November 20, 2008

Going Solo; Confessions and Inspirations - Elaine Martin

This is a wonderful, honest and uplifting story....just in time for Thanksgiving.

Guest Blogger - Elaine Martin

Why I went solo. blame Croatia. Or perhaps I should say that I thank Croatia.

Just over a year ago, I was on a cycling trip along the stunning Croatian coast when I had a serious accident. I shattered my shoulder, fractured my skull, and needed stitches to my chin. The skull fracture damaged my facial nerve, which caused half my face to be paralyzed temporarily. I had to fly home early for surgery, and now have a huge rod and screws in my right arm. (Yes, I’m right-handed. No, it doesn’t set off alarms at airport security!). The surgeon said it was the worst shoulder break he had ever seen and his prognosis for recovering range of motion was grim (I was determined to prove him wrong).

Bizarrely, I’ve been much happier since the accident than I was beforehand. I don’t want to sound like some Reader’s Digest inspirational-invalid story. I’m not sentimental like that, and I’m not an invalid. I regained far more flexibility in my shoulder than the surgeon ever thought possible, and it’s still improving. My facial paralysis disappeared far quicker than expected, and the scar to my chin is barely noticeable. If you met me now, you wouldn’t know anything had happened.

The amazing outcome of the accident was a new perspective on what’s really important. The overwhelming sentiment that I had after the accident was of being ridiculously lucky - lucky that I didn’t come home a paraplegic, in a wheelchair, given that I had a skull fracture. Lucky that I travel alone a lot internationally and speak a few languages, so getting back from Croatia wasn’t distressing for me, even in my condition (I’ve actually never been as happy to fly home from vacation!). Lucky that I don’t play tennis, volleyball, or other sports where raising my right arm high would be required. Lucky that my legs weren’t injured, since I’m a runner. Lucky that I had fabulous travel insurance, wonderful friends to take care of me when I got back, etc, etc.

I realized that life was way too short to spend it in a job where I was unhappy. I had become increasingly dissatisfied and disillusioned with my existing position, working for a large boutique immigration law firm. I had been there for over 7 years and felt that I was stagnating. It was good money and reasonable hours, but I realized that I was bored. Very bored, and consequently losing motivation and drive. I spoke to other law firms about joining their immigration departments, but my heart really wasn’t in it. Then I spoke to solo friends of mine who felt that I should definitely try going it alone, especially if I had any existing clients at all.

I had never had a huge desire to run my own business, even though my dad was a successful entrepreneur. I just never thought that I wanted to worry about whether we could afford a new copier or if we should change health insurance plans. Apparently I imaged a business with lots of employees and equipment, not just me and the PC! Once I realized that it could (and should) be just me and the PC, I got really excited about the prospect of setting up my own practice. I was in a better position than most: old enough to have lots of experience in my field, plenty of savings, and no debt other than my house. I didn’t have a family to support. I was in a field that allowed me to have clients nationwide - because immigration law is federal – so I could operate a “virtual” office.

I decided to keep my initial costs as low as possible, and work from a home office when I wasn’t working remotely. The biggest expense - and it wasn’t big - was the all-in-one printer, scanner, copier, fax machine, though I don’t use the fax. Some people still want to use fax, however, so I signed up for E-fax, at about $16 a month. I now have a fax number that I can access anywhere, and that doesn’t spew out reams of junk faxes. I have a Skype number as my work number, which allows for call-forwarding to my cell phone, conference calls, and cheap international calls (very useful in immigration law). I could even do video calls – yikes. I have a mailing address with a suite number that looks like a real office address. It’s a local franchise postal center – I figured that would look better than a PO Box address, and they accept FedEx. I got a PDA that has Word, Excel and PowerPoint, although I will get a laptop soon. I signed up for QuickBooks online, again so that I could work remotely, even on my accounting.

I created my own website, and had a web designer friend review it and help with the hosting process. I was very anxious to have a professional website in place as soon as I notified former clients that I had left the old law firm. Most of those clients were companies, and I wanted my contacts to be able to see my spiffy new online presence immediately. I imagine that I could get a lot of business via the web, given that I can and do have clients all over the country. However, I’m still working on search engine optimization. I’m hoping that I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to an SEO professional, but maybe I will. For now, I’m learning as much as I can about meta-tags, keywords, bots, spiders, Google Analytics, and blogging to try to improve my visibility.

It has only been 2 months since Martin Immigration Law went live, however I’ve had cases to work on and I got 2 new clients yesterday. I’ve had lots of fun learning to be my own bookkeeper, webmaster, tech support, paralegal, marketing guru, etc. The wealth of information online about all these areas, including information specifically tailored to solo lawyers, is fabulous.

It’s a challenging economy to start a business, to be sure. However I’m so glad that I did it. I’ve regained my excitement for the practice, for networking, for marketing, and most importantly, for client service. Life is good.

Elaine Martin
Martin Immigration Law
6333 E. Mockingbird Lane
Suite 147-910
Dallas, TX 75214
Phone:  (214) 329-4148
Fax:  (214) 276-7476

October 03, 2008

What Lawyers Can Learn About Marketing from the Presidential Election

(Update: 11/8/08 - Entrepreneurs can learn social media strategy from the Obama campaign.  I feel vindicated for those who thought I was just stumping for Obama.)

(UPDATE: 11/3/08 New York Times article on how technology has changed election (marketing) strategy...great lessons for solos.

(UPDATE: I wrote this post in February, 2007 to highlight brilliant marketing, not to endorse one candidate over another - at that time he was vying for the democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton.  However, the Obama campaign has show marketing genius to reach its desired demographic and done it, again, with an Iphone application.  The genius of his marketing gurus cannot be denied.  They are in touch with those who would see him elected.  10/2/08)

In marketing it is known that the "client doesn't care how much you know until they know how much you care...about them and their problems."  This cornerstone of marketing wisdom was made famous by the founder of the National Speaker's Association, the late Cavett Robert, who said it not only first but best. Yet we talk about our inability to effectively reach our potential client base and then we search out the 'marketing gurus', primarily those who are in the legal community as if somehow they alone hold within their professional hands the secret to all that is holy in the legal marketing world. (Am I poking some fun at myself, too?  Of course.)

The reality is there are universal marketing principles, universal human needs that must be addressed when marketing to "human beings" regardless the product or service.  Once you understand them, then they can be redefined, redesigned, manipulated, massaged, reworked, reworded and applied for your intended audience and their specific problems. 

However, in my opinion, never has an example of "the essence of marketing" been produced that lays bare the core of this universal wisdom, shucks the oyster, gets rid of the slime and exposes that perfect 10mm pearl, until this powerful grassroots campaign launched by presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

    • Whether he is your new president of choice is irrelevant. 

      In one fell swoop he has defined his targeted demographic as those who feel disenfranchised and powerless in this country and penetrated the soft underbelly of each one of them with surgical precision.

      His message to that demographic is:

      "This Campaign is About You."

      Message: "You have felt disenfranchised during the term of this last administration, helpless, on the sidelines, your voice not heard. I am your man and I will help you to help yourself.  I will give you the tools to help you empower yourself and by empowering yourself you will put me in office so you are no longer disenfranchised."   

      Logic:  I want something. So I am going to help you get what you want so you give me what I want.  And in turn I will continue to give you what you want....and the cycle repeats itself over and over, again. It's not a 50/50 win, either.  It is a 100/100 win...the perfect win.

      Call to Action: "It's your job to put me in office if you want to retake your country and be heard and here are the marketing tools to help you put me in office."

      "The Obama Principle." He is hoping to achieve his goal of becoming President by helping identified potential voters to achieve their goal of no longer feeling helpless and disenfranchised.  This is the heart of his campaign.

      To date:(2/2007)

      • 70,000 members signed up;
      • 4,000 blogs started
      • 3,000 fundraising pages started
      • 2,400 groups started

      He identified the "problem" of the disenfranchised in the current administration.  He is turning each and every one of them into his personal ambassador or evangelist.  If every one of them knows 250 people and he already has 70,000 people signed up on this site, over 4000 new blogs created spreading the word of Obama, that's 17,500,000 possible voters right there.  And with the power of effective blogging, the spidery web woven reaches even more potential voters. He is giving each potential voter both the tools and the manual on how to empower themselves and effect change, to solve their problem of feeling helpless within the current Administration.

      He is involving each and everyone of them in a grass roots campaign through the use of technology, using technology to address their overwhelming need to be empowered, again, to not feel so helpless. And in his blog posts are newsy anecdotes about John and Mary Doe taking charge of their own campaigning efforts, reinforcing the newsworthiness and value of self-empowerment. He publicizes their efforts, encourages them to submit photos to his blog of their campaigning efforts.  From a marketing perspective, it's a beautiful thing to watch.

