December 18, 2008

Will You Be a 20th Century Solo or a 21st Century Solo?

While I'm away for a few weeks, getting some holiday R & R and before Solo Practice University gets in the fast lane, I wanted to resurrect some posts which will make you think about the future of the legal profession and your place in it.  These were inspired more than a year ago based upon a series of articles in the London Times written by Richard Susskind, Emeritus Professor of Law at Gresham College, IT advisor to the Lord Chief Justice and consultant to leading law firms.

His new book The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services just came out November, 2008 and will certainly have a profound impact on the legal profession, but I don't think most solos will take the opportunity to read the book as they should because they don't necessarily have the time to think macro as they are micromanaging their days.

However, I do recommend you try to get the book when it debuts in the U.S.  In the meantime here are my 2007 thoughts on the subject with links to the original London Times articles from 2007:

Will Lawyers As We Know Them Exist in 100 Years?

A Lawyer in Every Stop & Shop?

And while you are contemplating the future, I recommend you read additional posts from the category Demographic/Economic Trends because this will give you a more macro perspective of the profession and the economy.

Understand, I'm a macro thinker.  I need to get the big picture first in order to plan anything.  This includes understanding the world we live in, not running from it.  Some get upset when I confront them with the news. But understand, I enjoy jigsaw puzzles, piecing together disparate bits of information to create this bigger picture. This picture may be one others haven't necessarily pieced together yet or they have different pieces of the puzzle creating a different view. And that creates conversation.  Quite often I post about my macro view.  Hopefully it proves beneficial to you.

So, Happy Holidays to everyone.  I'll be posting again after the first of the year :-)

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

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December 10, 2008

When Pricing Your Legal Services, Understand Your Clients

Today, I learned that after 22 1/2 years at AT & T my brother was being laid off from his management position. He was two and a half years away from his pension.  He was given one year's salary as severance because of his longevity.  He has five kids, two in college.  Fortunately, his home is paid for. He is considered middle to upper middle class.

Those who assess unemployment numbers in this country won't reflect his status for a while. The ripple effect of his loss of a good income throughout the economy also won't be reflected immediately because even after a job loss it takes a while to adjust household spending due to the psychological shock.  He will get another job because he has to but he will most likely be UNDER - employed because of what is happening across the country and the world.

His story is not unique.  In some ways he is better off than others because he got severance, his health care is still in place although at a COBRA premium.  But we now need to look at him as a client for your legal services.  For the sake of this post let's create a new persona Jack and make him a prospective client in today's new economy. One who is angry, panicked and depressed.

Jack's a very bright guy. He knows he has to pay his mortgage, put food on the table, pay his non-negotiable bills first in order to not lose what he already has and to physically survive. IF he is presented with an optional legal matter (optional being in the mind of the individual) he will likely not pursue it or at least not pursue it in the same way clients have done in the past and the way in which you have relied.

If it is an emergency legal matter, if the price tag is too high or the payment options are not workable he will be the one who attempts to take care of his legal matter pro se.  After all he's smart and now he has time.  And he has the internet. Unless it is a serious criminal matter, or a contingency case with no out of pocket costs to him, chances are he assumes he can can create his own Will (which, by the way, many unfortunately consider 'optional' or simply not on their radar), negotiate a speeding ticket (after all trying to negotiate a deal and still having to pay the ticket can be seen as cheaper than hiring an attorney because now he doesn't even have to calculate time away from the job), attempt to figure out bankruptcy, even try to work through a divorce.

This is the mindset you will be up against. Survival. Resentment. How do you educate Jack that doing it by himself is not necessarily the right or best answer even with his current circumstances?  How do you show Jack it is not only smart, but affordable and cost-effective versus the disadvantages of the pro se options as well as the legal landmines?  How do you show Jack you understand what he is going through and will work with him?  How do you do this while still turning a profit and paying your own mortgage and putting food on your own table?  How do you do this when many lay people believe lawyers are somehow handed money the minute they pass the bar even though most of us know this is sadly not the truth?

This post is not about the answers.  This post is about getting you to think about your current business model including overhead, your pricing strategies, your current client education programs and how you plan to reach out to Jack and show him you are the better alternative to going through the stresses of handling a legal matter on his own?

Related Posts:

"Marketing Defined" - It's Not a Dirty Word

Will Bartering Legal Services For Chickens Come Back In Vogue?

How Do Your Clients Find You?  Or Do They?

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

And you can always follow me on Twitter :-)

November 17, 2008

Now Is NOT the Time For Blind Faith - It is A Time For Thoughtful Action

This post is about recession and the solo practitioner. It's long.  It's important. Don't skim. Bookmark and read when you have the time to fully absorb. There is no sugar-coating.  It may annoy you. I'm a realistic optimist.  But I can't be optimistic without the reality.  This IS the reality. If you don't want to be upset, don't read.  But if you want to know what you must do in the current (and future) economic climate to build your solo practice, then it might be wise to suck it up.

https://www.yorku.ca/finearts/film/cinesiege/cinesiege2004/images/hysterica.jpg

For the majority, what is happening to us at this moment is a story that we will tell over and over as we discuss job losses, foreclosures, bankruptcies, inflated food costs, health care and more as we watch the 'economy' happening to our neighbors and friends and maybe even ourselves.  But the only way the story will change for us personally is if we change our approach to what we are doing.  And what most of my readers are doing is creating a business, a solo practice, in extraordinary times.  We can't wait for 'them' to fix it for us.  Our survival is no one else's job.  It is ours.  Very few of us will be able to close shop and 'get a job' simply because we didn't want to put in the effort required to succeed.  Very few of us will have other options.  So, if failure is not an option, then you must succeed.  The question then becomes, 'how?'

When a small (or 'micro' ) business succeeds it is because of the smarts, creativity and sweat equity of the entrepreneur.  A solo practitioner generally qualifies as a micro-business because they are a business of one.  And it is a business that creates a service, one that serves a very specific purpose.  It improves the client's life in a tangible way or helps 'facilitate' the client's business.

The responsible solo practitioner has an affirmative obligation to think strategically and for the long term. They must create business solutions (for themselves) capable of withstanding the next decade or so which will be brutal.  Listening to pie in the sky and 'delusional' statements like 'there is no recession' or 'American's are just whiners' will only help you to meander down a path of inaction and distraction, or worse, take you in a completely wrong direction when it comes to your professional career.

Being positive is critical. But most importantly you must be positive based upon reality. Reality, rather than wishful thinking, should be driving your business plan.  You must be willing to create a business plan based upon today's sketchy conditions and implement it with full faith it will succeed, being prepared to make changes as new challenges present themselves. This is a time when we must reactivate our long dormant survival gene and not rely on a 'hope and a prayer.'

Solo practitioners must focus on the following: (in no particular order)

  • Cash Flow: Do you have adequate cash flow for a defined period of time? (how long is personal)
  • Which of your current clients will more likely then not be unable to meet their obligations to you and what strategy or office procedures do you have in place to deal with this challenge?
  • Are you aggressively building a cash reserve for both your firm and yourself?
  • Is your marketing strategy to attract new clients effective in this economy/market?
  • Do you have adequate credit to withstand a shortfall in your income?
  • What can you do to increase loyalty from existing clients?
  • What do you need to understand about the economy and how it might impact your business that you don't understand now?
  • What cost cutting can you do today to take home more of each dollar you earn?
  • Who should you really be studying and listening to in order to maximize your opportunity and grow your business in this economy? There are way too many talking heads pitching products and services.
  • What are you doing to differentiate yourself in this competitive marketplace for legal services?
  • What are you doing to strengthen your 'brand' and introducing it to your target clients?
  • Is your current marketing/advertising bringing in the desired ROI (Return on Investment) even if it is 'time' on social media sites?
  • Are you embracing and learning new technologies and digital media that will allow you to extend and amplify your message specifically where your target audience is?
  • What can you do to get more more visible in the maddening crowd?
  • What dialogue can you create regarding this economy which will resonate with your clients?
  • How can you improve your client's experience making it unforgettable?

Now is the time for solo practitioners to go back to the basics of 'good' business planning and practice which includes great client service.  Be positive after you've taken the time to fully understand what is happening in our economy.  Be positive there is opportunity but understanding there is no shortcut and no handouts.  You have to be creative and hard-working to find and then cultivate those opportunities.  The landscape is changing and so must the solo practitioner's approach to creating and building their business.

What steps have you taken to address the changing economic climate.  Please share.

Related links of interest:

Still Fantasizing About That Big Law Job?  Snap Out of It!

When Times Get Tough, The Tough Solos Start Building Their Practices

Is Now The Perfect Time To Start Your Solo Practice?

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

And you can always follow me on Twitter :-)

October 26, 2008

Still Fantasizing About That Big Law Job? Snap Out Of It!

   

https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/images/ccarter/2005/06/03/crowd.jpg

According to the ABA, 2009 will see nearly 44,000 fresh-faced law school grads carrying an average debt load of about $73,000 in loan debt.  "...... only a small fraction will land the big firm job, leaving the rest to wonder whether they’ll find “any kind of attorney work” post-graduation.

(H/T to Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice)

NEW The Layoff List

Mayer Brown Lays off 33

White & Case Layoff 70 Associates

New Law Grads Should Have a Back Up Plan

Is An LLM a Good Back Up Plan? (NOT!)

Hiring Freezes

Thelen Collapses

The Hiring Bubble

Clifford Chance Laying Off Associates

Sonnenschein Swinging The Ax

Summer Associates Positions Could Decline by Up to 35%

Big Wave of Layoffs Hits Heller   And They are Pissed?

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

October 22, 2008

THIS is Why Solos Must Learn Technology and Think Globally

This short video shows you in dramatic terms why you must be on the internet in your marketing and social media efforts and why you must think globally.... even if you have a small town practice.

  https://snurl.com/4m0to

Unfortunately, I cannot locate the source to provide you the direct video.  But trust me when I say it is extremely worthwhile and eye opening.

Let me know your thoughts. Or, as the video asks, "What does it all mean?"

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

October 20, 2008

Is Now The Perfect Time To Start Your Solo Practice?

The short answer:  Yes. I'm totally aware of the inner hysteria most people are feeling about our economy, needing to take a Valium before they open their 401k statement this month.  Watching your property taxes increase while your home value drops like an elevator with broken cables.  You've either been laid off or can't get your first job. I get it. Trust me, I do.

History tells us when economic times are their shakiest, it is the perfect climate to start a new business. (No, I'm not insane :-)  The following is information collected from disparate sources:

Did you know that 16 of the 30 companies which make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average were started during a recession or depression?  These little companies include Disney, McDonalds, Proctor and Gamble, Alcoa, General Electric and Johnson & Johnson.

Fast forward to 1973-75 when the U.S. was captained by an unpopular president, embroiled in the infamous Watergate scandal AND at the hind end of the Vietnam War, a highly controversial and expensive war which polarized the country.  Within two years gasoline prices had increased by more than 50%. Credit was very tight.  And, you guessed it, consumer confidence was at historic lows. (Does this sound painfully familiar?)

And in these terrible times a few entrepreneurs you may know figured 'what the heck.' Those tumultuous early 1970's saw the beginnings of Famous Amos Cookies, Supercuts, Chili's, Cablevision, Oakley and the start of a fairly well-know company (their products you might be using as you read this) called, that's right, Microsoft. (wonder where Bill Gates is expanding to right now?)

Other notable businesses launched during recessionary times: Costco, Applebees, J. Crew, Whole Foods and Intuit.

You're asking yourself, 'how is this possible?' Don't most businesses fail? With times so tough starting a new business seems the height of insanity.  Not really. It is during these times that entrepreneurs (and very smart business people) realize they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  The world is crashing down around them anyway.  The very things which might have prevented those from starting a business before are no longer present - the opportunity cost is low. 

Yes, it's a little concept called 'opportunity costs.'  When times are good and you already have a safe job and many law firms are hiring, turning down a paying job with a paycheck means giving up the 'opportunity' of a good job and there is a quantifiable cost associated with turning down that job such as salary, health insurance, paid vacation and sick time, matching 401k.  You are giving up this known and quantifiable opportunity offered by another for the unknown adventure called solo practice, something for which you are totally responsible.

Now, a few select lawyers will always have these 'job' opportunities and if the jobs offered align with their professional goals they should grab it.  However, what if there are no good jobs being offered to you?  What if you are just finishing law school, passed the bar and no one is hiring?  You can stay home and watch reruns of 'The Practice' and 'Damages' or you can open your own solo practice.  There is little opportunity cost to do the latter as the alternative is sulking, fretting and eating lots of junk food or competing for a minimum wage position only to be told you are over educated for the cashier's position.

When bad times hit, the world as we know it changes. Economies experience severe upheaval and disruption.  The earth moves as it deconstructs and rapid change becomes the norm. For most, paralysis sets in. But those who shake off the paralysis, those who see opportunities where others only see misery, are the entrepreneurs. They search the rubble of 'what was' and look for opportunities to create 'what will be.'

What's happening in our legal world (and the rest of the world, too):

Competitors weaken. We are all reading about Big Law layoffs, partners jumping ship, small firms who became complacent and forgot the business components of running a law firm...well, they are freaking out.  Many of those lawyers you viewed as competition with tremendous overhead, fancy offices, excess staff are facing challenging times.  Maybe they are deciding its time to close up shop or downsize and outsource work.

Clients are seeking alternative and cheaper ways of getting legal work doneWhen the status quo is acceptable, clients are more likely than not to stay with their current lawyers even if there are more innovative and creative and better lawyers out there.  Complacency and disinterest in shopping around go hand in hand with good times. When money tightens, clients start shopping around.  Whether for cheaper legal services or more value for the dollars they spend, they still are shopping.  This lends validity to the statement, "in difficult times market, market, market."  There is a palpable shift in the flow of business and those with a great message pushed into the public arena WILL get new business.  It is not a time to tighten your belt on marketing.  Clients still have needs.  You better be promoting your solutions.

Big Law cuts back. They make the huge mistake of reducing their marketing budget and even services especially to their smaller or less valuable clients.  These smaller clients may be a perfect fit for you.

Client Disloyalty Can Benefit You. As your competition reduces services and clients look for more creative and cost-effective ways to save their scarce resources and get their legal service needs met, it means they are less likely to remain loyal to even their long term legal service providers if there is a better alternative which improves their own bottom line.  You need to recognize this and be their innovative, cost-effective solution.

That means opportunities for you when you open your solo practice. Specifically, what you can do:

Be the other white meat. Target those clients who are using more expensive, traditional legal service providers and show them there is an alternative to what they currently know.  Show them in lean times fixed fees are superior to billable hours.

Market aggressively.  As the ties that bind clients to their lawyers unravel, your competitors' clients are more willing to try a new legal services provider. However, they won't find you unless they are receiving your message loud and clear. And if you are not shouting it out, I guarantee you some other lawyer(s) will be.

Innovate. Be the low cost and/or high value solution to your competition's clients and they will be receptive to listening to your message.

Present yourself as an 'outsource' to Big Law.  Big Law is laying off left and right. You can be the less expensive alternative to the associate who is being axed because you can be used 'as needed' without the carrying costs of a traditional employee. And the sooner you start leading the pack, the harder it will be for others to catch up.

