My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

Whatever You Call Yourself, Please Don't Sign Your Pleadings This Way

It's the perennial question for lawyers starting a law firm - what do you call yourself? As I wrote here over two years ago, Enrico Schaefer maintains that the term "solo" is inaccurate. And more recently, the topic has been discussed on Solosez. As for me, I've always regarded the term "solo" as a catch phrase for lawyers who start a firm - be it one lawyer or multiples. And my upcoming book, Solo by Choice uses the term "solo" in the title because it's the most universally recognized phrase for lawyers who choose to step out on their own to work for themselves, rather than others.

Still, though I don't have a problem using the term solo descriptively, I'd never use it to describe myself. When I meet other attorneys, I explain that I'm an independent practitioner or (more preferable) that I have my own law firm. But even if you have a close attachment to the term solo, please - don't ever sign off on a pleading the way the way that this Phelps Family lawyer did: Margie Phelps, A Sole Practitioner. In fact, the entire pleading makes me cringe - and is an example of why, despite all of our best efforts, we self-starting lawyers still face image problems.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 2, 2007 at 07:47 AM in Ideas & Tips , Law Practice Management , MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A Handbook on the Risks of e-Lawyering

Over at my beat at Legal Blogwatch, I posted a link to a free online handbook created by Chubb Insurance on the Risks of e-Lawyering.  The handbook, available here offers lots of tips to avoid running afoul of ethics rules in the age of technology, such as how to guard against inadvertently creating an attorney-client relationship or how to preserve electronic documents for discovery.  Plus, if you advise other businesses or corporations, Chubb has a number of other publications on a range of topics like avoiding slip and falls, preventing workplace fraud and IP checklists that might be a useful resource to pass on to clients.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 24, 2007 at 12:54 PM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues , Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Virtual Office Space Options

If you're starting a firm and not sure that you want to work from home, but are concerned about the cost of rent, a virtual office might be right for you.  This  article from the Chicago Business Leader (11/20/06) gives an overview of the costs and services of HQ Global, one of the larger competitors in the virtual office space arena.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 23, 2006 at 08:06 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Outsourcing: It's Not Just for Biglaw

As I've posted once before, solos and small firms have as much to benefit from outsourcing as  large firms.  Yet, I still know many solos who file their own papers at the court instead of using a messenger service or spend time on administrative tasks they dislike instead of bringing someone in who can do a better job.  This post from Escape from Cubicle Nation reminds us of all the tasks, ranging from accounting to scheduling, that you can outsource, at not much cost.  Moreover, remember that outsourcing does not stop at the office.  If you don't enjoy home repair or cleaning or prefer spending time with family and friends instead, you can outsource those tasks too.  Chances are that at your billing rate, you can pay for a weekly housecleaning with an extra billable hour of work.

Does this mean that you should outsource everything?  No.  If you derive pleasure from certain tasks - like blogging or cooking or even housecleaning - don't delegate them.  But if you can find a way to make yourself more efficient and free up time to focus on what you enjoy, outsourcing makes sense.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 15, 2006 at 06:14 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Dave Swanner's No Frills Advice on Starting a Firm

Dave Swanner has some great, defy-the-experts advice on starting a law firm.  The essence:  Don't overplan, get a phone line and some business cards, and just do it.  Though Dave admits in his comments that this no frills approach may not work for everyone, particularly those with major financial commitments, he's definitely on to something.  Sometimes lawyers get so bogged down in planning every detail of their practice, in waiting to have enough clients or enough money, that they may miss the opportunity to go solo at all. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 28, 2006 at 10:17 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Telephone Talk

Jim Calloway has a great post on one of the unanswered (pun intended!) questions concerning solo practice:  what's the best system for answering the phone?  Jim's post summarizes the pros and cons of (a) outsourcing to a live answering service (uneven quality and costly); (b) using paid employee (who may be low paid and unmotivated) or (c) relying on voice mail (which some clients don't like).  Jim then directs readers to this entry at Ellen Freedman's blog, which summarizes a discussion of the topic amongst various law practice management professionals.

According to Freedman's post, the consensus is:

Truly, it’s having a well-trained competent human on the phone who can take a message or route to vmail as a first choice. If you’re too small for that, or choose not to go that route, it’s about having a well-designed vmail system which is user-friendly and idiot-proof.

I disagree that having a person on the phone is important.  What matters to clients is not whether they get a human (unless it's the lawyer) or an answering machine.  What clients want when they call a law firm is to get their lawyer on the line.  Whether you use a human or voice mail, clients get disgruntled when they're always sent to voice mail.  (That's why Allison Shields' advice about scheduling phone call appointments makes sense).  They begin to wonder if you keep "bankers' hours" or whether you're avoiding their calls.  Clients are more tolerant where you can provide some information about your absence - whether you're at depositions or in court - and when you'll return.  But you can provide that information on voicemail (by changing the message) just as well as with a human. Moreover, as friendly or well meaning as a human receptionist may be, he or she is just that ...only human.  Humans may take numbers down slowly, plus, they really don't have the ability to accurately write down what the call concerns.  With an answering machine or voice mail, clients can leave as much or as little information as they want.

I pick up my own phone and use voice mail when I'm not available.  I've actually had several compliments from callers on how cheery I sound on my message tape (which I force myself to do when I tape the message to overcompensate for my monotone).  And I've also had compliments from clients who call and are impressed that I actually pick up my own phone. 

What works for your practice?  Drop me a comment below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 17, 2006 at 03:51 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Are you Fully Paperless?

There's a discussion at Evan Schaeffer'sIllinois Trial Practice Blog over the feasibility of a fully paperless office.  Evan admits, and many commenters agree, that he has some difficulty relying exclusively on electronic documents, particularly when he's trying to get up to speed on a new, paper-laden matter.   

What do you think?  Do you still print out documents to read them - or are you fully adept at absorbing material on screen?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 21, 2006 at 09:22 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ten Ways to Get Motivated

Fellow blogger Allison Shields of Legalease Consulting wrote this article in this month's ABA Law Practice Management magazine on ten ways to get motivated.  Suffice it to say that the article worked well enough to get me to put up this post!

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 10, 2006 at 12:30 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Outsourcing for Small Firms

This month at Law Practice Today is a roundtable discussion on whether it makes sense for law firms to outsource.  The discussion seems geared for larger firms and talk about outsourcing support staff functions as much as legal research and traditional contract lawyering.  The issue has another article by Ed Poll on choosing a virtual assistant. Also on the topic of outsourcing, I'm looking forward to hearing more from one lawyer who just might be the Greatest American Outsourcer on his experiences with his successful virtual law clerk program.  State tuned.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 16, 2006 at 12:25 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

News from the Home Office Front

For those solos who work from home or are thinking about doing so, here are two articles of interest.  First, from the Washington Post (4/3/06) comes this article, Working at Home, and Not Alone, about spouses who both work from home and how they negotiate their space.  And for those who already work from home, Grant Griffith offers this test to see if maybe you've outgrown your home office.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 9, 2006 at 04:48 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack