The long recession has been difficult for many of those in the "white collar" world, even for attorneys. Numbers resound as some of the largest firms have laid-off a significant percentage of their attorney work-force in what the ironclad of high power practitioners once believed to be a remote possibility. Our parents often told us when we were young, "Be a lawyer, doctor, or engineer when you grow up." One of the reasons they did goes back to the Great Depression when a good number with decent paying and stable jobs then happened to be those in these professions.
Despite the current economy, many attorneys have gone into solo practice either because of the instability in working for a firm in the face of impending lay-offs or because the opportunity is a good one nonetheless in the face of recession. The key to surviving in solo practice is, however, another story. Here are a few good tips for the attorney who has decided to go solo:
(1) Do your demographic research where you decide to "hang your shingle." Knowing the legal needs of your community will help you determine where to focus your marketing efforts as well as whether you ought to look for a better locale.
(2) Develop a few strong practice skills in areas where there is demand. Currently, debt resolution, bankruptcy, foreclosures are in high demand given the large number of Americans in high risk loans. Even in a slow economy attorneys are in demand for those matters creating legal needs surrounding the debt crisis. Family law also happens to be good in that bad economies also, unfortunately, breed bad divorces.
(3) Select good clientele. As much as the temptation to take a case will be influenced by the attorney's "bottom line," working for peanuts or not getting paid for many hours of work will distract one's efforts to service paying clients who are likely to refer other paying clients. By weeding out clients that are not the kind we want, we can attract more of the clients that fit within the "desired mold." This sounds hard to do because even when someone is willing to pay "something" the inclination is to accept the client with the hope they will pay the rest - yet hope is not the assurance an attorney should have when it comes to payment; good credit is the only reason for taking a partial retainer. Otherwise, you will have to chase clients to be paid or have to pay someone who will do this for you. Much can be saved by accepting good clients and having a strict policy on a minimum upfront retainer.
(4) Brand yourself wisely. The brand you promote will dictate not only whether you can drum up good business but will have an effect on the kind of clientele you will draw. "Like attracts like."
(5) Network with good centers of influence. Focus on building strong relationships with good clients and other professionals that not only like you, but like working with you. For example, an estate planner is well apt to work with insurance and financial advisers. So, select individuals to network with that you would enjoy spending an afternoon with playing a round of golf as well as spending as much time with working on a case. Moreover, seek successful individuals. By surrounding yourself with successful people will help you with your success, which means being a strong "networker" with other successful attorneys who may be willing to send you business they do not have the time to take.
(6) Target marketing. Whether it comes down to traditional marketing means or the evolving social media, target market as opposed to taking a "shotgun" approach. Using laser precision to direct marketing toward people who first of all care about your services and second of all need them will save much time and money spent on sending marketing messages that "fall on deaf ears."
(7) Maintain positive attitude and positive activity daily. A old boss once told me, "The only thing you can completely control each day is your attitude and activity." This is invariably true - the concept speaks for itself.
To all those going into solo practice, this author wishes them the best of luck. Sharing what works and staying in touch with other colleagues doing the same thing lends a lot of appreciated support. Ultimately, staying on top of the business of a law practice is as important to the solo lawyer's survival as is staying on top of the practice of law itself.
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