Yes, You Can Solo Part Time
Conventional wisdom used to be that if you're going to succeed as a solo, you need to jump in with both feet. But the one rule of solo practice is that there are no rules, only millions of exceptions. And here's one of those exceptions: Danielle Colyer, a teacher by day, busy real estate attorney by night, as described in this article,
Her Homework: Law Practice. According to the article, Colyer went to law school after she'd burned out of teaching. But after getting her law degree, she also received a "dream job" offer teaching law to high school students. Still, as a single mom, her teaching salary didn't go far enough, so she started a real estate closing business on the side. According to the article, these days, she juggles 100 closings with the aid of a part time assistant and earns as much from her part time practice as from her full time teaching job.
So if you're thinking about solo practice, but too nervous about cutting off your salary entirely, see if you can arrange a part time gig and use it as support to get your practice growing...before making the leap entirely or, keeping a slash career.
Walmart v. Neiman Marcus Pricing for Legal Services
Over at my Legal Blog Watch Beat, I posted about the Walmart v. Nieman Marcus pricing dichotomy, initially described by Mike Sherman of Law for Profit. Now many of you have heard about this model before: basically, you have a choice between selling lots of legal services (volume practice) at a narrow profit margin or handle fewer cases with higher paying clients and larger profit margin. Clearly, the latter model makes sense; after all, why not work less and make more?
At the same time, because I'm a lawyer and part of a system whose very integrity depends on access to law, I wonder what's going to happen to all those clients who can only afford volume service. Services like We the People offer some hope, as do robust pro se programs. But frequently, the bar opposes expanding the scope of services that non-lawyers can provide because it vitiates lawyers' monopoly power.
We're at a cross roads where we can't have it both ways. If we solos want to focus on high end cases and earn more, then go for it! But as we do so, let's not stand in the way of options for those whom we've priced out of our markets.
Announcing....SOLOFORMANIA - now in beta!
My site has been dead for so long, that I couldn't wait to get some new content going. So here it is, in beta...SOLO-formania. What is SOLOFORMANIA? It's a cornucopia of forms for the busy solo - ranging from FREE sample practice guides, fee agreements and retainer letters, to court forms for all 50 states (some free, some fee) to general form files on the Internet. I'll put a link up at the sidebar for now, until I finish revamping the site. (Though the Online Guide should be upgraded soon).
You're free to link to SOLOFORMANIA at your site, so long as you attribute MyShingle.
Update: Caveat on using forms. Forms are a terrific starting place but for your practice, but they are just that - a good start. If you view forms from other jurisdictions (which is useful), be sure to check whether they comport with the ethics rules where you practice. And adapt forms for a particular task. For example, when I draft retainer letters, I always include a fairly detailed scope of work so that clients understand which tasks are covered and which are not.
Make a positive contact, write away!
Perhaps you've just started your firm, and you're already tiring of those "informational" interviews and "getting to know you lunches" with more experienced attorneys. Of course, you've met some jerks, but on the whole, they're all nice enough, incredibly supportive and genuinely interested in helping you out with advice and war stories. But at the end of the meeting or the lunch, you still come away empty handed, with no referrals, no offers of contract work and no idea of whether you've made a lasting impression or not.
Here's a thought that could make one of these meetings a win-win for both you and the other attorney. Consider this advice by Ari Kaplan, entitled
Summer Associates Can Write Their Way to Success (National Law Journal 6/19/07). Kaplan recommends that summer associates volunteer to co-author an article with a partner to distinguish themselves from the dozens of other eager colleagues. Why an article? Well, as Kaplan describes, it's tangible and lasts longer than a memo, but more importantly, it provides a huge benefit to the partner.
Though Ari gears his article towards summer associates, there's no reason why the same advice can't work for a newbie attorney looking to make a positive impression. For example, let's say that you're hoping to get overflow work from an employment law attorney? When you meet with the attorney, why not offer to co-author a quick article for a bar newsletter or local newspaper on a recent Supreme Court case or a list of how-to's or even a post for the lawyer's blog or an online publication. I'm not suggesting a scholarly piece that will consume hours of time, but just a quick piece that takes a couple of hours of time.
Of course, you'll have to do most of the work, with your "co-author" merely editing the piece. Still consider the benefits: the other attorney's credentials will make it easier to place your article in a more visible publication, you'll get your name in print and best of all - you'll be at the top of that attorney's referral list.
So why are you still reading...get in touch with some prospective co-authors and start writing!
Should We Rescue Biglaw, Part II?