      Now the creators of his marketing campaign are the real gurus and we should be taking lessons from them because they loaded that bow and shot the a bullseye straight into the heart of these voters and it will have profound results.

      How do we utilize this lesson in our own practice?  Start by defining the real need of your client.  And don't make the mistake of thinking slick, cute, "play on words" nonsense.  When you are talking and manipulating you can't be listening. Listen to your potential client's words, their word choice, the tone and emotion conveyed when they discuss their problems that need solving and then serve their words back to them consistently in every form of communication you utilize helping them to repeatedly identify your services as the only solution to their problem.  Applaud their efforts, then give them the tools to help them tell others how you are the only solution to the next person's problem.

      I'm going to dub it "The Obama Principle" because never has this marketing principle been so readily observable to those hungry to learn the essence of brilliant marketing....and a textbook lesson in the power of language as a tool.

      My favorite language lesson is one taught to me by a friend from Australia.  He was gifted gabber in any crowd.  No matter what type of group we were socializing with he always fit in and I noticed the manner in which he spoke subtly shifted, too.  Finally, I said , "how do you do that?  You are almost chameleon-like and no one is the wiser for it.  You can blend in with any crowd."  His answer was "language is like clothing.  Don't wear a ballgown to a picnic and expect to fit in."

      It's the same with word choice.  Whether your website, blog, literature or conversations with your clients. You don't have to dummy down or inflate yourself with bloated verbiage. Just speak the language of your clients.

      And continue to watch the "The Obama Principle" in action regardless of your affiliation.  It is a very expensive Ivy League education offered to you for free courtesy of the internet.

      June 06, 2008

      "You Ask....I Answer" - If I Know I'm Going Solo, What Should I Be Doing During the Summer Breaks While In Law School?

      (It's that time of I resurrected a post from last year for all those law students who want to know what to do this summer to further their solo ambitions.)

      The question this week comes from the gifted Anastasia Pryanikova who writes Lawsagna , a blog which provides very valuable information to law students currently navigating through law school, the practical, the spiritual, and the inspirational.

      Question: I saw your category of "You Ask...I Answer" posts and thought I'd ask a question on behalf of my readers.  Summer time is when many students try to get practical experience by interning at a firm, government or non-profit.  If students know they would like to go solo after graduation, what would you recommend they do during their summers to prepare for their solo practice?


      Anastasia, this is a difficult yet easy answer at the same time. So, where to begin.  If you know you are going to become a solo practitioner upon passing the bar then everything you do, from your course selection to your extracurricular activities to your summer internships should be geared towards two things, networking/building professional relationships and gaining 'practical' experience that mirrors the life of a solo practitioner.

      Therefore, and I know some will give me flack for this....does it make sense to spend your time on Moot Court and taking courses in Entertainment Law, or getting practical experience interviewing clients and working on real cases through your internship and externship programs as well as taking courses in the basic practice areas the average consumer will hire you for?  Should you be burning credits taking philosophical courses or business management courses?  Should you be learning how to interview, negotiate and mediate with your extra credits or just taking irrelevant gut courses?  Should your extra time be devoted to volunteering in a solo's office (unpaid) or competing for Law Review (unpaid.) You have to map out the course in the law school which serves your ultimate goal.  Some may argue you can't really know. I say most students do know if they want to be an employee or an entrepreneur

      In your three years of law school everything you do should be laying the foundation for your solo practice.  Everything.  And here comes the blasphemy.  If you KNOW you are going out on your own, do not put the extra energy into getting A's in all your classes.   No client you get is going to ask your class rank or what your grade was in torts.  Only an employer will during the screening process.  Spend your extra energy and time learning the business of law in the trenches.

      So, how do you spend your summers?  By getting in the trenches.  Let me preface this, however.  In the trenches is not a summer associate position doing document review at a mid-sized firm where you have no client contact, no opportunity to visit the court house, no exposure to rainmaking or the business end of running a law practice.  You gain nothing in furtherance of your solo practice.  In the trenches is not worrying about getting paid for your legal work...bartend at night if you have to earn money because you can't get a paid legal position that gets you in the trenches. But, you HAVE to get in the trenches.

      Be prepared to give away your it a marketing expense...and then follow these three steps.

      Find solos/small firms who do the type of work you are interested in doing.  Ask for a job.

      If they are not hiring, tell them you would like to work for free shadowing the attorney and be given the opportunity to learn about the business of running a law firm as well as doing the legal work. 

      THEN tell them you would like to practice your rain making skills (that will perk up their ears) and if you bring business to the firm, you would like to work on that case and get paid an hourly rate for the work you do on this particular case.

      This three step approach is very important to your solo success.  You will learn the following important lesson:  "If you are not bringing in money, you are overhead.  And overhead is expendable."

      As a solo you have to be first and foremost a rainmaker.  You have to learn to bring in business.  And 62% of all your business will be directed to you from your friends, family and co-workers.  So, whether you realize it now or not, you already have a huge pool of people ready to be leveraged. These same people are very anxious for you to graduate so they can refer business to you.  If you let them know you are working for Attorney XXXX and, although you are not a lawyer yet, you will be able to work on the case and gain experience for your solo practice, they will send business your way.  You will be able to start meeting other practicing attorneys and develop professional relationships.  You will be able to hone your interviewing skills, see how to 'close' clients on retaining your services and then be able to do the actual legal work.  It will closely mirror your experiences as a solo.

      And you bring value to the attorney without being overhead. This is very important. Having you in their office presents a no lose situation for the accommodating attorney.  The business you bring in is business they would not otherwise have gotten and it is gained at no marketing cost to them.  And if you prove your worth bringing in business and producing quality product, you may be able to parlay this into a regularly paying gig until you graduate and pass the bar.  You bring value to the law is "what you can do for them."  This is the real selling feature.  And if you can advocate for yourself in this way, you can effectively advocate for others when you've passed the bar.

      If you can't get a paid legal job or a position as described above, and you are not working or working part time and have hours left, start acting like a lawyer.  What does that mean?  Spend time at the court house.  Get to know the players meaning the top lawyers, law firms in the area of law you want to practice.  Watch them in court.  Watch the procedures in court.  Learn about court-appointed lists attorneys can get on for appointments to do legal work.  Go to the criminal courts, the family courts, the bankruptcy court, the probate court and watch and learn.  If you find a lawyer who is doing a trial or an interesting case, get a copy of the motions in the file to start building your form file.  Be seen.  Be heard if it is appropriate by introducing yourself as a law student who enjoyed watching the lawyer.  Now for something interesting:

      Make up calling cards.  That's right.  Calling cards.  You are not a lawyer but you can have a card with your name, contact information including e-mail and expected date of graduation to use for introduction.  This is not pretentious. This is smart.  Imagine you meet a lawyer you would like to work with as described above.  You are talking with him about his case and hand him a calling card and say, "I would love to shadow you some time, maybe bring some business your way while I'm in law school. I'm not a lawyer yet but I have a lot people anxious for me to get my degree.  I'd like to be able to refer them to a great lawyer."  Remember, you have to learn to make rain for yourself, too.  Great way to practice.

      I hope this answers your readers' questions.  And if others have ideas about how to get practical experience during the summer which will help their solo practice efforts, please share.  I know this has just skimmed the surface.

      May 27, 2008

      From "Going Solo" to "Your Hired"!

      This seems to be the gleeful song this month from some of my readers and clients.  On the way to opening their solo practices they got job offers they could not resist.  Unusual? Not at all.  Let me explain.

      When you embark on starting a solo practice you are reframing your own attitude about being a lawyer.  You are going from the mindset of 'employee' and 'I need to be trained' to 'self-employed' and "I need to start producing business on my own".  You are going from asking permission to function in the legal world based upon others' judgment and acceptance of you to accepting yourself non-judgmentally and giving yourself permission to be a business person, rainmaker and service provider.  You no longer have your nose pressed up against any sized law firm's window hoping you will be noticed amongst the crush of others; you have stepped back from the crush.  You have decided to design your own career and life.

      This is heady stuff.  This radical shift in your attitude about yourself and your relationship to the professional community, colleagues, judges and clients and the non-legal world you live in emanates from you.  You are putting yourself out there as an independent, free thinking self-starter.  You are starting to concentrate on your 'connectivity' with colleagues who you no longer see as future employers but peers. You are starting to learn life long marketing skills to promote yourself, not sitting back in a job waiting for a senior partner to hand you a file.  You are defining and actively seeking out your ideal client, not reacting to the mandates of others. You are building a laser-focused technologically advanced web presence, not being absorbed by someone else's vision or lack thereof. 

