Author Topic: The Law Practice Thread  (Read 3107 times)

ReadySetMillionaire

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The Law Practice Thread
« on: March 16, 2017, 08:28:58 AM »
I know there are a lot of attorneys on this forum, including a few attorneys that work as solo practitioners, so I thought it may be a good idea to start a dedicated to starting a practice, getting clients, practice management, etc.

I myself am looking to start a practice by June or July and would welcome a discussion on doing so.  I'll post in more detail later but just wanted to get this thread up and running to see if we had any similar posters out there.

Cheers.
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VeggieGirl

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2017, 02:03:08 PM »
Following this thread... I'm currently working on helping a client that's a solo practitioner with marketing. He's thinking of placing ads in the local area magazines that people read on the train. But do people even read print magazines anymore? Trying to figure out the best way to get clients when the practice is just starting out.

Res ipsa loquitur

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2017, 09:16:15 PM »
I'm interested in doing some side legal work, but I am a government lawyer who does not have malpractice insurance. I'm not sure what side hustles are viable in the legal field, so I've been doing some teaching on the side.

specialkayme

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2017, 08:59:40 AM »
I applaud the thought and attempt, but I don't think this thread is going to work quite as well as you think it will.

The legal profession is a little odd, and very different from most other businesses as it relates to marketing, practice management, client acquisition, and similar areas. First off, law firms and attorneys are governed by their state. What you can do in state A would be illegal in state B (advertising laws, solicitation laws, ect.). Aside from that, even within one state the methodologies will vary widely from practice area to practice area. Even within practice areas, there are subsets that have very different targets and goals.

I'll give you a few examples.

1. If your practice area is criminal law focusing on court appointed cases, your marketing strategy will be zero. Your goal is to operate as efficiently as possible, with few to no employees.
2. If your practice area is criminal law, focusing on traffic citations, your goal will be volume. The most tickets you can do per day, at the lowest cost you can get away with (to beat your competition), the higher your profit. You'll do mass mailings to everyone that received a ticket (if you can, per your state) and hope mass numbers makes you profit. You'll need low overhead, but need to keep everyone working very efficiently. Having one or two paralegals to keep track of all your phone calls will help, but low pay is a requirement (as there isn't much legal research or drafting involved).
3. If your practice area is personal injury, you'll need to advertise heavily. Billboards, newspaper adds, yellow pages, tv commercials, everything you can get away with. You'll need a staff on standby when you need to go to trial, but be able to keep them busy doing other things for the 98% of the cases that settle (where you really make your money). You typically have large overhead, and need the next big case to pay for the office for a while. Big, visible office space is premium.
4. If your practice area is real estate closings, you're going to operate on volume as well, only advertising generally won't work squat for you. You need to get in with several real estate agents, and have a good networking and referral base. That means shaking hands, going to networking events, handing out cards, ect. You'll need several paralegals to work cases as efficiently as possible, churning out HUD statements and paperwork quickly. If the attorney is spending time on the document preparation, you're loosing.

Even within those areas though, things will be very different in your local area. Personally, I work in the debt restructuring (mostly bankruptcy) and tax worlds. We have an office in NC's third largest city, and an office in a very rural location. Bankruptcy is all done on referral basis, so there is no need to advertise period. Tax is done mostly on passive advertisements, SEO search terms and website visibility for the larger city office, because the expected client is technologically savvy and is looking for you. In the small rural office, web marketing does nothing. They prefer paper advertisements in "free" papers (the local papers, auto traders, yellow pages, ect.).

So it all really matters on the geographic location (both state and mini market) and the practice area.

It might be better to do threads based on state, or practice area within the legal field.

GU

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2017, 12:18:37 PM »
I applaud the thought and attempt, but I don't think this thread is going to work quite as well as you think it will.

The legal profession is a little odd, and very different from most other businesses as it relates to marketing, practice management, client acquisition, and similar areas. First off, law firms and attorneys are governed by their state. What you can do in state A would be illegal in state B (advertising laws, solicitation laws, ect.). Aside from that, even within one state the methodologies will vary widely from practice area to practice area. Even within practice areas, there are subsets that have very different targets and goals.

I'll give you a few examples.

1. If your practice area is criminal law focusing on court appointed cases, your marketing strategy will be zero. Your goal is to operate as efficiently as possible, with few to no employees.
2. If your practice area is criminal law, focusing on traffic citations, your goal will be volume. The most tickets you can do per day, at the lowest cost you can get away with (to beat your competition), the higher your profit. You'll do mass mailings to everyone that received a ticket (if you can, per your state) and hope mass numbers makes you profit. You'll need low overhead, but need to keep everyone working very efficiently. Having one or two paralegals to keep track of all your phone calls will help, but low pay is a requirement (as there isn't much legal research or drafting involved).
3. If your practice area is personal injury, you'll need to advertise heavily. Billboards, newspaper adds, yellow pages, tv commercials, everything you can get away with. You'll need a staff on standby when you need to go to trial, but be able to keep them busy doing other things for the 98% of the cases that settle (where you really make your money). You typically have large overhead, and need the next big case to pay for the office for a while. Big, visible office space is premium.
4. If your practice area is real estate closings, you're going to operate on volume as well, only advertising generally won't work squat for you. You need to get in with several real estate agents, and have a good networking and referral base. That means shaking hands, going to networking events, handing out cards, ect. You'll need several paralegals to work cases as efficiently as possible, churning out HUD statements and paperwork quickly. If the attorney is spending time on the document preparation, you're loosing.

Even within those areas though, things will be very different in your local area. Personally, I work in the debt restructuring (mostly bankruptcy) and tax worlds. We have an office in NC's third largest city, and an office in a very rural location. Bankruptcy is all done on referral basis, so there is no need to advertise period. Tax is done mostly on passive advertisements, SEO search terms and website visibility for the larger city office, because the expected client is technologically savvy and is looking for you. In the small rural office, web marketing does nothing. They prefer paper advertisements in "free" papers (the local papers, auto traders, yellow pages, ect.).

So it all really matters on the geographic location (both state and mini market) and the practice area.

It might be better to do threads based on state, or practice area within the legal field.

Good points here, but I still think there's value in hearing others' experiences, even if they're in a different state or practice area.  Simply noting the type of practice and (roughly) where it's located should be a sufficient caveat. 

I wish I had substantive things to contribute to this thread, but I'm a Biglaw drone.

bwall

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2017, 12:22:13 PM »
I saw this show on TV about lawyers and I thought it had a few good ideas on starting a practice and side-hustles. I think the name was "Better Call Saul". Has anyone here seen it? Would anything they showed there actually work?

specialkayme

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2017, 02:37:23 PM »
Good points here, but I still think there's value in hearing others' experiences, even if they're in a different state or practice area.  Simply noting the type of practice and (roughly) where it's located should be a sufficient caveat. 

As long as you keep in mind that what worked for the poster may actually HARM your practice. Depending on your practice and geographic area.

shawndoggy

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2017, 03:29:27 PM »
Bottom line to build a practice, you need your phone to ring because someone wants to get to you.

As noted above, if you are doing purely consumer oriented work, advertising may help.  Think immigration, consumer bankruptcy, divorce, criminal defense, personal injury, etc.

That being said, I can't think of a single practice area that doesn't benefit from having trusted referral sources. Often times just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring from some random yahoo is going to be a huge waste of time.  On the other hand, if another lawyer, accountant, realtor (or whatever) is referring a case to you, the case has already been filtered once by someone you trust.  The best lawyers, even in those very consumer driven areas, usually don't advertise at all because they have plenty of work from word of mouth referral sources.

So my advice is to build a professional network.  What that network is going to look like is certainly going to be different from practice area to practice area, but the idea is the same.  Forge relationships with people who you'd like to refer you work.

How do you do this?

  • get involved in a local bar association
    get involved in a local professional organization (young professionals type group)
    get involved in a local service organization (lions/rotary/etc)
    get involved in industry associations (i.e. you wanna be a steel mill lawyer, join the steel mill association)
    get involved in other local organizations (Got a good bit of work from being involved in a father-daughter group when my daughter was little)
    teach a CLE in your area of expertise
    take your mentor to lunch
    take other area lawyers to lunch
    get involved with a national bar association / ABA section (for instance if your area of expertise is narrow, you may want to be the local expert but your referral sources will be biglaw types who need someone in your field in tinytown USA).

VeggieGirl

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2017, 08:53:31 AM »
Thanks to everyone who posted. I find the information useful and helpful even if it doesn't apply to all practices.

Junto Club Gardener

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2017, 05:29:56 PM »
I am licensed in Minnesota, and have recently started my own practice.  The three resources that I found to be the most beneficial are:  (a) Minnesota CLE courses and materials on the topic generally described as "how to start and build your own law practice"; (b) the Solo & Small Firm Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association; and (c) a terrific coach that I just happened to luck into finding. 


NorCal

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2017, 10:06:39 PM »
Posting as my wife works in Biglaw and has considered going solo.  She mostly does work related to venture financing and securities offerings.  We're currently in the Bay Area, but will likely relocate in the next few years.  Likely locations are heavily influenced by ease of passing the bar in different states.  We are hoping to negotiate a location transfer within her firm.

The current idea is to reach something close to FI before she starts a solo practice.  We would semi-retire, but she would try and keep 5-10 clients that she likes in order to stay mentally engaged.  This would generate enough income to avoid needing to draw down on the portfolio for a few years, and maybe add the ability to add additional travel in retirement.

Some of the biggest questions are simply logistical.  How much does liability insurance and CLE cost?  What IT services and software packages are needed?  Does she need a website, or just an email address?

totoro

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2017, 10:53:45 PM »
Some of the biggest questions are simply logistical.  How much does liability insurance and CLE cost?  What IT services and software packages are needed?  Does she need a website, or just an email address?

You can find out the costs of liability insurance by calling your bar association.  It is about 3.5k for PT practice where I am. 

CLE might or might not be needed as it is usually free at the law library, but a subscription for Quicklaw or Esilaw probably is needed at about $150 a month. 

I used Clio for billing.  I think about $120 per month for a single user but you can check online.  IT services were contracted at $30/hour. 

Software is the standard MS Office/Word for business and Adobe professional version that allows PDF conversion.   She probably needs a website, but wordpress is cheap and will do for a solo practice depending on her market - people like to google contact info these days.  She does need email but it comes with wordpress and the host server - ours is $10 a month I think.  Also still probably needs a fax service and does need a printer/scanner/copier.   

Professional development credits can be completed for free often.  Many options including study with a group of lawyers or teaching a course or writing a paper.

I'm in Canada so US prices might differ but it is pretty inexpensive to set up a solo practice, particularly if you work from home or keep your office costs low.  The cheapest out of house office costs might be renting an unused office in a firm that practices in a different area of law.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #12 on: April 11, 2017, 07:38:28 AM »
I applaud the thought and attempt, but I don't think this thread is going to work quite as well as you think it will.