A while back, I posed the question whether women at large firms have some kind of duty to rescue biglaw and save it from becoming the exclusive domain of white men. Well, here's an article, Women Leaven which suggests that many women aren't doing that. Instead, they're leaving law firms in droves for greener pastures, including starting their own firms. Consider Mae O'Malley, who started her own contract law practice, and lined up so much work that now she's placing other attorneys - to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue a year. From the article:
People were always asking San Francisco attorney Mae O'Malley how she lined up so much contract legal work as she juggled continuing her law career and raising three children. Her secret: As a former in-house counsel, she had built up a clientele, including Google Inc., and was ready for solo work after her third child was born. Last year, O'Malley, 34, created a company built on her strategy, giving her the opportunity to share the trick with the many other women who have asked about it. She opened Paragon Legal Group in September, and already has 20 lawyers working for her on either a full-time or part-time basis, 90% of whom are women. The attorneys make as much as $175 per hour and she expects the San Francisco-based company will have $1 million in revenue this year.
"We have several women who are leaving firms and coming to us," O'Malley said. "We allow them to continue to practice with challenging assignments on a much more flexible basis."
So...should women stay at firms that don't accomodate their families - or leave? I think the answer is pretty clear.
A Tale of Two Lawyer Ratings Systems
Imagine a lawyer rating system that assigns lawyers different categories of grading and purports to provide an objective way to assess a lawyer and through "third party validation of ethics and legal ability provides that extra level of confidence that the right lawyer or firm has been selected." A ratings system that takes years of experience into account in issuing ratings and removes positive ratings where a lawyer has a negative disciplinary record. A ratings system that even generates enough profit to fund a fellowship. And a ratings system that includes some errors and omissions.
If you thought that the lawyer rating system that I just described would be the subject of class action lawsuits, you'd be wrong. But that rating system sure sounds like this one, which is the subject of a class action lawsuits. And indeed, many of the claims alleged in the class suit (which you can access here) would seem to apply to both ratings systems: such as complaints of arbitrariness of ratings or that the rating service makes deceptive and false representations that clients can rely on the ratings in choosing a lawyer.
So, one of these ratings systems is sued, while the other is not. And if you're wondering about the reasons for the differential treatment, I can think of at least one: consider the ratings of the class action's lead plaintiff by this ratings service and this one.
Note: for the record, I have criticized both ratings services for various reasons here and here and here. In my view, ratings systems aren't worth much because choosing a lawyer isn't like picking a restaurant or buying a house. So if we lawyers allow ratings system, we should explain that they're one of many, many factors in picking a lawyer. But more importantly, if we allow ratings systems, we must tolerate all systems; we shouldn't be able to pick and choose by filing class actions between those ratings systems that we want (because they grade us better) and those we don't.
What Judge Bork's Choice of PI Counsel Says About Lawyer Rankings like Avvo and Marketing
Over at some of the more conservatively inclined blogs, like Overlawyered, there's some interesting discussion over whether conservative judge and jilted Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork betrayed his conservative principles by suing the Yale Club for $1 million (both compensatory and punitive damages) for injuries sustained following Bork's fall from a dais a speaking event sponsored by the club. The discussion is interesting enough, but what captured my attention even more is Bork's choice of representation: Randy Mastro, a partner at Gibson, Dunn . Indeed, Bork's choice defies the advice of lawyer ranking systems like Avvo which advise clients to examine whether a lawyer has experience with cases similar to theirs. Mastro's firm bio doesn't indicate that he has any PI experience, and indeed, his Avvo rating is 6.5 (Apparently, the default ranking . Yet Bork chose Mastro anyway, which raises the question: Why?
The answer is easy. Because when clients choose lawyers, above all, they want someone who makes them feel comfortable, someone they know and believe they can rely on. I'm certain that Bork has some kind of relationship with Gibson, Dunn (through some kind of Ted Olson/former Solicitors' club affiliation, if nothing else). And even though Gibson, Dunn apparently has no experience bringing personal injury cases, Bork has enough confidence in their work that he must believe that they're up to the task.
So what does all of this mean for lawyer rating services like Avvo? That in spite of efforts to objectively rank lawyers, a lawyers' ranking is probably the last thing that a client cares about in making a hire. Clients will choose lawyers based on
their expressed opinions or as in the Bork case, a personal relationship. I've been hired for both reasons (my writings and personal recommendations) myself. In both cases, I wasn't necessarily the best lawyer for the job, but I was the right lawyer for the client. And at the end of the day, that's what matters - and what we can't lose sight of - when we market.