Solo Practice: Inexpensive Option For Recent Law Grads & Needy Clients

Recent law school graduates struggling to find work have another option besides BigLaw or boutique firms: solo practice.

Of the law school class of 2010, 6 percent chose solo practice—double the percent of law school graduates who chose solo practice in 2006, according to the National Association for Law Placement in Washington (via Christian Science Monitor).

Defense attorney Damon Chetson multitasks in his downtown Raleigh office. Rather than join an existing firm after finishing law school, defense attorney Damon Chetson started his own, The Chetson Firm, PLLC in Raleigh, NC. Photo: Travis Dove for MSNBC

With the economic recession keeping many qualified lawyers from finding salaried job positions, some have chosen to open up solo-shop. This means, not only do unemployed attorneys gain work, but the market gains much-needed competition, which leads to inexpensive attorneys fees for clients.

“My clients care about the service that I offer and whether they can get me when they dial my number,” Lara Trujillo Webb said in an interview (via Christian Science Monitor).

Webb graduated in 2009 and operates her solo law practice from a home office. Webb’s rates are significantly lower than the average law firm—at times, as much as 50 percent less.

“[My clients] are not so worried about whether you’re with a big firm or if you’re [highly ranked] in the city. That kind of stuff doesn’t seem to really matter.”

And when it comes to quality legal service and tools, the majority of an attorney’s necessities are accessible via new technology.

The Internet makes legal research convenient and cheap, not to mention it gives access to myriad online resources that can educate an otherwise fairly inexperienced law grad. Forget a paralegal or legal secretary, with the iPhone, lawyers have access to Siri, the virtual assistant.

But, as we’ve already addressed, should clients trust that social media and legal apps for smartphones alone can teach a recent law school grad to be a good lawyer?

These solo practicioners would argue, yes.

“Twitter has helped me be on the cutting edge. I know what’s going on right when it’s happening,” Rachel Rodgers said in an interview with MSNBC.

Not only does Rodgers use technology as the linchpin of her solo-practice success, she also gained mentorship from a subscription-based website, Solo Practice University, which offers video, written, and audio tutorials for prospective or current solo practitioners.

The money in solo practice may not be as high as BigLaw, but its digital-age assets keep an attorney fresh, active, flexible, and employed.

And, technology keeps attorneys afloat in more ways than one.

“There have been times when I’ve woken up in the morning and I have new clients,” Rodgers said to MSNBC. “They’ve found me online somehow and I’ve never had any interaction with them, but now they’re my clients. It’s pretty sweet.”

But if you’re a young lawyer looking into solo practice, don’t rely on social media alone to gain acclaim. The American Bar Association offers a plethora of advice on marketing your practice. Here are a few tips that apply specifically to daring soloists:

  1. Join your local chamber of commerce. It’s great for networking and community credibility.
  2. Get a unique business card and hand it out freely.
  3. Give a client or other nonlawyer contact at least two cards—one to keep and another to give away.
  4. Give every employee his or her own business cards with name, title and e-mail address, along with the name of the law firm. People are more likely to hand out cards with their own names on them.
  5. Try to get a local reporter to use you as a legal expert. Send an e-mail offering commentary on a court case. Learn to translate legalese into English and reporters will love you.
  6. Offer to speak to community groups or at senior centers on topics such as wills, fraud avoidance and similar issues.
  7. Register with your local bar association speaker’s bureau. If your bar doesn’t have one, offer to help start one.
  8. Advertise in school and church newsletters and local marketer newspapers. This sort of advertising is usually cost-efficient and such publications are surprisingly well-read by their target audiences.
  9. Send congratulations to clients for any life event, such as the birth of a child or a graduation.
  10. Never apologize for the size of your firm. This is especially important for solos and small-firm practitioners. There are good reasons for clients to use a solo lawyer. Know what these reasons are, and let your clients and potential clients know. Always stress your strengths.

To read more strategies about starting up or marketing your solo law firm, go to the ABA Journal’s article, “50 Ways to Market Your Practice.”

-WB

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