My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

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Solos Team Up

With so many large firms moving towards a "one stop shopping model," what can a small firm r solo with a more specialized focus do to compete?  You could try to become a jack of all trades, but in expanding your capabilities, you may compromise quality.  Or, you could take the approach of the Birmingham, AL law firms described in this  Business Journal story (9/25/06) and join forces to compete without formally merging.  From the article, here's a description of the arrangement:

Goodrich Law Firm LLC, Cunningham Firm LLC and Hahn Law Firm PC announced Monday the formation of Red Mountain Law, a network that will provide expertise through the individual firms in a broader range of legal services. Areas such as wills, trusts and estates and probate will be handled primarily by the Hahn Law Firm. Commercial and residential real estate and loan closings will be assigned to attorneys at the Cunningham Firm. Work involving securities law will be overseen by the Goodrich Law Firm.

Is there a strategic alliance that you can form to expand your business opportunities?                             

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 26, 2006 at 01:14 PM in Solo Practice Trends | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Ideas for Standing Out from the Crowd

On most of the listserves that I'm on, new lawyers ask questions about how a particular marketing technique has worked for another attorney.  And while it's great to learn from what others have done and take approaches that have been successful, sometimes, you need to go out on a limb and do something completely revolutionary.  That's what some of the lawyers in this article by Ari Kaplan, How to Stand Out from the Crowd (Small Firm Business 9/21/06) have done or tried to do.

 You'll probably recognize some of the ideas in Kaplan's article, such as creating a website or blog to market a niche practice.  Other strategies, however, have been used less, such as Kathleen Hopkins' idea of branding her firm the Real Property Law Group rather than using individual names, advertising yourself as "your lawyer friend indeed," as does Steven Goldstein, a New York criminal defense attorney or arranging  panel discussions on hot topics that may draw  hundreds of participants, as does Stacey Gray, a  business attorney in New York and occassional court TV commentator.

So don't feel that you always have to reinvent the wheel, but at the same time, think about trying what's never been done before.  You have nothing to lose, except your anonymity.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 26, 2006 at 01:01 PM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Make MySpace Your Space

One of the keys to successful marketing is to find yourself a place which hasn't been saturated by lawyers.  Thus far, MySpace is one of those spaces and as Kevin O'Keefe of Lex Blog reports, that's why it's been a successful marketing spot for 28 year old lawyer Anicia Ogonsky, otherwise known as legallyblondepa.  In fact, since Ogonsky set up her MySpace site, she's been interviewed on the radio, been the subject of this article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and had ten responses to an online client intake form.  What's more, at sites like MySpace, Ogonsky can market her blondeness, her youth and enthusiasm - which brand her and set her apart from what she calls "the scary lawyers in dark suits."

MySpace won't work for everyone.  But perhaps it's sufficiently out there that it will set you apart from the competition.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 26, 2006 at 12:33 PM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Waiting 14 Years for the Call

Most of us know that it can take several months for a marketing connection to pan out.  This is a post about one that was 14 years in the making.  I write this story not to discourage those of you who need your leads to pop now, but rather to make the point that solo practice is one long connected journey and you never know whether or when the seeds you scatter today will finally bear fruit.  Read on for details....

Before I started my law firm in 1993, I worked for an energy regulatory boutique with a national practice located in Washington D.C.   I was a junior attorney when the firm let me go after three years, so not surprisingly, only one small client followed me to my new practice.  Despite the circumstances surrounding my departure from my firm, I restrained myself (not an easy task) from burning bridges, though I also cut off contact with my former colleagues.  Within a year, I achieved modest success and enormous satisfaction at the new firm that I'd built and I felt ready to reestablish contact with my firm (mostly because I was desperate for help in preparing for my first federal appellate argument and had no where else to turn).  The firm took pity on me and lent a hand which lead to a cordial relationship of occasional lunches, referrals and requests for advice.
Last week, one of the partners called me to find out if I was available for a case.  Turned out that a client that I'd worked for back in 1991-92 and had stayed with my former firm needed new counsel because of a conflict.  And the client asked my former firm for me!

