ARE YOU READY TO TAKE A CHANCE? DO YOU WANT TO BETTER CONTROL YOUR TIME? DO YOU WANT TO PRACTICE LAW THE WAY YOU WANT TO?
THEN YOUR BEST ANSWER IS TO “GO SOLO”
I went Solo starting on April 15, 1987 because I thought that if the Federal Government could get rich on that day, so could I. I spent about 20 years proving that I could make a very nice living having a very large solo practice and I didn’t have to threaten anyone with garnishment or jail to do it!
Give this some thought. A lot of lawyers are facing unhappy years ahead because the job market is still doing flip flops. The lucrative areas of law for BIG LAW are just not that appealing to many lawyers. Also the BIG LAW culture doesn’t fit with many attorneys values and need to live a more balanced life.
I have been told that the lawyer who wants to Go Solo needs to be an entrepreneur. In coaching attorneys for the past 8 years I have found that this is not totally true. It is true, however, that the Solo practice has to be run as a business. Much of this can be learned by simply following good business and marketing practices.
Where it becomes tricky for a solo is to find the sweet spot between practicing the type of law selected and listening to the market. This becomes paramount to being successful.
The other traits vital to an attorney entering solo practice are:
- Patience, Patience, Patience
- Energy to work very hard in the beginning.
- Ability to use good time management.
- Ability to prioritize
- Be open to doing tasks, like selling themselves, which may not be within their innate temperament ie., they hate it.
- Gather a good support system around them.
- Ask for help. This may be solo but its not successful until there are mentors and coaches who can short circuit the time element and cut out errors in judgement.
- To be focused on developing the business slowly. Starting out small while learning the skills needed and learning how to expand appropriately. Resisting all kinds of expense and time wasting that goes on when the attorney is confused.
- Have a solid business plan.
- Have a solid continually changing market plan
- Have solid goals to work towards at all stages as the firm develops.
ARE YOU INTRIGUED? IF YOU SAID “YES, I CAN DO ALL OF THAT”, AND ARE DECIDING ABOUT GOING SOLO, GIVE ME A RING. I will let you in on all the mistakes I made and help you avoid the mind fields as you grow your business.
You must “work” every day, except Sunday, between 7-8 hours on finding a job. (If you have been unemployed for a year, you should have worked over 2,240 hours so far.) And if you are on unemployment insurance, that’s what the government is paying you to do.
- Plan every day what you will do with your time.
- Figure out the hard stuff that almost no one else is doing to find work. This is things like listing every adult friend or acquaintance that you or your family have ever known and informing them you need a job. Ask them for referrals to their lawyers where your “target market” exists.(that’s a breathing attorney).
- Identify the areas of law that have job openings and become competent in one or two (I think you can do that in 2,240 hours!). This means taking classes and networking with the attorneys while you are in those classes. Careful not to spend too much time with online classes and miss out on this opportunity.
- Face the hard truth that you may have to move out of your living area to find a job. Identify the areas of your city or state that have openings. Do you have any contacts in those areas (remember law school).
- Identify and attend ANY function that has attorneys at it. This means Bar Associations, Seminars, Political meetings and whatever else you find. Have a new business card made up with your contact information and a brief description on the back of what you are looking for.
- Set up a Website. Make it easy for people to find out about you. This is where the clever part comes in….it has to be different and unique with pictures and testimonials of how wonderful you are and put the address on your card.
- Establish a LinkedIn Profile. Make it simple and to the point. Put your longer resume in a link. Be sure to explain your “value” as an employee both now and wherever else you have worked. Talk about your flexibility and focus on the employer’s needs. Be sure you get your nice looking picture in there.
- Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer. Especially if you are expanding or changing your practice areas. Be a law clerk in a firm where you can learn more ( yes, free). Or volunteer where powerful people in your community do. You can easily fill in those hours and do some good at the same time. Also volunteer are “helpers” and this is the attitude of the people you need to be around now. Remember, Legal Aid is attorneys.
- Consider going Solo. While you are on unemployment insurance, this could be a good time to have some steady income while you do all the things to get started to go Solo before you begin earning. Of course, you are going to have to report any income that comes your way, but the government is very happy to do a little deducting from your checks. Remember, however, that going Solo means you must first figure out if there is enough business in your area of the law and the venue where you will be practicing. For goodness sake, don’t jump into this until you have researched both your financial obligations and the chances of success. Also check out your temperament. Can you handle the stress?