      And with this change in perspective and attitude, potential employers actually start to take notice as you navigate yourself through the legal community.

      I have been approached several times by headhunters specifically asking if I know self-starting solos who may be interested in joining a small firm for advancement and eventual partnership.

      And this month I received three separate e-mails from people who started creating their business plans for solo practice, started to connect to colleagues in a different way....getting job offers which they took.

      Why were they approached now?  They showed confidence, initiative, a sense of how to build a business, understood what they needed to do to build a web presence, had already branded themselves.... and these are all VERY attractive qualities to prospective employers or those looking to even bring in partners.

      You may ask, "if these individuals were so keen on going solo, why did they accept jobs?"  I have a motto:  Plant as many seeds as never know what will grow.  Life is about giving yourself options and the flexibility to answer the door when opportunity knocks.  By showing they didn't necessarily NEED employment, they became desirable and were courted.  Yet, everyone is different.  What matters is whether or not it was the right choice for them, what the incentives were which made it appealing?

      I've also had two clients recently accept jobs; jobs which would NEVER have been available to them had they not started the process of going solo.  They openly acknowledge this because they are the ones who told me once they repositioned themselves in the community, changed their own perspectives, redirected their energies towards building a business rather than getting a job, they became very attractive to their new employers and the jobs offered were just too perfect to decline.

      And for some strange reason my clients thought I would be disappointed they got a position.  Absolutely NOT.  Life is about options, the right options for each of us.  Just because I will help those who want to go solo doesn't mean I'm unhappy when they don't.  I want lawyers to feel fulfilled with their careers, to understand there are many ways to practice law.  There is happiness in all types of practices.  This blog's focus happens to be with the happiness one derives practicing law as a solo.  But if you are happy practicing law in whatever form you are doing so....that's the ultimate gratification...for you and me.

      April 29, 2008

      Don't Most Small Businesses Fail?

      I am so often asked, "don't most small businesses fail?", that I was both delighted and dismayed when I read this recent post by Case Western Reserve educator and author Scott Shane on Small Business Trends in an effort to bust myths surrounding statistics on small business successes and failures.

      Proportion of New Businesses Founded in 1992 Still Alive By Year.Small business failure rates over 10 years - United States - by Scott Shane

      These are the averages. There are considerable differences across industry sectors in business failure rates (see Figure 7.1 on page 113 of Illusions of Entrepreneurship), which is pretty interesting and important. But I’ll have to leave a discussion of what those are and why they exist for another blog post.

      I have not read the book this chart comes from (the post just came out on Monday) but in the comments section I took issue with the implied assumption all businesses which close are considered failures.  No, they are closures and for this statistic to have meaning failure needs to be defined with objective criteria.

      We don't know why they closed.  Businesses don't always close because they 'failed' which in my book means the business owner wants to keep the business open but is unable to sustain business or herself financially, heading either towards personal and/or professional bankruptcy.  Failure in my book does not include sustaining yourself and the business but needing to close because of a move, a new venture, selling then the new owner closes.

      Scott replies to my comment that in follow-up the SBA surveyed those who closed their businesses and asked them if they considered their business "unsuccessful' and 70% said they would.  This, again, is subjective.  What was their definition of success?  I'm not playing word games here.   There was simply no objective criteria used to determine if the business failed factually or if the owner had dreams that were left unfulfilled by the business and therefore he deemed it 'unsuccessful'.

      So, when a solo says to me, "don't most businesses fail?' do you understand now why I can't answer this.  And as far as seeing more specific rates across professions (hopefully including the legal profession), we have to wait for Scott to post this on Small Business Trends soon.

      However, when we hear the statistic "more than half of all new businesses fail within 2 years" whether we call it failure or closure, we now know this is not least by these numbers.

      If you are considering opening your own solo practice, do not use broad brushed statistics to make a personal decision.  Statistics will help you consider the challenges you may face, but that is the only way you should use them.  If challenges are identified then your plan to succeed must address those challenges.

      Remember, any statistic tortured long enough will eventually tell you what you want to hear. It's your choice to listen...or not.

      April 21, 2008

      Solo/Small Firms Win Big Clients on Value - Not Price

      Marcie Shunk of BTI Consulting wrote a powerful article for The Complete Lawyer called, "Welcome to the Age of the Smaller Firm" where she discusses how smaller firms are quickly becoming favorites on the short lists of law firms selected by the Fortune 1000. 

      Surveys conducted over the past seven years show clearly that client service is king...not price.

      Client service is one of the most powerful advantages smaller law firms are using to win over large clients. In an environment rampant with dissatisfaction (just 34.6% of corporate counsel recommend their primary law firm first) smaller firms are distinguishing themselves through superior communication, client focus and value.

      Each year, BTI asks more than 250 corporate counsel to tell us which law firms stand out as the absolute best in 17 activities that are critical to the law firm-client relationship. Smaller law firms consistently outperform their super-sized peers in the four activities that truly differentiate a law firm in the eyes of clients:

      • Client focus
      • Understanding the client’s business
      • Providing value for the dollar
      • Commitment to help

      Smaller law firms also stand out in the two problem-solving skills that are essential to establishing solid relationships: handling problems and dealing with unexpected changes.

      Moreover, smaller law firms have raised their profile in several realms historically reserved for larger law firms including breadth of services and bringing together national resources (though they still lag their bigger competitors).

      The client service advantages offered by many smaller law firms are winning the kudos—and dollars—of in-house counsel at top companies. Corporate counsel applaud the attention they get from smaller firms, as well as the feeling that their law firm is truly dedicated to helping them achieve their business goals.

      Value: It's Not Low Rates

      A component of client service, value earns independent distinction as an advantage for many smaller firms. Nearly half of the law firms corporate counsel recognize as best at providing value for the dollar are outside of the top 200. Yet it is not simply a matter of rates that places these firms at the top of the value list. Rather, corporate counsel laud smaller firms for their:

      • Practical approach
      • Superb communications and updates
      • Wise staffing decisions
      • Keen sense of risk and reward
      • Talent at articulating business stakes in client-friendly terms

      All of these drive value in the eyes of corporate counsel.

      This exceptional ability to deliver high value is one of the factors that helped vault smaller firms to the forefront of client short lists. It is also one that, in conjunction with client service, will help keep them there. Law firms that deliver value are, according to corporate counsel, a hot commodity. 30.1% of corporate counsel report that finding a law firm that delivers better value is one of their top unmet needs for 2008. To the extent that smaller law firms can continue to distinguish themselves in this arena, they will be well-positioned to maintain their current advantage over big name competition.

      What Can We Learn From The Little Guys?

      The advantages of smaller law firms are wide and varied, according to the feedback of hundreds of clients. Yet each of them finds their strength in a single place: Differentiation.

      Whereas many of the large, national law firms have grown increasingly similar to one another in their breadth, scope and reputation, smaller law firms have managed to represent unique characteristics that help them stand out in the eyes of corporate counsel. We can all learn from their ascent into the short lists of the world’s largest companies.

      Sometimes we hear the word 'differentiation' and we don't quite get what that means.  Differentiation is really listening to complaints and doing the opposite of what is causing the complaining.  If you hear often enough that clients are not satisfied with not getting phone calls returned, bad attitudes, not feeling important...then overcharging, you are not hearing 'my lawyers are overpriced.'  You are hearing 'I'm not getting the kind of service I was willing to pay for.'  So, you take this potential client who was willing to pay and market to them they will receive what they have complained they did not with their current lawyer.  This creates that elusive 'value' you also hear so much about.

      Differentiation is also about presentation.  If you are technologically forward market this.  Market how it enhances the client's experience when working with your firm.  Showcase how it adds to the client experience because you understand and have listened to the client when they express their needs when hiring a lawyer. Market the nimbleness of your solo practice, your one-on-one connection with the client and attention to their goals. 

      It's not about price.  It's about a client not getting what in her mind she paid for.  Yet lawyers bring their own prejudices about pricing, their own self-esteem issues believing they are not worth it, infuse their own morality to their pricing structure.  And thusly, they believe pricing is the number one factor in the client's selection process.

      Pricing is part of the equation, but it is wrongly placed in first position for many solo and small firm practitioners.  If you listen to what your clients need and you are ready, willing and able to satisfy what they deem valuable in an attorney/client relationship you will be able to price yourself properly to make an enjoyable living while servicing the clients you choose.

      Do you have an opinion about pricing?  Let's discuss.

      Links of Interest:  In a Weakening Economy, Will BigLaw......