Very few clients will make a change unless they are forced to.  The economic times we are in will rock many a client's world.  Be entrepreneurial, innovative, aggressively seek out business while still maintaining your ethics.  When the dust settles, those who realized this was a time of great opportunity will be profitable.  Now is not the time to fade away and lick your wounds.  Now is the time to gather yourself up by your professional bootstraps and say, "It's time to take charge."

I

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

And you can always follow me on Twitter :-)

October 10, 2008

Where Are All the Lawyers Going? Overseas?

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post titled Millions of Americans Are Thinking of Leaving the U.S. and Millions of Americans are Thinking of Leaving the U.S. (Part II).  Even if you've read these posts before, they are both worth a few minutes to reread as they could have been written today.

While both are more generic in nature it was an ominously on point forecast of what we are experiencing today and the legal profession is not immune.  This is illustrated quite well by this timely New York Law Journal piece reprinted in most part as follows:

With many firms nationwide cutting back on offers, trimming ranks or collapsing outright due to the ongoing economic malaise, many Am Law 200 lawyers are in a panic.

"I have never seen more resumes across the board," says Dan Binstock, managing director of BCG Attorney Search's Washington, D.C., office. "I've had far more requests for partner-level searches and partners [themselves] are much more open to talking, even if that's as far as it goes."

Associates are on the move as well. Given the state of the markets, Binstock says stealth layoffs are occurring more often. "Firms feel more justified [in doing so] than they did in the past," he says.

While much of the news is bad, there still are opportunities for those inclined to rework a resume and expand a job search beyond U.S. borders.

GLOBAL AMBITIONS

The downturn has hit the world financial centers in New York and London the hardest. And with emerging markets like Dubai and Singapore quickly gaining ground as leading financial centers, many out-of- work lawyers are setting their sights on the Middle East and Asia.

"I've been just as busy this year as last, but now there are four times as many candidates looking to go overseas from the U.S.," says Evan Jowers, managing director of the Hong Kong and New York offices of Kinney Recruiting. "A big part of it is the market slowdown in the U.S., London and other Western places, but another reason is that many firms with offices abroad were already looking to expand."

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Just being an associate at a major New York firm won't cut it. "[Hiring partners in Asia] are looking for the best of the best on paper: top 10 law school, top grades and all the languages that they used to not care so much about, now they care," says Jowers.

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Also, rather than recruit new talent, many large firms and multinational corporations are relocating current employees, says Mark Anderson, managing consultant of the Dubai office of U.K. legal recruiter Laurence Simons International.

"If you've got people in other jurisdictions who are serving an area like the Middle East, from Europe or America, there might be a time when you eventually need someone on the ground here," Anderson says. "[W]hy not move someone internally rather than go on a recruiting spree, especially in tough times like these?"

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That's not to say global opportunities have dried up. Gibson, Dunn's Pathak sees a constant stream of resumes cross his desk from jobseekers in both the U.S. and Europe.

"I've noticed that a number of banks have moved some relatively senior people who would normally be based in the U.S. or London to places like Hong Kong and Singapore within the past year," Pathak says. "In part, I think that's because the two big economies in India and China are gaining in importance, not just because of the current crisis."

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The Middle East also is a draw for Western legal talent.

"There's a pull and a push factor working here as well," says Laurence Simons' Anderson. "To give you a recent example, we just worked with a large private equity firm in Dubai that took two private equity specialists from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York for both legal and non-legal roles."

Dubai has been a popular destination for Am Law 200 firms over the last few years. Even firms not tied to traditional oil and gas practices, like Gibson, Dunn, Latham & Watkins and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, have set up shop there. Now the need for Western legal expertise is expanding to other emirates like Abu Dhabi. (Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld announced the opening of an Abu Dhabi office on Wednesday.)

"Dubai's been running on all cylinders for three years, and places like Doha in Qatar have still got two to three years to go before they have a main financial hub that's up to speed," Anderson says. "Abu Dhabi is doing its own thing with government-based wealth � it isn't trying to attract international banks, commerce, industry, or multinationals. Instead it's seeking legal services for the sovereign wealth funds there that need advice on what to do with the money they already have."