As I wrote at the outset, my story isn't intended to depress.  After all, if I'd waited 14 years for all of my marketing leads to turn to clients, I wouldn't be here right now... And it's not really intended as a lesson in persistence, because I've not had contact with my former client in 14 years, and my interaction with my former firm have been erratic at best.  Rather, getting a call from a client after 14 years reminds me of the unpredictable quality of solo practice and the importance of always making the best impression possible.  Eventually, no matter what you do or how far you go, your past will catch up with you.  Do you want it to drag you down - or bring you opportunities to move you forward?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 17, 2006 at 08:31 AM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 11

Like rock and roll, legal work is full of power and passion.  It is about people and their stories, even when we represent businesses, as Justice Louis Brandeis powerfully reminded us.  We help peple find justice, dignity, truth, riches or maybe just a little relief.

Do you agree that your work is full of power and passion?

The above quoteand the accompanying question is one of the thought provoking topics from the teaching DVD, Lawyers Rock, based on the scholarship of Rusell Pearce and discussed further in this post at Legal Ethics Forum.  And it seemed fitting to post on September 11, a day that reminded us of terrible perils of, but also the transformative possibility of power and passion. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 11, 2006 at 03:39 AM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Let's Just Authorize Unauthorized Practice Once and For All

Leave it to the bar associations to put the kibbosh on creativity.  Take the case of Morris Gould, an enterprising lawyer who came up with a niche practice of offering New York counsel to Florida residents with New York legal matters, as described in this article, Federal Court Grounds Snowbird Law Practice (ABA e-report, 9/1/06).  Problem is, Gould, who resides in Florida and is barred in New York, is not a member of the Florida bar.  Thus, the bar prohibited him from advertising his New York services as unauthorized practice of law.  The bar also claimed that the ads were deceptive because they gave the impression that Gould was licensed in Florida which he is not.

In this day and age, where people are transient and we can email documents to destinations 500 miles away more easily than we can carry them across the street, isn't it time for the bars to reexamine the archaic rules on multi-jurisdictional practice?  Why must a person be a member of the bar in the state where he or she lives?

The bar's rules on multi jurisdictional practice cause far more harm than good.  In Gould's situation, he would have served clients physically located in Florida who had legal problems in New York.  The only alternative to Gould's service would be for these clients to (a) find a lawyer licensed in Florida and NY or (b) hire an attorney in New York and either travel 1000 miles for face to face meetings or deal with them by phone.  Gould's proposed niche makes sense and would have made life easier for this group of clients.
Too bad the bar didn't see it the same way.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 6, 2006 at 06:56 AM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Be A Shlep!

One of my favorite blogging buddies, David Giacalone, on a partial blogging hiatus as f/k/a, has resurfaced again with a new proposed blog,  shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress.  As the name reflects, shlep will provide commentary on and resources for pro se litigation.  From the introductory post:

Self-Help Law deserves its own weblog.  It is too important a right for consumers, a vital movement, and a growing virtual and realworld reality, to be outside the spotlight of the blogosphere and the weblogger community. (See Movement/ Shmovement below, plus our About page)  Indeed, if weblogs are even half as important in the world of legal services as everybody* says, it may be malpractice for consumer advocates, proponents of universal access to justice, law-and-technology gurus, or law firm management mavens to start the day without seeking a weblog dose of pro se and self-help news and punditry.

Should solos and small firms care about the growing pro se trend?  Absolutely.  Since many of us practice on the front lines of litigation, we'll often meet litigants with small matters that don't warrant the cost of hiring a lawyer or who are uncomfortable with the cost of an attorney and would prefer to handle the matter themselves. Rather than criticize these clients as stupid or short sighted (which many lawyers are apt to do when clients seek not to hire them), we should at least educate them on the pro se process.  Perhaps, clients will then decide to proceed pro se or perhaps they won't, but at least we can assist them in making an informed decision.  But to do that, we lawyers need to educate ourselves on the pro se practice as well - and that's what David's site will help us do.

Educating on pro se practice can also reduce the cost of litigation, not just for the pro se, but for all involved.  Because pro se litigants are not familiar with the court process, it may take longer for paying clients and cost them more money, or result in this kind of conduct.   We should develop ways to improve the quality of pro se litigation.

Of course, the only problem with shlep is that David Giacalone is pro se:  he needs assistance from other bloggers to ensure the success of this new venture.  Contact David at shlep if you're interested.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 6, 2006 at 06:18 AM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack