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Solo In Chicago

...empowering the Second City's entrepreneurial legal community

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Entrepreneurial incubator

Saw this nugget about La Cocina in San Franciso...a sort of shared-space incubator for food entrepreneurs in S.F.

Known as a “kitchen incubator,” La Cocina (la-koh-SEE-nuh) is a shared-use space created two years ago to provide a platform for women entrepreneurs without assets. Offering a low hourly rate for access to 2,200 square feet of restaurant-quality kitchen space, the nonprofit La Cocina also provides training from high-profile mentors and technical assistance on creating business plans and building marketing programs.

I personally like the low budget, shared space for the lawyer entrepreneur. I'm leaning towards a transiton to home office when our current lease ends but I'd be open to sharing a small space with a bunch of lawyers to keep costs down, trade referrals, help each other practice together. Then just have conference room space for client meetings as needed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

See you at the Abbey...

As ISBA loves to say. I have my General Practice, Solo and Small Firm and Law Office Management and Economics Section Council meetings...now maybe I'll really learn about some of this practice management stuff! I know Law Office Management and Economics is sponsoring a Friday breakfast seminar:

Friday, June 22
Breakfast Symposium 7:30-9:30 a.m. Marketing on a Shoestring: How to Make More Money by Bringing in and Keeping Paying Clients Sponsored by ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management & Economics Enjoy breakfast and hear from the "experts"

I'll be at the opening reception Thursday night...see you there hopefully!

Buying a law practice...

Saw this in the Law Bulletin classifieds:

Divorce Practice for Sale

Great opportunity for young lawyer! Loop family law firm - 38 year client base, 350 files/yr., gross $1.2 million, 3-4 associates. Ready to retire will stay on as consultant. Serious inquiries only. Asking $1.4 million. Call XXX.

Anyone consider these options? I suspect we'll be seeing more and more of these offers since Rule 1.17 got amended along with Baby Boomers retiring. Anyone have an opinion on the viability of buying a practice to build your practice?

In 2003 I was faced with a related dilemma. Right out of law school I took a job with a family friend who was planning his retirement and our expectation was that after a year or so we'd form an entity and agree to some buyout provisions. This was before 1.17 got amended so he could NOT flat-out sell his practice like he could now. So we both ran the numbers and had our respective accountants value the practice...we didn't agree and thus I'm "Solo in Chicago" instead of in that partnership. He was asking far less than $1.4 million.

My general thinking is that unless it's a practice with heavy repeating entity representation it's not worth it to pay a premium for a law practice. What's the value of all these files of people who got divorced once? That's a one-time legal service. Conversely I think there is some decent value in say 50 suburban municipality clients. It's not quite this black or white but I think this dichotomy should underlay one's thinking. Contact me if you face this decision...I still have a lot of the "valuation modeling" that the accountants did.

More on "article" marketing

MyShingle had another take on lawyers writing articles for marketing purposes.

Initial client meetings: to charge or not to charge?

Saw a useful discussion between posts here (Build a Solo Practice, LLC) and here (Lawyer Profit Systems) about how to handle fees with initial consultations. I think they're both right...essentially I think it turns on experience and if you're not charging what might that "free" time be used for in the alternative.

I feel as if I'm right on the fence. I'm in practice for 4.5 years now...done mostly free consultations up to this point. I think for some "preferred" referral sources (i.e. people who are sending us a ton of business) I'll keep doing free 30 minute referrals...others I'm going to scale back on and start charging. Obvious exceptions are some of the contingent fee areas that I have no experience with but I think free initial consultations are common.

Mike Sherman over at Lawyer Profit Systems say always charge and once your book of business is pretty full I think he's right. Then if you don't charge you're essentially throwing away whatever your hourly rate is for this free consultation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A new to me practice management blog...

(from Alabama I think)...http://www.lawforprofit.com/. Mike's a regular commenter in this space.

Write your way to a full practice

Saw this little nugget from one of the eZines that I get...

Publish your articles at no cost on the Internet.

Did you know there are literally dozens of sites online that will allow you to submit your full article including your bio and a link back to your website into their searchable database, at no charge?

Top search engines regularly visit these websites and collect all the new information articles so they can distribute them to the tens of thousands of people every day who request information on various topics.

Stephen Fairley, M.A., RCC 888-588-5891
President & Master Business Coach 480-659-9700
Today's Leadership Coaching, Inc

I'd concur with this advice...it's essentially another good reason to have a blog: search engine optimization.

Regarding writing articles, I like to write really more than practice law...one of these days I'll have my novel published and then no more trips to court (but that's another story). But my point, I've seen a great return from publishing articles in very reputable publications and then sending copies out to referral sources. I wrote what I thought was a pretty good piece on residential real estate early this spring and then sent out copies to maybe 50-100 referral sources. It's brought in great amounts of real estate business. Our real estate practice is probably 300% - 400% larger than the last two years.

