorneys Ignore Theirs.
Don’t be them. Get feedback from co-counsel or friendly fellow barristers. And work on your craft consistently: you not only owe it to yourself and your professional reputation, but you really owe it to your clients.
Prepare for the Snake Oil Salesmen
Lawyers know law. The vast majority don’t know business and especially don’t know online marketing. This makes them susceptible to the idiots who call and offer a search optimized golden ticket to online marketing success and billable hour riches (for a monthly fee!).
The truth is this: online marketing is all about quality content, demonstrating authority, and garnering positive word-of-mouth (expressed in reviews and links to your website). It’s a long game that requires a lot of time and effort to build your reputation. Jimmy Phoenix’s SEO Wizardry, or whatever the heck scammers call themselves in your neck of the woods, won’t have secrets that guarantee success in 30 days or less.
All Marketing is a Long Game
All marketing is a long game, which really sucks when you’re starting out and you need clients. But unless you have a massive budget that will allow you to blanket your town with billboards, commercials, and direct mailing, there is no quick solution. (Even if you do have such a budget, potential clients are going to look you up online, checking for reviews and your website.)
Be patient. No lawyer wakes up and says, “Man, I really feel like marketing today!” I’d venture a guess that, like me, they’d rather spend their days, afternoons, and occasional evenings and weekends being an actual, practicing lawyer. But this is what solo practice is all about: building a sustainable business while delivering quality legal services to those who can pay the hourly rate.
Contract Work Can Save You
This is more for the folks like me, people with large monthly obligations (student loans, families, mortgages, etc.) that will leave them financially crippled and/or homeless if they don’t pay the man every month: you may be able to get by for a few months with zero income, especially if you saved before going solo (you really, really need to save before going solo), but at
Be Lean. But Don’t be Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish.
Before any big purchase, ask yourself: do I need this? Do I need this to convey a professional appearance to clients (the card-table desk only works in 90s television dramas)? Is this so useful that it will drastically reduce the amount of time that it takes to deliver services to my clients, thereby saving them money (Clio)? Or does this ensure that I’m providing the highest quality of service (the latest legal research)?
The Cloud Will Save You
Old-timers may scoff and say that you don’t need stuff like a cloud-based practice management platform or cloud-based file storage. You know what? You can also Shepardize in a book. Technology isn’t a luxury in many instances — it’s a necessity for delivering quality legal services at a reasonable cost to the client.