      April 07, 2008

      Want a Hot Niche? Think Fido

      Texas solo Yolanda Eisenstein has created a nice little niche for herself in that every type of matter she handles has one thing in common:  animals.  You can read the article here.  But more importantly learn how this lawyer differentiated herself from the pack (pun intended.)

      While Eisenstein is a vegetarian who believes animals should be treated under the law as more than property, her law practice involves a diverse medley of real-world issues involving pets. For example, Eisenstein gives presentations to neighborhood associations, animal rescue groups and other nonprofits on how to comply with federal, state and local animal control laws.

      She represents people "wrongfully accused of animal cruelty" and brings nuisance suits on behalf of neighbors fed up with barking dogs. And she can set up pet trusts, which are valid in Texas, to provide for animals upon their owners' deaths.

      "My goal is to protect animals and help people be more responsible pet owners," says Eisenstein, who with her husband is the caretaker of an Airedale dog named Marley.

      Eisenstein defined her mission, targeted her audience and made her voice heard.  Her  domain name ( showed committment and thought understanding how her clients would search for her services. 

      How are you defining your mission, getting your voice heard, attracting your ideal clients?

      Big Law(yers) Starting Own Firms Very Successfully

      They may face new challenges, like not having pens magically appear on their desk when they need one or having to figure out payroll, but this article provides many links to Big Law(yers) who have jumped ship and didn't sink.

      April 04, 2008

      Productivity Tips for Life - Adaptable to the Solo Lawyer

      (Hat Tip to Jim Calloway for finding this jewel.)

      Once in a great while a list is written which is filled with relatable wisdom.  This particular list addresses, fear of failure, use of time, giving first in order to receive and more, all relevant to the decision to build a solo practice, marketing, networking and time well as living a quality life. Here are the first six from:

      16 Things I Wish They Had Taught Me In School

      1. The 80/20 rule.

      This is one of the best ways to make better use of your time. The 80/20 rule – also known as The Pareto Principle – basically says that 80 percent of the value you will receive will come from 20 percent of your activities.

      You can just drop – or vastly decrease the time you spend on – a whole bunch of things.

      And if you do that you will have more time and energy to spend on those things that really brings your value, happiness, fulfilment and so on.

      2. Parkinson’s Law.

      You can do things quicker than you think. This law says that a task will expand in time and seeming complexity depending on the time you set aside for it. For instance, if you say to yourself that you’ll come up with a solution within a week then the problem will seem to grow more difficult and you’ll spend more and more time trying to come up with a solution.

      So focus your time on finding solutions. Then just give yourself an hour (instead of the whole day) or the day (instead of the whole week) to solve the problem. This will force your mind to focus on solutions and action.

      The result may not be exactly as perfect as if you had spent a week on the task, but as mentioned in the previous point, 80 percent of the value will come from 20 percent of the activities anyway. Or you may wind up with a better result because you haven’t overcomplicated or overpolished things. This will help you to get things done faster, to improve your ability to focus and give you more free time where you can totally focus on what’s in front of you instead of having some looming task creating stress in the back of your mind.

      3. Batching.

      Boring or routine tasks can create a lot of procrastination and low-level anxiety. One good way to get these things done quickly is to batch them. This means that you do them all in row. You will be able to do them quicker because there is less “start-up time” compared to if you spread them out. And when you are batching you become fully engaged in the tasks and more focused.

      A batch of things to do in an hour today may look like this: Clean your desk / answer today’s emails / do the dishes / make three calls / write a grocery shopping list for tomorrow.

      4. First, give value. Then, get value. Not the other way around.

      This is a bit of a counter-intuitive thing. There is often an idea that someone should give us something or do something for us before we give back. The problem is just that a lot of people think that way. And so far less than possible is given either way.

      If you want to increase the value you receive (money, love, kindness, opportunities etc.) you have to increase the value you give. Because over time you pretty much get what you give. It would perhaps be nice to get something for nothing. But that seldom happens.

      5. Be proactive. Not reactive.

      This one ties into the last point. If everyone is reactive then very little will get done. You could sit and wait and hope for someone else to do something. And that happens pretty often, but it can take a lot of time before it happens.

      A more useful and beneficial way is to be proactive, to simply be the one to take the first practical action and get the ball rolling. This not only saves you a lot of waiting, but is also more pleasurable since you feel like you have the power over your life. Instead of feeling like you are run by a bunch of random outside forces.

