Friday, September 16, 2011

Making It On Your Own

On her My Shingle blog, Carolyn Elefant recently posted a question she got from a reader about how to grow a practice and succeed as a solo. One commenter specifically asked for suggestions from solos making at least six figures on a consistent basis.

I'm not going to lie to you: that's not me.  I'm a new lawyer still finding my way.  Further, I'm not a solo, but I do work at a small place - three attorneys, one assistant.

Given those disclaimers, I'll start out by responding to the comment posted by Leanna, all of which are things I've done, am doing, or have considered.  Leanna suggests the following steps (my comments in white):

1. Getting really good and comfortable talking about money, asking for money, not giving free consults, and not negotiating on price.  This is key....  This is a skill I'm still learning, but already I can see the importance of it.  For me, it's all about expectation management.  I try to give potential clients a realistic estimate of what their case will cost if we're billing hourly, or tell them up front what a flat fee of x-dollars will cover.  We also handle our "retainers" (though we don't call them that) a bit differently than most firms.  Look for an article about our process in the future!

2. Sending out a paper newsletter to all past clients and contacts....  We've done one postcard mailing (although it was before I started here), and it was hugely unsuccessful.  All the calls we got were from people with imaginary issues or people with real issues who wanted a free lawyer.  A newsletter is actually something I'd like to do, but I'm not sure of the best way to go about it and don't want it to be a huge time- and money-drain.  Suggestions?

3. Networking in person. Not desperately, but to fill up to the hours when you'd just be sitting in your office reading [S]olo[S]ez or tweeting....  I'm sure Leanna is right that when she says that meeting people is better than sitting on your own.  But where I run into trouble is in converting those meetings to actual useful contacts of some kind. 

4. Cultivate your existing referral sources. These are the people who already know, like and trust you. Send them a thank you card for their past support of your business, remind them you are taking new clients in particular areas and think about what you might be able to refer to them.  We don't really do the professional networking thing.  We go to events, meet people, etc., but don't set up referral chains.  Most of our referrals come from former clients, which is something we're proud of.  Our clients are satisfied with the work we did, and feel that we gave them value for their money.  What more can you ask for, besides more clients?

5. Clean your office and shine your shoes.... Funny you should mention that!  I'm getting some bids right now on redecorating my office!

6. Screen your potential clients better[].... I think we do a pretty good job of screening clients.  We ask them some questions when they call for an appointment so we can give them a good idea of what to expect.  Some people will hear and estimated fee and decide they need to "think about it," and others will decide to come in for an initial consultation.  And at least when they do, they know what to expect.

LegalTypist's comment that you just need to get involved in your community is probably the next suggestion I'd like to reiterate, and I'd like to stress the community aspect of it rather than the networking aspect of it.  See, at most networking events, I tend to meet people who do something similar to what I do.  Referrals from those folks will be few and far between.  But when people at my local bookstore or teammates on a rec sports team hear that I'm a lawyer...well, there might actually be some business there!

And I'll follow that up by saying that you want to get involved in the type of community activities that will include people you'd like to have as clients.  If you do IP work, get involved in some cultural activities - arts, music, and the like.  If you do a lot of business law, maybe get involved with your local chamber of commerce.  Seek out the people you want!

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