As Anderson sees it, many of the large Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds are waiting until the dust settles after the market bottoms out before they sweep in to Western markets picking up banks, financial services, real estate, and retail holdings.

And Anderson isn't worried about the price of oil dropping from $150 to $100 a barrel. The sheikhs figure they need to keep plenty of lawyers employed to make the most they can from it.

"These guys have deep enough pockets and they've got lawyers on the ground in Abu Dhabi doing [energy] diversifying work so they can develop nuclear power over here," he says. "Sure, they've got oil, but if it's only for the next 200 years, they don't want to use it all themselves but sell it to us!"

Should we all be taking Berlitz classes in Arabic, Chinese and Hindi?

Anyway, if leaving the United States is not an option there remain many here.  How will you capitalize on this movement of bodies both in and out of the U.S?  What types of legal services can you provide to this segment of our society that will by necessity utilize technology to the maximum?  The answer, in part, to your economic security lies in predicting those needs which will arise and fashioning a business plan to meet those needs.

A well-respected friend told me that more than 250 years ago this country was comprised of 90% entrepreneurs and those, by necessity, were mostly home-based businesses.  When we start our reconstruction from this horrific deconstruction will we be a society comprised primarily of home-based entrepreneurs, again?  Just typing out loud.  Seems appropriate as we start the 'Columbus' Day weekend...(re)discovery of America?

On a different note, I leave you to contemplate Christopher S. Penn's thought-provoking post 'Enduring Darkness'

(And, please, stop calling me the grim reaper.  I just don't like to have my head in the sand...and I don't want to see my readers do that either.)

H/T to Edward Wiest for the NYLJ article.  - free subscription required to read full article.

October 08, 2008

Solos - Defending Speeders Can Be Profitable

Under a new law in Florida, fines for those who speed can be between $1,000 and $5,000:https://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en/thumb/5/54/300px-Gtp_sports_cars.jpg

On the second day the new law was in effect this month, officers using airplanes cited 80 drivers traveling at up to 150 mph for excessive speeding, the newspaper says. The tickets were issued in less than two hours, at one end of the Palmetto Expressway, in Miami-Dade County.

Although the $1,000 ticket may seem steep, compared to the previous $250 fine for those who exceeded the speed limit by 30 mph, the new law provides for even stiffer penalties for scofflaws. "Get caught a second time, and you'll fork over $2,500 and lose your license for a year," the newspaper writes. "You'll pay $5,000 for the third offense and forfeit your license for 10 years."

Motorcyclists now can also be fined for popping wheelies.

I won't get into the merits or intentions of the law.  However, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to do the math. I know I would hire an attorney versus going pro se on a matter which pillages the wallet to this degree and threatens my ability to drive...especially in these very difficult times.

So, my recommendation?  Start learning how to defend speeding tickets. I'm not prescient but I wouldn't be surprised if other states jump on board (if some haven't already) because speeding tickets are quite lucrative to municipalities and states.  So, this area of law has the ability to be quite lucrative. Those issued a ticket will certainly be looking to hire a lawyer instead of paying these fines and/or risk losing their license and livelihood.  And solos could easily make a name for themselves in this area.

Start buying your domain names now! TheSpeedingTicketLawyer.com sounds good...doesn't it?

October 06, 2008

Law After the Boom - It's Over For Big Law...But What About Solos?

In his inaugural post for American Lawyer and now appearing at Law.com, Paul Lippe, founder and CEO of LegalOnRamp (catering to Big Law) discusses why Big Law must recognize the Boom is over and rethink how they are going to approach the future.

The boom in the legal industry, sustained by the boom in financial services, is over.

Welcome to the future.

