Tips and tricks for a successful practice
Written by Lesley Hempfling
Thinking about going solo but worried that you don’t have the office management skills to keep the wheels on the track or rainmaking skills to keep clients coming in the door? You don’t have to be an expert at Excel or have a massive book of business to be a successful solo practitioner. With a few tips and tricks, any good attorney can make a go at the solo life.
1. Contract help is a must. Don’t waste time you should be spending doing substantive legal work (e.g., the stuff people are paying you for) spinning your wheels trying to make documents “look right.” Leave it to the professionals. Paralegal and legal assistant services are available at reasonable rates on a contract basis and most work remotely. The bonus to the contract model—little paperwork is involved. Send a 1099 for the year and only use them (and pay for them) when you need them. Having someone on salary in slow times is a recipe for disaster.
2. Never miss a call. A missed call is a missed opportunity. Hire a remote receptionist service unless you have a full-time receptionist who is dedicated to you only. If you share a receptionist, chances are some incoming calls are going to voicemail. When your next call could be your next client that just won’t cut it. Most remote receptionist services guarantee a person will answer your calls every single time.
3. Social media—it’s not just for the Kardashians. In the 21st century if potential clients can’t find you online, they won’t find you at all. A professional website is critical to promoting your practice and crafting the image that you want to display. If you simply can’t afford a professional website, then create a professional Facebook page, Twitter page, and LinkedIn page. The key is “professional”—keep any personal pages separate and private. Update your website and social media with fresh and relevant information highlighting you and your practice. It’s cheap, easy, and effective. Make sure you follow applicable rules for attorney advertising.
4. Adopt a mentor…or two. Just because you’re solo doesn’t mean you don’t need support. Don’t wait for your phone to ring—reach out to other attorneys in your practice area and develop relationships over coffee or lunch early on. This one simple act will open the door to referrals, confidants, and collaboration. Bonus tip: If you call a colleague for legal advice on a matter you are working on, always offer to pay his or her hourly rate for his or her counsel.
5. No one rides for free. While pro bono work is an important part of the legal profession, you can’t run your solo, for-profit practice like a nonprofit. As a solo, it is easy to get caught in the trap of giving “discounts” to all of your friends, family, and anyone else who asks you for one. It’s a slippery slope. Set a rate and stick to it—reevaluate annually. Your clients will know they are receiving quality work and you will feel good about doing the work. It’s a win-win proposition.
6. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Solo practitioners are highly susceptible to the 24/7 work cycle. Early burnout is inevitable if you go in hard and keep up that pace long term. Set aside time to do things that interest you and are unrelated to your practice and calendar it just like any other obligation. Time spent doing non-legal activities will benefit you personally and allow you to come back to your practice refreshed with new ideas and energy. TBJ
LESLEY HEMPFLING is a partner in Huggins Reddien, practicing estate planning and trust and probate law. Prior to joining Huggins Reddien, she was a solo practitioner for nine years serving clients in estate planning and trust and estate administration.