The legal profession is a little odd, and very different from most other businesses as it relates to marketing, practice management, client acquisition, and similar areas. First off, law firms and attorneys are governed by their state. What you can do in state A would be illegal in state B (advertising laws, solicitation laws, ect.). Aside from that, even within one state the methodologies will vary widely from practice area to practice area. Even within practice areas, there are subsets that have very different targets and goals.

I'll give you a few examples.

1. If your practice area is criminal law focusing on court appointed cases, your marketing strategy will be zero. Your goal is to operate as efficiently as possible, with few to no employees.
2. If your practice area is criminal law, focusing on traffic citations, your goal will be volume. The most tickets you can do per day, at the lowest cost you can get away with (to beat your competition), the higher your profit. You'll do mass mailings to everyone that received a ticket (if you can, per your state) and hope mass numbers makes you profit. You'll need low overhead, but need to keep everyone working very efficiently. Having one or two paralegals to keep track of all your phone calls will help, but low pay is a requirement (as there isn't much legal research or drafting involved).
3. If your practice area is personal injury, you'll need to advertise heavily. Billboards, newspaper adds, yellow pages, tv commercials, everything you can get away with. You'll need a staff on standby when you need to go to trial, but be able to keep them busy doing other things for the 98% of the cases that settle (where you really make your money). You typically have large overhead, and need the next big case to pay for the office for a while. Big, visible office space is premium.
4. If your practice area is real estate closings, you're going to operate on volume as well, only advertising generally won't work squat for you. You need to get in with several real estate agents, and have a good networking and referral base. That means shaking hands, going to networking events, handing out cards, ect. You'll need several paralegals to work cases as efficiently as possible, churning out HUD statements and paperwork quickly. If the attorney is spending time on the document preparation, you're loosing.

Even within those areas though, things will be very different in your local area. Personally, I work in the debt restructuring (mostly bankruptcy) and tax worlds. We have an office in NC's third largest city, and an office in a very rural location. Bankruptcy is all done on referral basis, so there is no need to advertise period. Tax is done mostly on passive advertisements, SEO search terms and website visibility for the larger city office, because the expected client is technologically savvy and is looking for you. In the small rural office, web marketing does nothing. They prefer paper advertisements in "free" papers (the local papers, auto traders, yellow pages, ect.).

So it all really matters on the geographic location (both state and mini market) and the practice area.

It might be better to do threads based on state, or practice area within the legal field.

I certainly can appreciate the differences between different states and practice areas. However, I think sub-specializing to the degree you articulate is a bit ambitious on a personal finance/lifestyle website. It may be possible on my state bar's listserv, but I'm not joining that and posting about going solo while I'm still employed.

I do think there is a wide variety of information that can be applicable for us here. Look at Jay Foonberg's "How to Start and Build a Law Practice" and successful blogs like Lawyerist and MyShingle. All three of those authors are in different jurisdictions and vastly different practice areas, yet their advice resonates because there are some things that transfer well no matter what jurisdiction or practice area you're in.

No more zero days. Promise yourself that you will do one thing every day that takes you one step closer to your goal.

Malum Prohibitum

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #13 on: April 11, 2017, 07:39:29 AM »
Where is Fireby35.  That's the guy to whom you need to speak.

FIREby35

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #14 on: April 11, 2017, 02:42:20 PM »
Ha! I'm right here. Actually, I'm going down a rabbit hole right now on legal marketing. I've been at it for the last six-ish months reading every damn thing I can find and I've probably talked with 10 different ad agencies.

Up to now my practice has been all about personal connections for the last six years and I've never paid for advertising. Being involved in the bar, on boards of directors, lots of community service targeting my demographic. That has been pretty successful. Actually, it has taken me 75% of the way to FIRE in those six years and just doing that will have me end up with way more money than I'll ever spend.

The key (in my opinion) is to actually pick a demographic and focus on it. If it is immigrants injured in accidents (my clients) then who are your clients, who are they calling when injured, what are their questions, recurring problems, etcetera. If you really know your client, you can start looking for them strategically in certain places. Even better than looking for them is looking for the other service providers for the client in the same situation and making relationships with those people. But, you have to have a focus. It is hard to get clients if you say, "Will someone, anyone, please hire me. Bueller?"

Now I'm trying to jump to that next level on the personal injury front (highly competitive) by coming up with a comprehensive strategy for all the various modes of communication. BUT I want all my stuff targeted to Spanish speakers. It has been surprisingly difficult to find a marketing firm that has all the qualities I want - legal marketing experience, Spanish marketing experience, local experience, digital and traditional experience, reasonable price (hahahaha). They want to sell me their English product with Spanish as an afterthought. They want to sell me a website for a bunch of money with no overall strategy. Whatever. I finally won the "big case," I've got the business systems, the money and the desire. Guess what? I can't find a good business partner to help with systematic marketing! Where is my Don Draper? I'm even calling marketing firms in Mexico to try and find someone. Donaldo Drapez? I'll crack this nut, but it has been harder than I ever imagined.