Don’t get discouraged but know that the world is changing and you have to put a lot more time and energy into a job search today! Let me know how you are doing and if you need any help. I have been successful lately in helping attorneys to get hired even in this climate.
In 8 years of coaching I have found that some attorneys, especially solos, actually give away money! You may not even know you have been doing this, but usually because of circumstances somewhere in your background, its happening. The biggest underlying cause I have found is that some attorneys don’t feel their work is worth very much. If this is you, let me try to dissuade you.
See if any of the following is applicable to your practice:
Attorneys make money based on their time and expertise. You have expertise and time……and you are an attorney, but are you giving money away?
So let’s begin by asking yourself these questions:
- How much am I worth an hour? — pleassssseeeee make it more than $150 an hour.
- How much of my time do I spend making less than my hourly rate? doing what?
- Can I pay someone less than my hourly rate to do the cheaper time- consuming tasks? (now, don’t whine that you will just have more time and less money….it doesn’t work that way).
- Am I consistently charging my hourly rate? or am I cutting it to get a client? (the solution to that: Up your hourly rate…..then you can lower it if need be.—this is all a psychological game anyway)
- Do I kid myself on the billing? This is when you really did five hours of work, but you feel you were slow, so you only charged the client for three hours. That’s a big, huge NO NO. Remember your product is expertise and time and you get to charge for both.
- Am I doing enough to get clients who have significant amounts of work and ability to pay? A $5,000 retainer is much nicer than 10- $500 jobs. You may have to target a completely different clientele. Spend some of that time that you got from hiring someone else to do your grunt jobs and NETWORK. Decide exactly what kind of cases you want and learn to articulate your wishes in 35 words or less. For example:
“ I’m the perfect lawyer for prosperous business clients with either significant problems or who want expert help in forming and growing their businesses while avoiding the legal pitfalls facing all entrepreneurs.”(see last week’s blog)
When you go to an event, commit to giving a spiel like that to at least 5 people. Hand them a card, smile and a Godiva chocolate.
Best of Luck and let me know if you can recognize yourself here.
HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO TELL A CLIENT THAT YOU WOULD BE PERFECT FOR THEM BUT WAS AFRAID YOU’D BE SEEN AS OBNOXIOUS?
Well, let me show you how to do that and not only be sincere, but be seen as sincere.
- Be certain to pinpoint what it is that you are perfect at…..and that’s not everything.
- Narrow down anything you might be perfect at to an understandable concept.
- Be very specific.
- Have solid backup information if the person wants to know more.That might be representative cases you have handled or writings you have done on the subject or anything else that shows you are competent.
- Don’t begin the conversation with how perfect you are. Find out about the needs of the person you are talking to and sculpt your skills to match (if appropriate).
- Remember, CONFIDENCE is a magic quality which makes you persuasive.
- If you know you can help the potential client, then let him/her know that by telling him/her you can not only be of service but your attributes and skills fit “perfectly” with his/her needs.
Let’s look at some examples and see how this works:
I’m the perfect lawyer for prosperous business clients with either significant problems or who want expert help in forming and growing their businesses while avoiding the legal pitfalls facing all entrepreneurs.
(This is following an attorney’s mission statement because he/she is looking for high end business clients who are starting or growing their business)
I’m the perfect lawyer for clients who want expert help in establishing a long term estate plan to insure that their assets continue to grow and are divided at their death according to their wishes.
(Obviously a wealthy management/probate/wills attorney who if offering services to high end clients)
I’m the perfect lawyer for clients who are facing a downturn in their resources and need to re establish their financial future.
(A consumer/bankruptcy attorney and business attorney wanting to help clients who are facing financial challenges)
I’m the perfect lawyer for clients who want advice and support when applying for Social Security benefits and want to avoid the legal pitfalls facing all applicants.
(This attorney does not only want to help the client through the Social Security systems but wants to give advice that will keep them out of danger)
NOW COMPLETE THIS:
I’m the perfect lawyer for: _____________________________________.
END NOTE: This not only works when you are talking to an actual potential client but also when you are giving information to possible referral sources. In this way the referral source can see the kind of client you are looking for as well as exactly what service you can provide…..perfectly.
One of the most frequent questions client ask is : ” Can I save money by having my office in my home?”