For those of us who've spent most of our careers as clients, it seemed pretty obvious that the legal business was in an unsustainable boom. Consider: In a country where most people's incomes have been flat or declining over the last eight years, and most companies face increasing global competition and flat profits, partners in big law firms generally saw their income double every four to six years over the last 15 years. And the firms have generally grown in profits, staffing and revenues faster than most of their clients.

Many folks in law firms have come to believe that the law business operates according to a different set of economic rules than their clients' businesses, but the truth is much simpler: When you're inside a boom, you always think your industry has achieved immunity from the laws of gravity, because it's the only reality you can see.

And this is the history of Big Law these last two decades.  And you can read all about the legal news, layoffs, crunches, de-equitizations, etc. Surprisingly it's not too long after we were reading about the astronomical first year associate salaries.  Kind of reminds us of the real estate boom...skyrocketing home values before the bubble burst  Yes, the boom is over.  And Big Law will be on the verge of another implosion. The difference is they are being blind-sided because " When you're inside a boom, you always think your industry has achieved immunity from the laws of gravity, because it's the only reality you can see."

What struck me when reading the article is this:  Progressive solos have always known the reality.  They knew this six or so years ago when the 'boom' was just starting.  And this is why I'm bringing it to your attention.  Solos have always been so far ahead of the curve, more nimble and able to make decisions quickly, with less baggage. But they often forget they are much better positioned in most economies because of their solo status.  I've written about this before, not because I'm prescient but because I pay attention to the world around me, not just as a lawyer but as a consumer, too

In my opinion, how world issues impact me as a human being, American, mother, wife, homeowner, investor, tax payer and more should determine the structure of the services the legal community should be providing to me.  This includes the method of engagement and delivery of those services and at what price points and payment methods.  To ignore your personal circumstances when marketing to and engaging with potential clients is to be out of touch with your potential client base, your business and marketing plan.  You are setting yourself up for unnecessary struggles, or much worse, failure as a solo practitioner.

Sound simplistic? It is...and it isn't.  Most solos do not practice Securities and Exchange law or Mergers and Acquisitions law.  They practice law for the every day person.  This includes bankruptcy, family, trusts and estates, real estate, criminal, personal injury, small business incorporation, landlord/tenant or a combination of two or three of these practice areas.  As such, your clients are very much like you and I in that we could all end up needing one or all of these types of legal services at some point in our lives.  When we have to hunker down for this long, cold economic winter which is coming sooner rather than later, so do they.  We are heading into tough times. And that is the key to surviving after the boom....understanding those we serve are no different then ourselves when it comes to being able to afford services.

So, ask yourself the following: if you were to get a divorce what would you expect to pay and what terms would you want?  How tech-savvy, creative and considerate of your economic reality would you want your lawyer to be?  If you were declaring bankruptcy or looking to save your home how stressed would you be thinking about legal bills even though you realize you need an attorney?  Therefore, how are you encouraging clients to contact you knowing this is weighing heavily on their minds especially since pro se status is an option in most of these areas?  What message will you deliver which will resonate with them and encourage them to hire you instead?

Everyone can't service the ultra-wealthy.  So, those that talk about premium pricing and focusing on the uber-rich are limiting your options. Plus, not everyone wants to service the gilded class.  There are many more people who you can serve by reaching out to main street America, those who will be impacted by the economy and the everyday stresses of life which will hit most of us.

The only way to do this effectively (and I know the horse is already dead but I'll keep beating it anyway) is overhead.  The more you can reduce your overhead while delivering services through effective use of technology, the more you have the flexibility to accommodate your clients while still turning a profit with creative pricing structures (as the law permits). And this should also extend to your personal life, not just your professional life. There is no way around this today. The market demands it. The economy demands it.  When you learn to live on less it doesn't stop your opportunities to grow.  It does, however, create a habit of smart versus excessive spending and therefore allows you to profit with a limitless upside.

As solos, we don't have to worry about de-equitization, layoffs or working in law firms who believe they live in another economic reality.  We know the reality.  Always have. This gives us a leg up in shaky economic times.

What strategies have you implemented to deal with our 'new' economic times?