So, if anyone is on the other end of the tunnel and knows a proven, aggressive, bi-lingual marketing firm - I'm all ears.


crimwell

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #15 on: May 09, 2017, 11:14:12 PM »
. It has been surprisingly difficult to find a marketing firm that has all the qualities I want - legal marketing experience, Spanish marketing experience, local experience, digital and traditional experience, reasonable price (hahahaha). They want to sell me their English product with Spanish as an afterthought. They want to sell me a website for a bunch of money with no overall strategy. Whatever. I finally won the "big case," I've got the business systems, the money and the desire. Guess what? I can't find a good business partner to help with systematic marketing! Where is my Don Draper? I'm even calling marketing firms in Mexico to try and find someone. Donaldo Drapez? I'll crack this nut, but it has been harder than I ever imagined.

So, if anyone is on the other end of the tunnel and knows a proven, aggressive, bi-lingual marketing firm - I'm all ears.

I'm assuming this means you work in a region with many Spanish speakers. Have you tried looking in a different region that also has a lot of Spanish speakers? I.e., if you're in California, have you tried looking for firms in Miami (or vice versa)?

 Where I'm really going with this is: you might want to look for a firm in another jurisdiction (i.e. not a direct competitor) that has marketing material that looks like what you want. If you're in California or TX, call up the guys in Miami and see who their marketing firms are. You're not going  to directly take their business so they'll be more likely to want to help out, especially since it could lead to profitable referrals either way. I might be way off here but it seems like it would be worth a shot

FIREby35

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #16 on: May 10, 2017, 01:56:11 PM »
. It has been surprisingly difficult to find a marketing firm that has all the qualities I want - legal marketing experience, Spanish marketing experience, local experience, digital and traditional experience, reasonable price (hahahaha). They want to sell me their English product with Spanish as an afterthought. They want to sell me a website for a bunch of money with no overall strategy. Whatever. I finally won the "big case," I've got the business systems, the money and the desire. Guess what? I can't find a good business partner to help with systematic marketing! Where is my Don Draper? I'm even calling marketing firms in Mexico to try and find someone. Donaldo Drapez? I'll crack this nut, but it has been harder than I ever imagined.

So, if anyone is on the other end of the tunnel and knows a proven, aggressive, bi-lingual marketing firm - I'm all ears.

I'm assuming this means you work in a region with many Spanish speakers. Have you tried looking in a different region that also has a lot of Spanish speakers? I.e., if you're in California, have you tried looking for firms in Miami (or vice versa)?

 Where I'm really going with this is: you might want to look for a firm in another jurisdiction (i.e. not a direct competitor) that has marketing material that looks like what you want. If you're in California or TX, call up the guys in Miami and see who their marketing firms are. You're not going  to directly take their business so they'll be more likely to want to help out, especially since it could lead to profitable referrals either way. I might be way off here but it seems like it would be worth a shot

I'm in a region with way more Spanish speakers than Spanish speaking professionals. In the Midwest where people don't really think of it, but there happens to be a significant population. Anyway, I ultimately did what you suggested but with a twist. I found two companies to work with. The first in California where they were shocked to get a call from the Midwest. I also hired a digital marketing firm in Mexico City. With them I get the Spanish angle and I get to pay Mexican prices - which are approximately 20% the price of the American competitors. Now I'm just in the phase of waiting to see if the results from the selected strategies.

crimwell

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #17 on: July 21, 2017, 08:39:14 AM »
Awesome, good luck

arkanlawyer

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #18 on: September 16, 2017, 09:52:26 PM »
3rd year commercial litigation associate here.  My long-term plan is to start a solo practice in my tertiary market.

My goal would be to gross $100K a year by billing, on average, 2 billable hours a day at $200 an hour.  Put another way, I would like to gross about $400 in revenue a day. 

Here's my plan: Home office with some kind of office sharing arrangement for client meetings.  Basic Westlaw, a remote phone answering service, and some kind of catastrophic malpractice insurance policy would be my basic overhead. 

As for practice areas - I would like my bread and butter to be very basic litigation (think standard business breaches of contract, guardianships, replevins, etc).  The beautiful thing is that my bar association puts out a comprehensive form book which is easily transferable to Word, and by using fields, the forms populate themselves.  I've already done this in my day to day practice and it's been very efficient.  I would like to double down on this for several other types of actions (quiet titles and unlawful detainers are in my sights too). 

I would like to create a flat fee price list along the lines of "Uncontested Guardianship - $1000 - Includes 30 minute initial consultation and 3 phone calls." 

If I can get this going, I would probably hire a college student part time to do data entry on the forms just to minimize my involvement in form creation.

Is this crazy?  I mean, it's basically what my boss does (we end up flat feeing everything, but he doesn't advertise that way), so I see it as a viable business model.  But maybe this is a race to the bottom that won't end well?  Any critiques would be appreciated!

FIREby35

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #19 on: September 18, 2017, 07:55:28 AM »
You know, I do flat fees all the time. Here are a couple thoughts on how it works for me.

First, if I were you I would not tell the clients they get three phone calls. That will happen naturally if you can screen out high maintenance clients (which you get better at with practice) and you answer or return calls within 24 hours.

The returning calls thing is a weird deal. If your clients feel like they can get access to you quickly and without a hassle then they won't call as much. It is when the client's feel like you are avoiding them, too busy for them or otherwise forgetting their case that you get people who blow up your phone, try to "capture" you on the phone by talking without a purpose and other various symptoms of an abused client.

Any time you are putting limits on a client's access to you I feel you are setting up an oppositional relationship. For example, the call limit says, "I don't really want to talk to you so you can only call three times. Seriously, I'm to busy for your stupid questions." I don't think that is the attitude you want to project to clients.

On the other hand, unlimited calls while you always respond quickly and answer questions willingly projects an attitude of client focused service.

Which attitude will result in future referals? I have had happy clients on the phone who called and their question had nothing to do with their case but instead was about their "cousin who was just hospitalized when a semi-truck crossed the center line." Do you think we need an attorney? Umm YES! Please tell me when I can see them. You get the idea, right? You WANT your clients to call you with legal questions - that is how you get clients!

As for the second issue, I prefer flat fees for basic tasks to hourly. It should end up being more expensive than hourly but that is not what clients care about (in my experience). In my experience, a client loves a flat fee because it gives them certainty and removes money as a consideration from the relationship. They don't have to worry about getting billed for a call, the attorney having an incentive to over charge them, receive a billing statement, etcetera. You also will like it because it will make your billing and trust issues MUCH simpler.

If you detect a case that is going to be complicated because there is an issue you can spot in the consult, they you tell the client your basic price and explain to them that their case is "special" due to the issue that you can foresee right now and that you will charge them $500, $1,000 or however much more due to the complication. If I can't accurately gauge how much work the issue is going to be I will tell the client that I'm going to charge them the standard fee at this time but I reserve the right to request additional funds in the event the issue becomes a problem. I then send a short letter saying the same and make a note of it in their file - that way they can't claim "surprise" and I don't feel bad for charging extra. I obviously try to minimize that but it does happen. The standard thing to say to the client would be, "I could charge you extra up front but I don't want to do that since I might overcharge you. I prefer to see how it goes and, if necessary, ask for additional fees." They never say no to that!

In fact, my firm is gonna gross 750k this year (best year ever with a big PI settlement juicing the numbers) and we won't have a single hourly billing case. It is all contingency and flat fee. I think hourly billing is destructive to client relationships and the mental health of attorneys. So, if I were you I would absolutely begin learning how to appropriately offer flat fees to clients. Everyone wins.

bwall

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #20 on: September 18, 2017, 02:42:44 PM »
FIREby35: +1

I wish you were my atty. Seriously. I've had attorney's not return my call, and, as you describe below, I blew up on him. "At $350/hr, why can't you talk to me!?! If I didn't need an atty, I wouldn't use one. But, I have no choice, so why aren't you available." It was a bad phone call for all parties, to say the least.

And, as a client I'd rather pay a flat fee, even if it is higher, than think "how much is this email going to cost me?" or "phone calls are billed in five (or is it 15?) minute increments; so better be sure to talk for four or five minutes, not one, two, six or seven." I don't like having those thoughts, but who wants to be wasteful?
Fortunately, I've never had that 'special' kind of case that you are describing, but if I was a client, I'd much rather have your explanation than 'Yep! That's right, $X per hour!'

One a side note: an accountant recently sent me a bill for $3000, based on hourly rates, for a tax that required calculations of five entries from the bank statement. That was one year ago and I still haven't paid that invoice, or any other subsequent invoice they sent. In the meantime, I've negotiated that down to $500, but it's still too high; shouldn't be more than $150 and then I'm being very generous. So, I owe them about $7500, but I'm not paying anything until I get the other invoice down to $150. I'll pay it, but not too soon. Needless to say, our relationship is not good. I've referred many clients, but none to them.

bwall

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #21 on: September 18, 2017, 02:50:38 PM »
But maybe this is a race to the bottom that won't end well?  Any critiques would be appreciated!

The race to the bottom is already on the way. Computer software can now replace a lawyer:
http://www.npr.org/2017/01/16/510096767/robot-lawyer-makes-the-case-against-parking-tickets

But wait! You say, it's illegal for someone charge for legal advice if they're not a lawyer! Well, they don't. They give it away.

Or how about this one, where lawyers are the next to be outsourced:
https://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/17/lawyers-could-be-replaced-by-artificial-intelligence.html

Free trade, automation, innovation is all well and good when it's an uneducated blue collar guy losing his job. But, when it's a lawyer? Someone who's job it is to craft 'winning arguments'? The coming decades will be interesting indeed.

FIREby35

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #22 on: September 19, 2017, 07:06:44 AM »
But maybe this is a race to the bottom that won't end well?  Any critiques would be appreciated!

The race to the bottom is already on the way. Computer software can now replace a lawyer:
http://www.npr.org/2017/01/16/510096767/robot-lawyer-makes-the-case-against-parking-tickets

But wait! You say, it's illegal for someone charge for legal advice if they're not a lawyer! Well, they don't. They give it away.

Or how about this one, where lawyers are the next to be outsourced:
https://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/17/lawyers-could-be-replaced-by-artificial-intelligence.html

Free trade, automation, innovation is all well and good when it's an uneducated blue collar guy losing his job. But, when it's a lawyer? Someone who's job it is to craft 'winning arguments'? The coming decades will be interesting indeed.

A good lawyer's job will never be replaced by a computer. I chuckle at the thought of a computer knowing how to talk to each judge, prosecutor, city official, state official. I know exactly what I'm going to say to the crazy aggressive judge at sentencing (hint, nothing because he/she is crazy and my job is to enter and exit without being noticed) vs. the persuadable judge. Does the robot know who to call to quash an arrest warrant for a widower who missed court set for the day of the funeral? Anyway, you see my point. There is a huge amount of human interaction and creativity in the job of a lawyer and a computer will never replace that.

Clients who rely on computers eventually find attorneys to fix things. It is all about patience.

bwall

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #23 on: September 19, 2017, 08:23:38 AM »
Oh, of course there will still be a need for lawyers, even as today there is still a need for workers on the factory floor to operate the high end machines or 3-d printers. But, at the margin, some work can (and will) be replaced. I'm thinking of areas of law that don't require much personal interaction with officials, real estate closings, trusts and estates, writing contracts, immigration, or in the example above, helping to get out of parking tickets. Of course no lawyer makes a career out of beating parking tickets, or even earns much money during the course of a career by doing that. But, these are still early days.

At first automation will appear as 'increased productivity'; see the example by arkanlawyer of self-populating fields, then it will progress. It may take ten years. Or more. But, change is inevitable. If we can automate driving a car (!!!), then I think that we can automate just about anything, if we as a society decide to do so.

As you mention, if you're specialized in an area of law requiring human interaction and creativity, then you should be least (or last?) affected.


M0ntana

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #24 on: September 19, 2017, 09:51:53 AM »
Hey guys, long time lurker here. Decided to sign up for this as I could definitely profit from this conversation.

I'm a nearly-2nd year post-call attorney from Canada. I must say I am very impressed by the model you created, FIREby35. To be able to gross out 750K$ out of a PI firm without spending tends of thousands on billboard advertising is quite admirable. I also sense like you're quite a bit more market-savvy then most lawyers I meet - which might be why you're doing so well. Though I'm a newbie in the field still, I must say I don't see why more lawyers refuse to see their practice as just another service small business.

My goal would definitely be to go solo as well, but I do resist the urge to spread my entrepreneurial wings due to my lack of practice experience. I am hoping to take the plunge in maybe a year or two - when I'll finally feel like I have at least a bit of an idea of what I am doing.

In the meantime, what I'd REALLY like to do is find an old lawyer with an established practice willing to partner up with me as his/her exit strategy. This would allow me to ease into solo practice while also freeing me from the soul crusing practice of billables-for-a-salary. Indeed, I have a very hard time reconciling myself with the idea that I get paid the same whether I don't sleep for two weeks straight working on a big trial or goofing around with the others before leaving at 4h30. I'd rather get out what I put in, be it very long hours for little cash at the beginning - I'd least I'll know nobody's making thousands on my back every week.

I'll definitely keep my eyes open for a mentor/partner, but the fact that my current job allows me to learn a lot keeps the depressing aspect of salaried lawyering bearable for the time being. Still, I can't wait to do it on my own terms!

Cheers guys,
-M



« Last Edit: September 19, 2017, 03:10:13 PM by M0ntana »

FIREby35

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #25 on: September 19, 2017, 01:52:31 PM »
Bwall - I didn't mean to be confrontational on the technology part. I absolutely see technology changing the practice and so we agree. For me, I've already started looking for new revenue streams since I anticipate driverless cars will crush the personal injury lawyers who can't imagine a world with 95% fewer car accidents.

M0ntana - I actually started my own practice inside another law firm right out of school. It was a good combo where I had "eat what you kill" earning incentives and a bunch of great attorneys to mentor me and show me the ropes. In your case, learning the trade a little while on salary is a great start. But, don't think that just because you are on salary doesn't mean you can't find a niche and build a client base and referral relationships that will follow you when the time is right. Start being strategic now. It will help you now (to negotiate a better salary) and later when you leave.

The idea of finding a retiring older attorney to take over their practice is a good one. I've seen some people do that very successfully. In my area, finding a small town practice where the attorney has a geographic area where he/she is "the attorney" is very profitable. If you don't like small towns, finding an older city attorney is good. The key on that is to make sure they are actually planning on retiring and not stringing you along for their own benefit. I've seen that happen more than once.

PS Letting go of the "I'm an important attorney" ego trip and running a law firm like any other service based small business is exactly what has to be done to make it really work. Systems, processes, procedures, communication amongst team members and total focus on client satisfaction will win the day in any business - including a law firm. The surprising part is how few firms actually do those things.

M0ntana

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #26 on: September 19, 2017, 02:57:46 PM »
Bwall - I didn't mean to be confrontational on the technology part. I absolutely see technology changing the practice and so we agree. For me, I've already started looking for new revenue streams since I anticipate driverless cars will crush the personal injury lawyers who can't imagine a world with 95% fewer car accidents.

M0ntana - I actually started my own practice inside another law firm right out of school. It was a good combo where I had "eat what you kill" earning incentives and a bunch of great attorneys to mentor me and show me the ropes. In your case, learning the trade a little while on salary is a great start. But, don't think that just because you are on salary doesn't mean you can't find a niche and build a client base and referral relationships that will follow you when the time is right. Start being strategic now. It will help you now (to negotiate a better salary) and later when you leave.

The idea of finding a retiring older attorney to take over their practice is a good one. I've seen some people do that very successfully. In my area, finding a small town practice where the attorney has a geographic area where he/she is "the attorney" is very profitable. If you don't like small towns, finding an older city attorney is good. The key on that is to make sure they are actually planning on retiring and not stringing you along for their own benefit. I've seen that happen more than once.

PS Letting go of the "I'm an important attorney" ego trip and running a law firm like any other service based small business is exactly what has to be done to make it really work. Systems, processes, procedures, communication amongst team members and total focus on client satisfaction will win the day in any business - including a law firm. The surprising part is how few firms actually do those things.

Some great words of wisdom there - thank you so very much for sharing.

I am trying as hard as I can to make do with what I have now, but the fact that I am not practicing in a niche that is very conducive to solo practice (complex medical liability/disciplinary litigation with large insurance firms for clients) does not really allow me to build a future solo practice. I have been considering switching to a more "personal"/consumer firm doing crim defense or even (god forbid) family law, but the fact that I genuinely looove what I do now and get a LOT of trial experience is making me quite iffy about it. I know my present practice would probably be most relevant to a future career in PI, but that market really is saturated here. Basically, as long as I do high-stakes litigation, I know I'll be very happy.

I'd be very happy to leave the city for a more outcentred/LCOL area... I guess I have some asking around to see who's THE go-to lawyer...

Thanks for your advice, wishing you were local so I could get you a beer or two!
-M

bwall

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #27 on: September 19, 2017, 03:05:15 PM »
I'd never considered that one of the knock-on effects of fewer accidents due to autonomous driving cars would be less work for personal injury lawyers. But after you point it out, it's as plain as the nose on your face. The best thing to do is to prepare and be ahead of the curve, as you say you are doing.

Technological change always produces winners and losers. Autonomous driving is set to do this in many areas.

FIREby35

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #28 on: September 20, 2017, 06:42:35 AM »
Bwall - I didn't mean to be confrontational on the technology part. I absolutely see technology changing the practice and so we agree. For me, I've already started looking for new revenue streams since I anticipate driverless cars will crush the personal injury lawyers who can't imagine a world with 95% fewer car accidents.

M0ntana - I actually started my own practice inside another law firm right out of school. It was a good combo where I had "eat what you kill" earning incentives and a bunch of great attorneys to mentor me and show me the ropes. In your case, learning the trade a little while on salary is a great start. But, don't think that just because you are on salary doesn't mean you can't find a niche and build a client base and referral relationships that will follow you when the time is right. Start being strategic now. It will help you now (to negotiate a better salary) and later when you leave.

The idea of finding a retiring older attorney to take over their practice is a good one. I've seen some people do that very successfully. In my area, finding a small town practice where the attorney has a geographic area where he/she is "the attorney" is very profitable. If you don't like small towns, finding an older city attorney is good. The key on that is to make sure they are actually planning on retiring and not stringing you along for their own benefit. I've seen that happen more than once.

PS Letting go of the "I'm an important attorney" ego trip and running a law firm like any other service based small business is exactly what has to be done to make it really work. Systems, processes, procedures, communication amongst team members and total focus on client satisfaction will win the day in any business - including a law firm. The surprising part is how few firms actually do those things.

Some great words of wisdom there - thank you so very much for sharing.

I am trying as hard as I can to make do with what I have now, but the fact that I am not practicing in a niche that is very conducive to solo practice (complex medical liability/disciplinary litigation with large insurance firms for clients) does not really allow me to build a future solo practice. I have been considering switching to a more "personal"/consumer firm doing crim defense or even (god forbid) family law, but the fact that I genuinely looove what I do now and get a LOT of trial experience is making me quite iffy about it. I know my present practice would probably be most relevant to a future career in PI, but that market really is saturated here. Basically, as long as I do high-stakes litigation, I know I'll be very happy.

I'd be very happy to leave the city for a more outcentred/LCOL area... I guess I have some asking around to see who's THE go-to lawyer...

Thanks for your advice, wishing you were local so I could get you a beer or two!
-M

M0ntana -

I don't know if you are doing medical malpractice by the way you described your practice. But, if you are (even for the defense) you might be in a better position than you think. I have one friend who owns his own small firm (2 attorneys) and they are 100% medical malpractice litigation for Plaintiffs. As you probably know, these are complex cases with very high stakes (i.e. lots of money on the line). That means that if you know your stuff and you can screen and take good cases you can make a lot of money. It's always important to note you can earn a lot of money while helping families deal with a medical tragedy and that your work will have an amazing positive benefit on the client.

Anyway, I don't do medical malpractice because it is so complex. I do refer all my med mal to one specific guy and we have a standing co-counsel relationship. So, one day at lunch he tells me that he paid over $700,000 in co-counsel fees in one year (for all the referrals) but that he grossed 2.1 million. He does have a very good staff of about six people who are extremely professional and cost more than your average legal administrative team. But still, he is crushing it.

A Plaintiff's med mal firm is definitely not the easiest firm to build, but there is some serious upside.

One way to be strategic in this scenario is to see who all the defense people are and build positive relationships. They will have Plaintiff work they can't do because of conflicts and you want to demonstrate your competence so they send it to you if/when you are on your own. Actually, you want to do the same with all the Plaintiff attorneys you work with as well.

M0ntana

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #29 on: September 20, 2017, 09:53:21 AM »
M0ntana -

I don't know if you are doing medical malpractice by the way you described your practice. But, if you are (even for the defense) you might be in a better position than you think. I have one friend who owns his own small firm (2 attorneys) and they are 100% medical malpractice litigation for Plaintiffs. As you probably know, these are complex cases with very high stakes (i.e. lots of money on the line). That means that if you know your stuff and you can screen and take good cases you can make a lot of money. It's always important to note you can earn a lot of money while helping families deal with a medical tragedy and that your work will have an amazing positive benefit on the client.

Anyway, I don't do medical malpractice because it is so complex. I do refer all my med mal to one specific guy and we have a standing co-counsel relationship. So, one day at lunch he tells me that he paid over $700,000 in co-counsel fees in one year (for all the referrals) but that he grossed 2.1 million. He does have a very good staff of about six people who are extremely professional and cost more than your average legal administrative team. But still, he is crushing it.

A Plaintiff's med mal firm is definitely not the easiest firm to build, but there is some serious upside.

One way to be strategic in this scenario is to see who all the defense people are and build positive relationships. They will have Plaintiff work they can't do because of conflicts and you want to demonstrate your competence so they send it to you if/when you are on your own. Actually, you want to do the same with all the Plaintiff attorneys you work with as well.

Some great stuff to think about, once again.

I do quite a bit of malpractice defense indeed. Thing is, in Canada, all doctors have to subscribe to the same malpractice insurer. This means that defense work is very corporatist, and relies on a long-term relationship with said insurer. There is thus no "reference" work to be done from the Plaintiffs' side, as all files just fall on your desk when you work for the firm who landed the whale.

Still, this got me thinking. One rather big boutique firm (25-30 attorneys) is currently the mamoth in my area for PI/MM stuff. Still, the town I am considering relocating to is quite far from where they operate, so there might be some niche market opportunity provided I market myself well...

Thing is, it'll be tough to keep the initial biz lean if I have to go full-on contigency from the get-go (which I understand is the only real way to go with MM)... Any thoughts on that? I feel like I could probably be quite apt at getting the right cases on, but we all know how long it can take to get a settlement even in slam-dunk cases... Also, the up-front costs of multiple expert reports could probably burry me into the ground in complex cases. Did you ever discuss this with people doing this kind of thing?

Thanks so much once again!
-M

FIREby35

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #30 on: September 20, 2017, 02:40:18 PM »
Well, starting a contingency business is actually a little complicated because of what you said - you can't start your firm purely on contingency cases. It takes to long between getting hired and getting paid - usually years. That means it takes years to build the business where you are settling cases regularly and getting hired on new cases regularly. It took me six years, as an example. I just now have the pipeline but it is still not nearly as big as the more established firms. That is my current work, getting more cases into the firm so that I can be settling more cases in two or three years while I settle cases from two or three years ago now! Ahh, did that make sense?

Anyway, to build a contingency practice you have to take the cases and then wait for them to settle. In the meantime you need something to provide cash. I did criminal work - cash retainers up front. I did immigration work - cash retainers up front. I filed ADA civil rights lawsuits. I incorporated businesses. I did name changes and basically anything else I could. Today I still do limited criminal work and immigration work because they allow me to have a larger client base and, hey, a little up front cash never hurt anyone. It helps bridge the gap between the settlements.

So, to build a med mal firm will not be easy. At least in the US you would also be looking at serious litigation costs that need to be fronted. That is another problem for a beginner. One potential solution is to co-counsel with another firm. When I have a case that is going to have a lot of litigation costs, I partner with the dean of PI attorneys in my state. Former President of Trial Attorneys, political party chair, you get the idea - well known and good. He offers a 50/50 split and he fronts all costs. In those situations, he actually does all the work and I just ride shotgun. I don't mind letting him front the costs, do the work and pay me 50% of the fee. You could give up a smaller percentage in return for only fronting the costs. But, you'd have to find the right attorney. But, the right attorney is out there, you just have to find them.

BTW, one important thing to remember is that it is actually not impossible to do what you are thinking. It's easy for our minds to convert "hard" to "impossible." Sometimes people look at me and my firm and say, "I could never do that." I'm always like, "What are you talking about." Think about it, running a law firm is not rocket science. It is as old a business model as you can think of - who do you think defended the oldest profession when they were going to be kicked out of the cave? How about the second oldest profession! But, if Thomas Moore was able to manage a family and law firm in the 1500's and John Adams could do it in the 1700's why can't you do it today? You can. You don't even have to invent anything new - just learn how people have been doing it since time immemorial. It's all out there.

One last thing, you said you love your job. So you don't have to be in a hurry. That is not my point. It's just that if/when the time is right you should be able to do it. But the time has to be right.

P.S. Forgive my American lawyer examples. I know you are Canadian, I just don't know any famous Canadian lawyers to reference!

lexde

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #31 on: September 21, 2017, 07:36:44 AM »
I work in insurance and WC defense. My mom does Bankruptcy and has over the years limited her practice to mostly coverage work. I'd like to help her get more clients, but she doesn't have a large advertising budget. Even 1 or 2 clients a month would be a nice boost in income for her and I could help prepare petitions (I did this for a while) as a side hustle and get "paid" in extra payments made to my student loan.

I just don't know where to look for clients. I know that when the inevitable recession hits, business will increase dramatically, but until then even a handful of clients would be great.

Does anyone have ideas for pulling in individuals? Most clients are middle-class, some college education, average age is probably late 40s to early 50s.


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xfactor9600

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Re: The Law Practice Thread
« Reply #32 on: September 22, 2017, 02:41:43 PM »
I work in insurance and WC defense. My mom does Bankruptcy and has over the years limited her practice to mostly coverage work. I'd like to help her get more clients, but she doesn't have a large advertising budget. Even 1 or 2 clients a month would be a nice boost in income for her and I could help prepare petitions (I did this for a while) as a side hustle and get "paid" in extra payments made to my student loan.

I just don't know where to look for clients. I know that when the inevitable recession hits, business will increase dramatically, but until then even a handful of clients would be great.

Does anyone have ideas for pulling in individuals? Most clients are middle-class, some college education, average age is probably late 40s to early 50s.


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What about just doing more Bar events and things like that?  I refer all my bankruptcy work to people I know do it.


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