February 17, 2008

"Tip of the Week" - Only You Can Say If Solo Practice is Right For You

Periodically, others will ask me how I can be so 'rah, rah' about such a challenging endeavor as opening up a solo legal practice.

First, if you are reading this blog it is because you are already a solo practitioner or are looking to become one.  Would it serve your purpose for this blog to tell you your goals are unworthy, foolish or misguided?  No.  There are plenty within the legal profession (and without) ready to dash your dreams as they impose their own fears and agendas upon you.

Secondly, I don't believe anyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur in the legal profession or any profession, for that matter, has goals which are unworthy, foolish or misguided.  If that makes me a cheerleader for entrepreneurship I'll happily shake my poms poms.

Quite simply, I wholeheartedly embrace entrepreneurship and seek to empower those who seek it, too.

For those who would like to say, 'the legal profession is different,"  I reply, "Bulls#%t."

What is the main difference between people who have confidence they will succeed and people who don't?  Is it they live in essentially different worlds - the confident in an easier place where everyone supports their efforts at success and the less confident in a harsher world where it is harder to succeed?  No.

The confident construct a reality out of the world around them, a reality in which success is possible because they pay special attention to those who have succeeded and have carefully studied the path to success.  Those who lack confidence, meanwhile, pay more attention to those who have failed and the obstacles that exist to thwart their efforts.

It is much like two people walking next to each other on a busy city street, one looking up and the other down.  The reality of the city is the same, but the view is very different.

David Niven, Ph.D.

If you are reading my blog you know which view you are looking at...or want to look at.  And if you are reading my blog you are past the dreaming stage and ready to create your goals. I'm your cheerleader.

June 24, 2007

"Tip of the Week" - When Your Solo Practice Takes A "Dip" Will You Know What To Do?

Seth Godin, the king of succinct, had his new book "The Dip" recently reviewed in USA Today.  While it is generic enough to transcend any profession or life experience, it is a critical message about when to 'stick' and when to 'quit.'  (And quitting is not a bad thing in Godin-world.)

"Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other."

As a solo practitioner, how does this apply to you?  When you start your solo practice you will have many days questioning why you did it.  It will be a roller coaster ride without a seat belt as you loop the loop.  Your first client..you're floating knowing you made the right choice.  The first client who doesn't pay....you're questioning why you left the steady paycheck.  Uneven cash flow....panic.  Your first big contingency fee....you knew what you were doing all along.  Manic depression.

But you shouldn't quit just because you hit a dip — the "long slog between starting and mastery."

The dip is the sinkhole when the euphoria of learning something new fades and the grind kicks in.

For example, if you took organic chemistry, a killer class, in college, you've experienced the dip. Academia doesn't want too many unmotivated people to attempt medical school, so they set up a screen, he explains.

If it's worth doing, there's probably a dip. Only you will know whether pushing through the dip to get to the other side is worth it.

When you decided to go solo you knew there would be 'dips.'  If your goals are worth striving for, you will make the decision to work through those 'dips' because this is the path you have chosen.  If you are having problems navigating the dips or want to rethink how you are going to take the journey, get help.  Life is full of 'dips', some you take, some you meet.  Best to enjoy the ride.

March 27, 2007

"Is the Law a Profession, a Trade or a Hybrid?

I wanted to point you in the direction of blog post at Law Blog - WSJ  and the follow-up which takes on the eternal debate as to whether the law is a Profession or a Trade?  I took on this debate myself in The Connecticut Law Tribune last year:

You Say Profession, I Say Business.  Can't We Just Get Along?

Connecticut Law Tribune - 2006

I recently met a distinguished lawyer who pronounced at a seminar that he refutes and would handily dispatch anyone who subscribes to the philosophy "when you are a solo practitioner you are a businessperson." I was a little surprised and dismayed given that he is a very successful solo and thousands of solos have heard him speak through the decades. I decided to take the very challenge in this column because that attitude is what I believe is preventing a proper law school experience and stopping lawyers from venturing forth on their own.

The following definitions are taken from "Wikipedia."

Profession: An occupation that requires expertise or a high level of skill.

Business: a specific commercial enterprise or establishment. (Commercial : a money-making endeavor that involves a corporation or other formalized group of workers and management working toward the production of goods or services to participate in an economy.)