Related links of interest:

In A Weakening Economy Will Clients Trade Big Law For Innovative Small Firms?

If You Think The Economy is Troubled, What Are You Doing to Help Recession Proof Your Business

Put Yourself In Your Client's Shoes - Is It A Good Financial Fit?

High Demand and Growth Areas In the Law - Opinions

You Ask...I Answer - How Does One Start A Solo Practice in the Midst of Seeming Economic Crisis?

September 19, 2008

If You Think The Economy is Troubled, What Are You Doing To Help Your Business?

https://resultsradioshow.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/recession-resize.jpgJohn Jantsch writes a terrific piece called "7 Time-Tested Ways to Dig Out From a Recession".  My position, however, is a little different.  You should be doing these things ALL THE TIME.

While you can read all seven ideas on John's great site, I'm going to highlight numbers three, six and seven because I know the first two are the hardest for me and the last should be done religiously:

3) Get out from behind the computer - Building personal relationships is always in style. It’s very tempting to sit and write blog posts and participate on social networking sites, and while these aren’t always bad things - sometimes you need to go out and shake some hands. Make it a point to go to several industry conferences every year. Join an industry or chamber type group and go to events where you can make connections with prospects and partners. Join a referral group such as (fill in the blank) and participate. Go visit your customers and ask for referrals.

It is very easy to get comfortable communicating solely on the internet.  It's fast, fun and you are not locked into a schedule. However, if you are reading my blog or any blog on a regular basis, subscribe to RSS, sync your e-mail with your IPhone, the fact is you are in the distinct minority of all your potential clients. Most people are simply not as up-to-speed technologically and by the time they figure out what you already do effectively, you will have moved on to something even more advanced. 

And while we socialize with like-minded professionals on the internet, the fact is there is a huge gap between us and the many potential clients and referrers of potential clients out there who could use your services. Get out, mingle, physically meet others, professionally socialize even if it is just a few select times a year.

6) Repackage your products and services with offers to act - This goes along with differentiating really, but sometimes you’ve got to give that tired old dog a new look. Find simple ways to relaunch yourself, your people, your products, your services, your packaging, to give yourself a new start in your market. You don’t need to start from scratch, look for innovative ways to repackage, reprice, redeliver, re-guarantee and re-communicate about what you do. Make them an offer they can’t refuse, make it so bold they must rehear you.

This is so true.  Give your blog a face lift, create some excitement about a change in your services or products.  Promote if you are switching over to a Virtual Law Office.  Try to attract your market in a novel and exciting way.  It will not only invigorate your potential client base, it will also invigorate you.  Practicing in the same rut only gets you deeper into the ground.  When you eventually try to step out you will feel like a neanderthal and overwhelmed at the changes you will now first have to make.

7) Fix the marketing gaps - In every way, shape, and form that your business comes into contact with your prospects and customers it is performing a marketing function - good or bad. You must look at all of your customer touchpoints and turn them into positive, brand-building opportunities. Tear down the lead generations touches, sales touches, service touches, delivery touches, follow-up touches, transaction touches, and billing touches and make sure that every single one of them is a performing a killer marketing function for your business.

Every word you write, every syllable you utter, every piece of paper with your name on it is a touch point with your brand and a business opportunity.  You just have to realize it.  Once you do you will see all the unconscious marketing opportunities you have available to you and will understand the phrase my clients have drilled into them, "you are on 24/7."

Time to take inventory of all your touchpoints.  You will be amazed how many marketing opportunities you may very well be missing which can help fill the client pipeline...especially when times are tough.

Related Links: From the Category "Economic and Demographic Trends"

$7.00 Gas and the Solo Practitioner

Put Yourself in Your Client's Shoes.  Is it a Good Financial Fit?

The REAL Economic and Wealth Trend Indicator - Walmart (8/07)

If Walmart is Cutting Back on New Store Openings, Isn't That More Telling Than a Dow.... (6/07)