ESTABLISHING AND MANAGING A SOLO PRACTICE-PRACTICAL POINTERS

Kenneth A. Reich, Esq.
Kenneth Reich Law
1615 L Street N.W.
Suite 650
Washington, D.C. 20036
and
255 Massachusetts Ave. Suite 1018
Boston, MA 02115
Kreich@kennethreichlaw.com
781-608-7267
www.kennethreichlaw.com

ESTABLISHING AND MANAGING A SOLO PRACTICE-PRACTICAL POINTERS

A. Introduction

Before deciding to set up your own practice, you need to identify the reasons for doing so and your goals. Is this a deliberate career move or your last option? Are you doing this for the money, the freedom or other reasons? Essential questions you need to answer before you hang out your shingle (or the electronic equivalent)--

  • Can you support yourself and family for six months-year while your practice develops?
  • Do you have clients or a concrete plan to get them
  • Do you have a detailed business plan?
  • Do you have a specialty or a plan to develop one?

B. Top ten tips for starting and maintaining a solo practice, or any practice

  1. Going solo does not mean you need to practice entirely on your own—identify a mentor/coach and other more experienced lawyers to consult with on your very first case and subsequent cases.
  2. Develop a detailed business plan for year one that includes—
    • expenses and earning needs/goals-- keep your overhead as low as possible
    • how you plan to cover initial cash flow needs for furniture, office, electronics, clerical, bar and other dues--savings, loans from family/friends, other?
    • identify potential sources of business
  3. Do low-key, inexpensive written advertising—respectable business cards (no gimmicks), website, announcement in hometown paper, bar journals.
  4. Circulate, circulate, circulate—no one ever developed their first client without leaving the office.
  5. Strategies for finding clients --
    • Contact family, friends, close colleagues from high school through law school, former employers, former fellow employees and ask for their business
    • Sign up for lawyers referral services
    • publish your information on social media: Facebook, Linkedin, etc. (the strategy on which social media to employ and how to employ them has been extensively written about)
    • attend non-lawyer sponsored business events (when asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously said, “because that’s where the money is”)
    • become involved in charitable or other non-profit organizations in order to meet a broad range of people (i.e. prospective clients)
  6. Develop your lawyer skills--
    • write simple wills, handle landlord tenant matters for family and friends
    • volunteer to take cases from Volunteer Lawyers Project, other legal services organizations—they’ll train you for free
    • take court appointments, e.g. in Boston Housing Court
  7. How to handle your first case-- consider partnering with a more experienced lawyer; or if you must turn business away arrange for a quality referral. The client is interested in only one thing— having their case handled competently, whether by you or someone good you recommend.
  8. How to set a fee--
    • Set the fee based on the type of case. Ask around to obtain a range of rates charged by comparably experienced lawyers and discount the rates charged by big firm associates—you don’t have their high overhead.
    • Flat fees are good for simple, predictable tasks like a simple will or review of a lease—but be prepared to under-charge the first few times until you determine how long it takes to accomplish these tasks.
    • Hourly rates are preferred by most corporate clients and are more appropriate where the amount of effort is not predictable.
    • Contingency cases—beware of taking them without expert advice. The art is in figuring which cases to take and which to refuse.
  9. Billing/collections--Next to the rules of professional ethics, the most important matter to attend to. Bill the first of the month and don’t be shy about following up—it’s your money, you worked hard through law school and the bar to justify your fees, and you’re not a bank. Consider retainers if you can get them.
  10. Adopt the proper professional attitude--You’re a lawyer and had to go through three years of law school, pass rigorous competency exams and a character evaluation to be licensed. Act,
  11. Think and dress like the select professional you are. Clients expect no less.

Conclusion

Deciding whether to open your own legal practice is an important decision and you should approach it like any other important decision. Once you have decided to open your practice, utilize available resources, including good advice from more seasoned attorneys and mentors/coaches, to learn the practical aspects of law that they didn’t teach you in law school. Never be afraid to ask for assistance.


Disclaimer: The provision of mentoring services does not contitute and shall not be considered the practice of law. The provision of such services does not establish an attorney-client relationship with the recipient of such services. Mr. Reich has a separate website for his legal practice, which can be found at www.kennethreichlaw.com.