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The Essential Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney

The Essential Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney

A law firm is a business, according to three veteran attorneys, who helped us put together a survival guide for independent attorneys. For better or worse, in many law programs, business classes aren’t among the course work offered during the grueling curriculum of law school. Even so, the economy has forced some attorneys into the role of entrepreneur by necessity.

Whether you are a new law graduate opting to hang out a shingle, or a seasoned legal professional considering considering your next move after a stint in another firm, an emerging trend is shaping up:  the era of the new solo and small law firm practitioner. Suddenly, instead of just practicing law, the challenge of managing business tasks becomes a reality including:

  • Managing the books, including accounting and invoicing
  • Marketing and promotions
  • Operations, purchasing and office management
  • Human resources, hiring and benefits management

Three attorneys have shared their solo or small law firm experiences with us and we’ve compiled this into three articles presented in a single printed paper: Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney. We’ve put this together for attendees at the ABA TECHSHOW; here’s a quick summary of what’s in the paper:

1. Setting Personal, Fiscal and Professional Goals, by Bradley Randall, JD, from The Randall Law Firm, PLLC in Phoenix, AZ

As the titled suggests, Mr. Randall offers his advice on setting goals – tips such as:

The more specific you make your goal, the easier it will be to visualize and take concrete steps toward it. For example, set financial goals after figuring out how much it would really cost to live the way you want to live. Don’t set a goal to get more clients, set a goal to get 5 more clients a month.

2.  When—and Why—To Get Help, by Attorney Glen Malia with Malia Law LLC, located in Cortlandt Manor, New York

Hiring help can be a frightening notion for a newly minted entrepreneur, including a small law firm. More than just being a good manager, a firm now has payroll obligations and the considerable burden of concern for someone else’s livelyhood.  Mr. Malia writes:

Solo and small law firm attorneys often struggle with why and when they should bring people in to help, and the answers really aren’t as hard as they need to be. First, the why: You bring people in to help you so that you can make more money than it costs you to pay for their services. Then, the when: You bring in people to help when you are doing lower-value work that someone else should and could be doing. It might sound counterintuitive, but the best time for extra help is right from the very start of your business. Many functions of a law office, like answering phones, can be outsourced at a reasonable fee. Your time is much too valuable to be doing things that can be outsourced.

3. Setting Policies and Procedures, by Penn Dodson, JD, an attorney at AndersonDodson, P.C in New York City

Ms. Dodson notes that policies and procedures don’t really exist unless they exist in writing. Further, writing them down is important because regardless of firm size, employees respond well to consistency and structure. She advises:

It can seem intimidating to start a policies and procedures manual, but the most important needs usually present themselves in the form of consistent “pain points.” For example, if every day you’re showing your admin how to do the same task, start there. Outline it, write it down, then be sure to ask for feedback along the way to verify you’re explaining it in a clear and concise matter. Even if you have no staff, it’s important to establish your system from day one. Time invested now will pay off huge the minute you hire your first assistant or admin.

Ms. Dodson has previously contributed other content on this site well worth viewing including a discussion on Solo Success and Real-World Insights which was conducted by Google Hangout at LegalTech.

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The Survival Guide for the Independent Attorney is available in printed format at the ABA TECHSHOW by visiting booth #300 and requesting for a copy.

Photo credit:  Flickr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.