Step 1 – Get Clients.

I was having a conversation with a fellow Gen Y lawyer about whether or not she should go solo. Together we brainstormed how she could go about using her unique experiences to create her own solo practice. We talked about what kind of law she could practice, what kind of clients she could serve and what kind of marketing she could do. We even talked about some of the technology she could use. At the end of the conversation, she asked,

“So what do I do now?”

I guess we never got around to discussing the actual steps of setting up an operating law office. And I planned to write a whole long article about the operational steps I took to set up my practice. But . . . I got stuck on step one. Its the most important thing and, therefore, the first thing you should do after you decide to go solo: Get Clients.

Really? Getting clients is the very first step?

Yep, sorry to disappoint but that is step one (unless you count passing the bar – but that’s a given). I know its way more fun to design a logo and purchase fancy letterhead and business cards but you won’t be needing any of that stuff if you don’t get some clients. Lucky for me, I read an article by Lee Rosen before I went solo. Lee’s advice was to try to actually practice law as a solo before setting up all the law office bells and whistles. He recommended contacting friends, family and colleagues and letting them know that you are open for business and ask them to refer clients to you. Then get a few clients (or even just a client). Then do the work. Then decide if solo practice is really for you.

I highly recommend this method. Especially because I have seen quite a few lawyers spend the time and money to set up a practice with all of the bells and whistles, only to abandon it a few months later when they are offered a job or some other realization or circumstance takes them away from solo practice. Why spend the time and money building up a practice that you may quickly decide to close? Plus, it doesn’t help your reputation to have run a very short-lived practice. Why not test the waters under the radar first? Then once you are sure its right for you, announce your new bells and whistles-laden practice with all the fanfare you want.

And . . . how exactly does one acquire said clients?

When I tell my peers who are thinking about going solo to send a simple email or letter to the folks they know announcing that they are open for business, they all nod in agreement. But they never do it. Its the advice that no one takes.

Maybe you don’t want to do it because its uncomfortable to announce this new thing your doing and you’re a bit uneasy about it. You don’t want tell all of the people you know because it may not work out and then everyone you know will know you failed. Well that’s precisely why it works! When people who already know you and like you learn that you are taking a risk starting your own practice and need their help to succeed – they will want to help you. In fact, I bet many of them will go out of their way to help you find your first client.

Maybe the reason you won’t do it is because you feel like you’re not a real lawyer unless you have an office with bookcases filled with leather-bound books, a secretary to answer your phone and business cards printed on linen paper. You may see yourself this way but your friends and family don’t. Most people probably thought of you as a lawyer the moment you started law school. (Remember that BBQ the summer after 1L year when your uncle asked you for a legal analysis of the property line dispute he was having with his neighbor? Or maybe that was just me). Maybe other lawyers will put you down and make you feel like you’re not a real lawyer. But don’t listen to them. And if you want to hear from a fellow attorney that you are the real deal, just ask me.

If you have some other way to quickly get your first few clients that does not require spending money, by all means have at it. If not, then you need to send the announcement today. Its the fastest way to get your first few clients – so you can try your hand at this whole soloing thing.

I wish you many new and excellent clients in this new year!

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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5 comments on “Step 1 – Get Clients.

  • I’m definitely guilty of trying to be a “real lawyer”.

    Get Clients – What a great way to start the new year.

    • Paul,

      Thank you for your comment. We’re all guilty of that.

      If one wants to feel like a real lawyer, then one should do some lawyering. It feels way better than buying books. ;)

  • From Jay Foonberg:

    One can reinvent the wheel or one can buy or borrow or go to paper or electronic library ( yes Virginia, libraries have not all gone into the Cloud or out of business) to get “How To Start and Build A Law Practice” which has used successfully by about 200,000 lawyers.

    Unfortunately that book does not promise instant success and immediate riches like the TV lawyers.It also emphasizes that law is a profession not a business, and that those who succeed also enjoy making money, but that is not the reason they became lawyers nor remain lawyers.

    I have never waivered in 50 years of helping other lawyers succeed. The successful lawyers are those who truly want to help people and make a difference in people’s lives and in our society. Those who look on law only as a business and a way to make money should enter some other field of activity where they won’t be bound by ethical restrictions

    As Abraham Lincoln counseled new lawyers: “It’s all in the books” Gerald Ford , a former President of The United States recommended “How To Start and Build A Law Practice” as a book for law students and young lawyers. The book has made more than $2,000,000 for the ABA. I do not get one penny of that money. I wrote it and update it solely to help new lawyers get started.

    No reason to reinvent the wheel. Nothing wrong with putting some white walls on it, but the wheel won’t be different.

    My advice to the question asked would be: Find something that you are passion about and figure out a way to help people by making that subject available through you as a lawyer.”

    Keep up the good work. and have a healthy happy 2012


    Jay Foonberg
    Attorney, CPA, CLE Presenter, Author,
    Fellow – American College of Law Practice Management,
    4-Time ABA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
    How to Start and Build a Law Practice, 5th ed.
    How to Get and Keep Good Clients, 3rd ed.
    ABA Guide to Lawyer Trust Accounts
    How to Draft Bills Clients Rush to Pay, 2nd ed.
    Finding the Right Lawyer
    Getting Paid in Good Times and Bad (Dec. 2010)

    • Jay,

      Honored to have you comment. And I could not agree more with your sentiment. I think we as lawyers would be much happier if we focused more on helping people then on meeting the bottom line. I can’t imagine not making money when you are doing work that you are passionate about and that really helps people.

      Thank you, again, for your comments and kind words.

  • Great advice! I was one of those lawyers who actually did send letters to everyone I know — to let them know that I started a solo practice and to ask for referrals. It really did work. Five years later, I’m still a solo lawyer and I still rely on many of those same people to send me quality clients. If you put the work into doing the best for each client you get, they’ll send more clients your way.

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