Lawyer television partnership announced

Interesting announcement from LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell here about new television advertising options pitched to law firms.

LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell, which publishes a directory of lawyers and their credentials, announced a deal in late May to work with Spot Runner, an online service that helps small businesses advertise on television. Spot Runner, which is based in Los Angeles, will help law firms produce inexpensive television commercials that can run in local markets...While the commercials in Spot Runner’s general catalog can be purchased and personalized for as little as $499, packaged advertising campaigns for Martindale-Hubbell’s firms will start from $10,000 to $50,000, including air time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Conflicts of interest resource:

Freivogel on Conflicts: A guide to conflicts of interest for lawyers.

Avvo sued...

Well add me to the list of people who've blogged about Avvo.com. Class-action suit filed against them Thursday in Seattle.

My $.02 are, is Avvo worse than all these other lawyer ratings bodies that exist? Avvo's ratings are based on your experience and whether or not you've had any ethics violations. My rating was a 5.7 out of 10 because I've had zero ethics complaints filed against me but my experience is only 5 years. The ratings are based on factual data...but how useful is experience and ethics to evaluating whether or not a lawyer is skilled in "x" subject area to handle your specific case?

It seems to me this IS an objective criteria although borderline useless. Is it worse than Leading Lawyers where essentially you're rewarded for providing them referrals to additional customers er ah lawyers and then you get rewarded by being listed as a Leading Lawyer in a particular subject matter?

Friday, June 15, 2007

The profitability of domestic relations law

Along this same vein of thought, is there a strong business justification to ever practice in the domestic relations field? Note from the last post, this is currently our largest practice area. But, everything one reads about lawyer profitability says that family law is the worst area for profitability. You never see the big firms practicing family law...and this is the reason right? I certainly know about the struggles to get fees paid in these sorts of cases.

With us there's the issue of do we want to let go of this "branch" before we have another profitable area set-up. And I can think of many non-monetary reasons to be in this practice area, but is there ever a good business reason to do it? How can we make family law work from a business standpoint?

How to go from generalist to specialist?

Thanks for some of the great comments in recent days encouraging specialization in the practice of law. Going a step or two further, and I'm sort of describing the debate that's going on inside my head rather than suggesting I have an answer, what if you are too much of a lawyer generalist...how do you transition toward being that desired expert/specialist?

I'd guess that my journey towards sole practitioner and arguably too much of a generalist, is fairly common. When my solo firm was started some 2+ years ago I had practiced in 3-4 practice areas primarily based on the practice areas of the two employers I'd worked for previously. So those 3-4 practice areas were what I knew (to some degree) and that along with the need to "pay the bills" led me to probably be a bit too general. We're say 60% various forms of family law, 20% residential real estate, 10% trusts/estates and 10% landlord-related matters. I certainly turn down cases where I'm not competent but at the same time there certainly are situations where I feel like my knowledge isn't specific enough in some of the nuances of our practice.

If you have a practice like mine or even a more general solo practice with maybe some corporate work too, how do you choose which area becomes the "new" speciality? What drives the choice? Your interests? Market-based analysis? Both? Other factors?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

General vs. Specific

Saw his quote from a law firm leader with a mid-sized Chicago firm:

We are continually shaping our strategy so that it is more focused rather than less. For a smaller firm, it is life or death. If you are not focused, you are dead. If you are just a generalist, you are only competing on rate. You are not competing on expertise in a few areas where you can have a strong market positions.

What do you think about the statment? And aren't entirely too many small firm lawyers falling prey to this "problem"? I'm fearful that I too often have one foot in that boat...and it's slowly sinking.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Animal law boomlet

Saw this piece about animal law expansion.

"It's growing really fast, and faster than we can probably keep up with," said Jonathan Lovvorn, who leads the Humane Society of the United States' litigation department and has quadrupled his staff to 12 during the past two years.

Work by groups such as the Humane Society and the Animal Legal Defense Fund is encouraging student and attorney interest and funneling it into legal activity. Lovvorn's department has 40 cases pending around the country and has handled 100 since starting in January 2005.

It's interesting to see how new areas of law develop. Of course I dislike pets so I think it's weird.

"Networked" law firms

I've been seeing more and more about these formal lawyer networks. The NYTimes had a good piece here. I'm familiar with Meritas and the International Network of Boutique Law Firms.

Who should be a member of these? Isn't it just a question of a better "vetting" vehible for referrals? I'm intriqued. I constantly grapple with how to better refer clients and receive referrals. It seems like it's mid-sized firms attempting to compete with the mega firms on an international scale.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

New blogging resource from Yaro

Yaro Starak over at The Entrepreneur's Journey has a new eBook on profitable blogging here. Obviously I'm a bit off of "legal stuff" but he's developed some great small business and entrepreneurial resources if you don't get any of his stuff.