I receive at least ten calls a week from attorneys that are in solo practice or are the sole owner of a small law firm with similar concerns and frustrations. However, there tends to be different needs and challenges depending which phase of development the firm is in. Here are a few survival tips for the first phase:
Phase I Survival Tips
1. Create a business plan (strategic plan)
Create a plan before even starting the practice even if it is a one page plan. This will serve as a roadmap for your practice. See Helen Gunnarsson’s article in November 2011 Illinois Bar Journal.
2. Setup your practice and office
This includes everything from the selecting a suitable name and legal form for your practice; setting up your office whether it be a home or virtual office, a space share arrangement, or lease office space; acquisition of office systems, etc. (I have a start-up checklist available. E-mail me if you would like a copy.)
3. Develop competencies in law and business
a. Find an experience attorney to serve as a mentor. The ISBA Mentor Center has mentor program available for members.
b. Consider a business coach
c. Take all the CLE you can
4. Getting Clients
Time must be developed to business development. To be successful in private practice attorneys must be finders (originate new business), minders (manage client matters and relationships) and grinders (worker bees that work on client matters, provide services, and generate fees). You must manage and balance your time in a way that you cover all three of these bases.
5. Client Development/Marketing
a. Actively network with the general public, other attorneys, and other potential referral sources
b. Ask for referrals
c. Implement a first class website that demonstrates expertise
d. Implement a contact database
e. Develop a personal marketing plan (contact plan)
6. Getting Paid
a. Use engagement letters and fee agreements
b. Ask for retainers and replenish
c. Accept credit cards
d. Establish client selection criteria
7. Financial Management – Work the Books
Learn key metrics and “red flags” for your practice area, set goals, and measure your performance against these goals. Take corrective course actions as needed. Actively manage your cash flow. Remember – profit as reflected on the income statement and cash flow are not the same.
8. Manage Your Self – Self Discipline and Accountability
9. Partner with Other Solos
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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC