Connecticut Law Tribune/National Law Journal - April 30, 2007
Every semester, to drive home the point that law school students can hang a shingle successfully upon graduation, I invite a panel of recent Quinnipiac University School of Law grads to speak to my Law Office Management class. They bring a fresh reality of the very real possibilities that await newly minted solos in today's legal and economic climate.
One graduate, who I did not have the pleasure of knowing in law school, asked me if he could participate. His story is uplifting.
Having graduated in 2003, he knew he did not want to work for anyone but himself. However, for the first seven months, he opted to work as a temporary assistant clerk in the Norwalk courthouse to get the lay of the land, learn the ropes, meet the players and get face time with those he deemed important to his advancement.
After the seven months, just as he was going to get his health benefits, and even though he was offered a job with an attorney of some prominence, he chose to barter his services for space, getting a tiny round table in that same attorney's office near the courthouse. When it came time to meet clients at "his office," he went into the other attorney's well-appointed office, hung up his diploma and "Voila."
His work ethic was so strong, not only did he get free rent but he was earning money from the other attorney as well. But what struck me most about this young attorney, who has only been practicing on his own for 14 months, is how he instinctively understood that he is the product. His clients are buying him, not his surroundings.
His family name is well known in Fairfield County and he capitalized on the association. He practices criminal law so he took his established name, his very nice giveaway pens, his catchy slogan and made sure every person he ever met had this pen, including judges, clerks and janitors in the courthouse, the tellers at his bank, even the McDonald's drive-through attendant.
Most importantly, he understands his clients' need to feel valued. Without fail, the single most important statement he made and drove home to the class was "my clients will have a return telephone call within four hours. Even if I have 100 cases which will result in the same disposition, each client's situation, embarrassment, pain, sadness is unique and I respect that. They will get my time."
Two or three times a week he is at the jails seeing his clients even if only for a few moments, giving them face-time. Does he have 20 years of experience and pricey real estate? No. His clients don't care about that. He is giving them what they need, his individualized attention.
One student asked the panel, "Do you establish yourself where the business is or establish the business where you want to live." Each and every panel member said, "Establish the business where you want to live." And this young attorney did just that for all the right reasons.
Did he spend a lot of capital on marketing? Other than a million-dollar suit, a web site, his laptop, cell phone, business cards and hundreds of pens, I think not. He does, however, run a small business card-sized ad each day in the local paper. For those of you wondering how successful is he? Well, in his words, "I may not be able to buy that mansion in Greenwich, but I'm closing in on that small cottage."
On a closing note, each attorney was asked to define success. One said: "I have to admit it, I'm in it for the money. It was always my driving force." Second attorney: "The money comes, but I love the feeling I get knowing I got a great disposition for my client." Third attorney: "Never in my life have I enjoyed getting up in the morning and going to work ... until now." And in unison, they proclaimed, "We will never work for someone else, ever again." •
Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.