By definition, then, isn’t a law firm a "money-making endeavor that involves a formalized group of ‘professional’ workers and management working toward the production of services to participate in the economy?" And can’t the ‘professional’ worker and the management be one and the same individual, the solo practitioner?

"Professional" and "Business" are not mutually exclusive terms. Why do most lawyers and academia have a hard time wrapping their heads around this reality? Or better yet, why is there such an aversion to being identified as both a lawyer and a businessperson? Can anyone run a business but not everyone be a lawyer and therefore we must distance ourselves from the comparison? Is the managing partner of a law firm (large or small) somehow "less of a professional" because she dirties her hands with budgets, vendors, malfunctioning equipment and office space considerations in addition to litigation? Whatever the reason for the disdain it is a harmful mindset to instill in the solo. It is elitism dressed to the nines in arrogance.

Morality, desire to do good through use of your legal education and to honor the oath you have sworn to uphold, and a passion for justice do not suddenly disappear or become diminished because you simultaneously work hard at creating a thriving profitable business that enables you to live the way you choose as well as putting your children through college. Learning how to use an accounting system or maintaining a blog in addition to creating marketing campaigns to attract new clients doesn’t make you less qualified to litigate a high profile murder trial or diminish your oath.

Therefore, in order to be a successful solo practitioner you MUST be both a highly skilled professional and a competent businessperson. I dare say you have to be even more gifted in a variety of areas than the average lawyer who becomes an employee in a mid to large-sized firm. If you are not running your "legal services" business well it will fail and you will ultimately have to work for another. You will forego all the freedoms and privileges you came to enjoy as a solo. You can continue to be a professional but shackled to someone else’s wrist for the rest of your legal career because you were not also a businessperson.

When academia does not recognize the need to teach the business side of being a lawyer, they are further encouraging employment versus entrepreneurship and failing to equip its students. Yes, this is a song I keep singing, but it is worth repeating and repeating until such time as the refrain runs in an endless and irritating loop through every Law School Dean’s head until he or she can’t hear it one more time. Maybe then the message will penetrate and every law school curriculum will finally require some form of business education prior to graduating law school.

Solos don’t need to be experts in running a business but they need to be competent. And they should at the very least be provided some knowledge of the business side of running a legal practice while in law school; the basics of what will be required should they choose to be their own management while practicing their profession. So, I ask you, "are solos professional businesspeople?" Absolutely.

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 [email protected]. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2006) 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.

March 10, 2007

"Tip of the Week" - To Be Effective Focus on the Game Changing Deal

I need inspiration every once in a great while.  I found this fabulous unfiltered passionate story on entrepreneurship at You Ain't Gonna Learn What You Don't Want To Know written by Andy Monfried, an entrepreneur who shares on his blog his 'Game Changing Deal," that event, that moment,  that person, maybe you get five in your life, which clearly redirects your efforts and propels you into the next adventure on your journey. The post is long (you've been forewarned) but worth every second.

Andy tells the story of a new job in 1994 "re-selling" copy services to three Big Law firms in New York City, a territory that had been relegated to the garbage heap because the sales person before had botched the relationships so badly in just the past six months. The company recognized it was a no-win situation so they threw the new guy in. Andy tells of this challenge and how it taught him his life's biggest lessons:

Stay commited.
Focus on Changing the Game.
Be Sincere.
Be Different.
Risk being laughed at.
Risk FAILURE every day.
Write handwritten notes.
And, most of all positive karma -- or leave what you are doing.

Entreprenurial Improvisation.

For solos starting out in a competitive arena, this story will inspire you.  You may even make Andy your hero, his mantra yours.

March 06, 2007

How Much Do We Sacrifice For More Income?

Update: My apologies to Tom Collins of More Partner Income as I worded this comment on his illness in a way that gave the impression I drew a correlation between his failing to get necessary procedures at the expense of chasing false gods.  However, my goal was to use his original post as a springboard for the larger discussion of what do we neglect, like health, family and more, in the pursuit of things that ultimately mean very little in the end.  While this conversation may not pertain to him, as he responds in a recent post, it is very relevant to those who can and/or have lost sight of their priorities. 

Is health the price we pay for More Partner Income?  In this sobering, reflective and honest post by Tom Collins of the blog "More Partner Income," he makes this entry entitled "Lawyers Can Get Sick, Too":

"It is March 6th and I'm on my way into the operating room at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. These folks are the experts when it comes to colon rectal surgery and Dr. Ian Lavery is going to try today to put me back together after cancer surgery in 2004 rerouted my plumbing. Here is a warning for those of you addicted to work. Don't neglect your own health. Don't skip annual physicals. And whatever you do, don't forgo those periodic tests that none of us like. More Partner Income isn't worth much if you aren’t around to enjoy the wealth it helped you accumulate.   If you have ever had one, you know that preparing for a colonoscopy test isn’t much fun.  So I skipped them.  That cost me a lot and almost cost me my life.  In fact, my original surgeon thought it had.  The diagnosis was stage four colon cancer and his prognosis was that I would not be around to write this blog entry. "

Life is about perspective.  While Tom writes about not taking necessary tests, what else do we sacrifice along the way in pursuit of the almighty dollar?

Whether I was wise or lazy, I don't know, but I've never chased the golden calf.  My husband and I did something unheard of in the land of 'keeping up with the Jones'.  When we got married we made a conscious decision to create a lifestyle off of one income.  Since his was stable, not mega-millions, but stable, we chose his income so that if one of us ever became disabled (which he could very easily given he is one of our country's heros, a firefighter) we didn't want to have our lifestyle jeopardized.  One of us would always be able to support our chosen lifestyle. It also freed us up to enjoy life on our terms.

Are there choices?  Of course. We don't trade in our car every three years.  We didn't renovate every room in our house the minute we bought it because we didn't want the stress of feeding the debt monster each month. We do it as we have the cash to do it. (How 1950's is that!) We stuck to our guns while those around us built bigger, better, more expensive....borrowed for all the newest and best toys. 

But unlike them, we actually get to raise our child when others just keeping working harder and longer to accumulate "stuff" rather than raise their kids (you know what I'm talking about, 'the trophy kids' who wouldn't know their parents if they fell over them because of the parade of international au pairs coming through their lives.) Now, there are many who have to utilize day care because they have to work to keep a roof over their heads and they are very fortunate they have that option and their kids are happy and well-adjusted. I'm not talking about these families.

So when I read about Tom Collins who neglected his health while chasing more partner income, it struck a chord. How many of us are neglecting our health, our families, our emotional well-being, our dreams while chasing 'more money' to buy or have 'things' that truly don't matter in the end it?

My home needs a face lift.  My wardrobe is circa 1998, but on a Wednesday if my husband says 'let's go to the Aquarium' or I get the itch to hop on a plane to see my parents in Florida, there is nothing that stops us.  A new bathroom can wait. Time with my family cannot.  It's all about choices. Someone once said, "I can afford anything.  I just can't afford everything.' Choices.

My thoughts and good wishes go out to you, Tom, and I'll watch for the blog post telling us of your speedy recovery and how you continue to use your life-altering experience to encourage others to review their priorities.

February 25, 2007

"Solo Lawyer" - Richard "Rick" Georges

I have been asked to be a contributing author to the new blog on the block Solo Lawyer. Rick Georges, the creator of the popular blog Futurelawyer has created Solo Lawyer to be the "water cooler" blog for solos, a forum for contributing questions, exchanging ideas, learning from each other but in a blog format of posts and comments.  This new blog is a welcome addition to the legal blogging community as it will prove to be a valuable resource.

Check out my recent post "Solos are a Unique Breed of Lawyer."   

January 02, 2007

Does "Specialization Certification" Benefit the Solo

In June of 2006 I wrote a column blasting the Connecticut Bar Association Real Property Section's attempt to pass through "specialization certification" status in residential Real Estate.  It set off a firestorm of responses, mostly applauding my speaking out against this push.  It came primarily from solos who felt their business options would be severely limited. Associates within large firms felt if they were forced to get "specialization certification" it would hamper any moves they might make in the future because they would be "labeled." I have posted the column below. 

However, I would like to clarify my thoughts on "specialization certification" in Residential Real Estate in a few simple sentences.

Any judicially sanctioned program or peer sponsored review board that seeks to limit your right to use your professional license is not acceptable to me and should not be to you, either.  You may truly believe that "specialization certification"  will help your business if you can elevate your "authority" status beyond other non-specializing attorneys.  And you will take all the courses, exams, overweight your practice in that area of your speciality and then be approved by your peers all in the name of giving yourself a competitive edge but disguised as "protecting the public." Understand, though, a house with every imaginable alarm system to keep intruders out also makes you a prisoner in your home.

How you practice, how you grow in your practice, how you change your practice should be totally up to you without any limits other than the basic rules of professional conduct.  If you need or want to shift gears in your practice areas for whatever reason you should be able to do so without suffering professionally or financially because you are not "certified" in the practice area you now want to try.

"Specialization Certification," especially in something as basic as residential real estate, is created by those who are already at the top of their game.  It has nothing to do with protecting the public.   It has everything to do with closing the palace doors on the great unwashed masses of new lawyers looking to raid the royal coffers.  (Can you say, "Real Estate Bubble Has Burst?)

In the news today an excerpt:

Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that housing-related industries — construction, furniture manufacturing and sales, real estate agents, mortgage brokers — will see more than 1 million jobs evaporate over the next two years because of the housing slowdown after five boom years for sales.

Anyone who has ever shopped for a lawyer knows you can get the information you need about who is good or the tops in their field with a little research. The real acknowledgement that you are a respected authority in your field is the court of public opinion.  And that honor is bestowed upon you with increased business through the word-of-mouth of satisfied clients and your professional colleagues.   

November 21, 2006

A Little Wally Amos Inspiration

I've always believed that anything is possible if you put your mind to it but we are dissuaded from taking action when we doubt ourselves and give too much credence to others' opinions.

One of my favorite motivational speakers, Wally Amos, founder of Famous Amos Cookies, tells a great story about the power of perseverance and the impact of others upon our life..... and death.

A group of frogs was traveling through the woods and two of them fell into a deep pit.  All the other frogs gathered around the pit.  When they saw how deep the pit was, they told the unfortunate frogs they would never get out.  The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up out of the pit.

The other frogs kept telling them to stop, that they were as good as dead.  Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and simply gave up.  He fell down and died.

The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could.  Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and suffering and just die.  He jumped even harder and finally made it out.  When he got out, the other frogs asked him, "Why did you continue jumping?  Didn't you hear us?"

The frog explained to them that he was deaf.  He thought they were cheering him on.

Which frog are you?

Never Too Old To Go To Law School

A 91 year old from South Wales recently received his law degree from the University of New England.  It's never too late to learn.  When we stop learning, well, we stop living both figuratively and most often literally.

The second semester I taught my class on how to open your own law practice right out of law school, I had a student who was well into her seventies.  She was an elegant English woman from an affluent town.  She chose to get her law degree at night because during the day she was caring for her dying husband.  While she didn't want to neglect her heartfelt responsibilities to her spouse, she also knew she needed to tend to herself as she was vital and involved. She originally signed up for my class because she needed to fill the time slot. (Yes, alot of students stumble into my class that way!)  About half way through the semester she approached me and almost brought me to tears with what she had to say.  I don't  repeat the story so I can bring attention to myself.  I repeat the story because of the life lesson she imparted when she said, "Susan.  In your lifetime maybe you will meet five people who will make a profound impact on your life.  I wanted to tell you that you are one of them.  I didn't go to law school expecting to graduate and get a job. After all, who is going to hire me at my age.  Before I took this class I thought my life was just about looking backwards and celebrating the life that was.  I now know that my life can be about looking forward."  With what she learned in the class she realized she can use her degree to help others in a similar situation as herself because they will relate to her and she can still contribute in a way that gives her life meaning and helps others going forward.  I'll never forget her.

November 14, 2006

An Independent Spirit

"An Independent Spirit" is the title of  The Connecticut Law Tribune column  I have been writing almost weekly since June 2005.  It is an appropriate column title because it reflects the maverick in me, the one who defies the norm, defends common sense and practicality, believes in braving frontiers and encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit in all of us. Especially the entrepreneurial spirit of lawyers who wish to dispell the notion that in order to be successful in the legal profession one must first work for a large firm.  There will be more to follow on this topic.  I promise.