The answer is WELL, MAYBE.
Best to give this one a lot of thought before you go forward with hanging your shingle on your front porch. First of all, it is more than likely that clients will know your home address at some time, even if you meet them at a coffee shop. Certainly most of the time this is OK until you get that client from (you know where). Then you are not protected from all kinds of tactics including stalking and harassing you. Remember this is why attorneys rip off the address labels on magazines that they bring from home for their offices.
You can certainly have a mail box address which can appear as a real street address and this may help. Also inexpensive “group” offices which allow you to use their address and facilities on a monthly basis can give you some protection.
More importantly, you need to think about how this all looks to your clients. If your practice is Probate and Wills, you could offer to go to the client’s homes, especially if they are elderly. However, if you have a substantial client that you are doing long term estate planning and business trusts, etc. you really can’t meet in a coffee shop. If your goal is to attract these kinds of clients and your marketing is focused there, maybe biting the bullet and getting a shared office at least would be more feasible.
If you do decide to have your practice in your home, be careful how to describe where you are located on your Website. Many people choose their attorney by where they live. If you have a group office, you can put that address there and meet there, but how do you describe where you are if you are meeting them in a coffee shop? Some attorneys put “ by appointment” but that is also confusing. You can offer to come to their home but , as said above, that may turn off your larger clients.
Home offices are really best suited to practices which don’t involve much client contact such as Appeals and International Business which can be done mostly by internet.
Certainly, some attorneys are able to work out of their homes as they keep their practices small and don’t need much help, but you can see it is not an easy task. Lastly, look around your home and decide exactly where you are going to have your office. Do you have a separate room or are you doing this in your living room? Is it quiet? Do you have enough space to have a copier, computer and filing cabinets? Do you work well in this environment or are you easily distracted? All of these can be obstacles to a productive practice. You are going to have to be rigid in your scheduling of time. Is working in the evenings going to be a no no? Solos have to put in anywhere from 45-55 hours a week setting up, marketing , networking and then doing legal work for at least 2 years to successfully launch a business, whether its in their home or office. Be truthful and answer if you can do that and you will save yourself a lot of stress and heartache.
Last, take to your CPA and see what the tax ramifications are with home offices. Good advice here can save you heart ache later.
Best of luck to you in whatever you decide and let me know your experiences!
DID YOU COME OUT OF LAW SCHOOL DETERMINED TO GET RESULTS AND TO WIN AT ALL COSTS?
WERE YOU WILLING TO GET THOSE RESULTS EVEN IF IT REQUIRED INTIMIDATION, BULLYING AND THREATS?
DID YOU THINK THIS WAS THE WAY LAWYERS WERE SUPPOSED TO ACT?
AT SOME POINT DID YOU JUST GET DISGUSTED WITH YOURSELF?
This is where I find many lawyers ending up today in my coaching office. As attorneys we had to fight to get into law school, compete with others to get good grades and on law review, and finally fight to pass the Bar.
Then we end up fighting to get a job and pay our ridiculous student loans back. We finally end up at our desk one day fighting to find an error that our “adversary” overlooked and that we can ram down his/her throat. This is not a nice way to live and grow in our quest to help people in the legal system.
Many lawyers are actually afraid to learn and use negotiation techniques. They are afraid they will look:
- not effective
- willing to settle for a small amount
- lose their perceived superior position
- not aggressive
- not being a good adversary
These fears are causing attorneys to turn to alcohol, drugs, and all sorts of other techniques to self medicate themselves out of their awareness of what they are doing to themselves. Also they need to convince themselves they are not lonely and isolated in being angry, aggressive and pig-headed.
BUT THERE IS A SOLUTION!
If lawyers begin to perceive adversaries differently, a paradox shift can happen. Lawyer can:
- begin to see the other side as partners in solutions.
- to acknowledge that the adversary is a human being with all the complexity that humans have to deal with.
- that a win-win result may be the best solution for your client.
- that employing negotiations skills when appropriate is stress reducing.
- that a skilled negotiator is made and not born.
- that learning negotiation techniques broader an attorneys ability to serve each situation uniquely.
NOW THAT I’VE CONVINCED YOU TO LEARN A FEW NEW NEGOTIATION TECHNIQUES, STAY TUNED FOR NEXT WEEK’S BLOG!