      6. Mistakes and failures are good.

      When you are young you just try things and fail until you learn. As you grow a bit older, you learn from - for example - school to not make mistakes. And you try less and less things.

      This may cause you to stop being proactive and to fall into a habit of being reactive, of waiting for someone else to do something. I mean, what if you actually tried something and failed? Perhaps people would laugh at you?

      Perhaps they would. But when you experience that you soon realize that it is seldom the end of the world. And a lot of the time people don’t care that much. They have their own challenges and lives to worry about.

      And success in life often comes from not giving up despite mistakes and failure. It comes from being persistent.

      When you first learn to ride your bike you may fall over and over. Bruise a knee and cry a bit. But you get up, brush yourself off and get on the saddle again. And eventually you learn how to ride a bike. If you can just reconnect to your 5 year old self and do things that way - instead of giving up after a try/failure or two as grown-ups often do – you would probably experience a lot more interesting things, learn valuable lessons and have quite a bit more success.

      You can read the rest here., each one just as valuable.

      Do you have any productivity tips you would like to share, tips from a life of lessons which will benefit others?

      March 24, 2008

      Why Solos Can Profit From Public Relations

      This is a colorful story which is also a lesson for the new lawyer (and not so new lawyer).  Today, even the new solo needs to understand one of her core competencies must be fundamental knowledge on how to handle a high profile case and the media, why solos need to understand the fundamentals of public relations.

      This is the story behind the story of how two new solos (just four months after passing the bar) saw the PR value of doing pro bono work on a case which captivated the local media, got hired, then fired, not because they couldn't do the work...but because they didn't have PR experience.  This is the case of the 'pink poodle'.

      Joy Douglas, the owner of Zing beauty salon in Denver, Colarado had a white poodle, Cici, which she stained pink.  The stain was perfectly safe, organic beet juice so there is absolutely no harm to the poodle whatsoever.  She did this to support breast cancer awareness, pink being the color popularized by the cause, to create conversation to raise donations for the walks for breast cancer.  Many well-meaning but misguided animal lovers thought she was abusing the dog and reported her to the Humane Society of Denver.  The police, after numerous complaints, fined her $1,000 under a statute enacted five years ago to prevent dying of animals, primarily to prevent baby chicks and ducks being dyed at Easter.

      In her wisdom, she sought out counsel because of the media interest in the case. She also hired two new lawyers who saw the PR value to their firm and wisely were going to defend her pro bono in exchange for the positive publicity.  One lawyer had many years during law school working in the Denver prosecutor's office so the experience and connections were there despite his new lawyer status.  The lawyers, in turn, contacted more experienced counsel to assist on the case because they had public relations experience. The experienced counsel declined (you'll learn why in a bit).  As a result of the experienced counsel declining they contacted me to ask if I knew of anyone who could assist them with fundamental PR and to make sure they came across professionally.  It was very wise to recognize they needed PR assistance.

      I immediately contacted my friend Paramjit Mahli of The Sun Communications Group who does this for a living, educating lawyers on how to work with the media, creating strategies and systems before they are needed, kind of like practicing fire drills before the real fire.  They were scheduled to speak with her two hours before meeting their client for an interview at the local FOX station.  The consult never happened because the client called them and told them she hired another firm with more public relations experience.  The firm: the one the young lawyers had asked to co-counsel with them on the case. (We won't get into the actions of the other firm.)

      What happened to these young lawyers is more common then you may believe.  Cases which have media value and the ability, if handled correctly, to propel new lawyers into the spotlight and garner more business (or cripple their reputation) are quite common.  Why?  Because many of these newsworthy cases are clients with little or no money and they seek out public defenders or hungry young lawyers or those who will do it pro bono.  A smart lawyer who is starting out today must understand they need fundamental knowledge on how to handle the media, especially today with blogging and social media permitting everything to travel at the speed of light.

      This is why I encourage you to read Paramjit Mahli's Profiting with Public Relations, put it in your RSS feeder, subscribe to her newsletter and, hopefully, she will be coming out with a primer on the basics of handling the media in the form of a white paper or e-book.

      Regardless the years of experience, every lawyer should know the fundamentals of handling the media. To help you get started, a one or two hour consultation with Paramjit is a very wise investment.  And those who work with me know I don't encourage clients to spend money unless it is a very smart purchase.