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Ah, to be young and solo. Whether it is because of the challenging economy or the desire to blaze their own path, a huge number of attorneys are making the move to go into solo practice. What follows is a list of 10 things that many solos learn the hard way. Maybe we can save you the trouble with this list.
1. Connections, connections, connections. Network, network, network. Chances are you have been told of their importance a hundred times. Chances are you still don't get it. When it comes to getting clients and learning how to practice law, the people you know are going to make all the difference. Get out of your office and get to know people in your community. Organizations like the chamber of commerce, bar associations, athletic teams and anywhere else where you can meet people will make a big difference. Don't hide behind your computer. It's a great tool, but the best marketing is still done face to face.
2. Send out announcements. A great way to create a buzz after you open your solo practice is to make use of announcements. Other attorneys are likely refer you clients, and possibly hire you for short-term projects.
3. Find a mentor. You need a successful attorney who is invested in seeing you succeed. With the economy down, these kinds of folks are hard to find, but if you approach them right, and perhaps find a way to offer reciprocal value, you will be surprised at the help you can receive. You're likely to even get some legal projects from your mentor.
4. Keep your expenses low. That doesn't mean to be cheap, it means to be smart. As soon as you open your office, you are going to be inundated with offers from companies promising to bring you more business and make your practice run smoother. Some are worthwhile, but many aren't. Ask around, and make sure that before you sign on for any services that you are confident that the expense is justified. And if you don't know why you need something, you almost definitely don't need it.
5. Have a good website. This doesn't mean that you have to spend several thousands of dollars, but it also isn't something you should skimp on. Nearly every client checks out their attorney's website, so this is going to be your chance to impress them. Remember to put the address of your website on your business cards and letterhead, and e-mail signature.
6. Make use of smartphone technology to sync your office computer systems with your phone. It is crucial that you have a system in place to make sure you are on time for appointments and hearings. If you get in the habit of always putting your information into you digital system and know that it will be synched, you'll never have to worry about missing an appointment. Well, almost never.
7. Be open to using virtual services. As previously mentioned, keeping costs low is important, but it's also hard to grow your practice if you can't figure out how to scale it. The best way to scale is to figure out how to get reasonably priced assistance for your repetitive work. Virtual paralegals, assistants and contract attorneys can be a big help to your practice.
8. Do not try to be a jack of all trades. Successful "general practitioners" are few and far between. That's not to say that it can't be done, but the law is so vast, it's hard to be up on everything. Instead, refer work outside your area to specialists. Think about it, when you have an elbow injury, you ask for "the top sports elbow specialist," not a general practitioner. Clients tend to seek out attorneys the same way.
9. Create a business plan. This doesn't have to be a 20 page detailed plan covering every single base. But it should be something that provides a road map for what you are doing and how you will measure success going forward.
10. Read, read and read more. In particular, I highly recommend two books, Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be, by Carolyn Elefant, and How to Start & Build a Law Practice, by Jay Foonberg. Both are filled with all kinds of brilliant information that will have you well on your way to running a successful practice.
These ten tips are by no means meant to cover everything you need to know in order to get going, but they should provide an excellent start.