I would not say that getting business is easy. It takes some work. It takes some thought and effort. Anyone could take my list of 27 things to do, add a few that are particular to you or your locality, and be buried in work. I’ve had lawyer/skeptics dispute this, telling me they just wish they could figure out how to get some clients because “business is slow”. If someone’s law office is not busy, they have something the busy do not have. Time. And if you want to be busy, use your time to stir the pot with items from the list, and you will be busy.
If you want to be busy and successful you have a bigger challenge. It is not enough to be busy. If you want to be successful, you must be marketing (and be prepared to work on) the good cases for YOU.
What are the good cases for YOU?
This is the first question you should ask yourself, and you should not let yourself off the hook with less than a detailed answer. How will you know how to get “it” if you don’t know what “it” is? How detailed an answer? Enough so that you could see yourself doing it successfully and happily. It’s not enough to say to yourself, “I want to have a busy office with lots of ***** (you name it….commercial litigation? PI cases? Real estate closings? Wills and estate planning? Immigration? Employment law cases?). The type of cases matters, but it’s only a start.
Add some details to your answer. Let’s ask for “clients who can afford proper fees”, and “cases that I know how to do really well (or that I can learn)” and “cases that are in my home Court” and “cases that are interesting” and “cases in a field that is growing”.
And a few more….
Cases I would want to be doing a lot. (because you will be)
Cases that would allow me to earn $**** (and make this number high). We are asking for what we want. This is important. It will help you figure out how to get there (because yes, you have to figure that out) and it will help you assess how you are doing (because yes, you will want to do that, too, and make adjustments)
How you ask and answer these questions to yourself (OK, I’ll say it, how to set your goals), will drive your decisions and the steps you actually take. You will make more decisions, clearer and bolder decisions, and productively adjust your decisions, when your goals are clear.
I’d venture to say that even if you are just getting started, and have an intention to start in “general practice”, you ought to be thinking about narrowing the focus. I say this having learned the lessons of the somewhat misguided generalist over many years. (note/disclaimer – In New York, lawyers can’t call themselves “specialists”, and I am NOT suggesting that anyone hold themselves out to the public as a “specialist”. I am of course referring to lawyers who “focus” on particular practice areas. For our purposes I will refer to “specialists” because it reads better than “focus-ers” or “concentrat-ors”) Here are some observations about specialists:
1. They really know their practice area. Generalists know too, up to a point, but on more substantial cases they are soon out of their element. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and nearly impossible to explain (or justify) to a client.
2. They get paid more…..and bill with confidence, as they should. Without question, they are giving their clients value.
3. They usually find their chosen field interesting and exciting. When I was a confirmed generalist, I proudly found all areas of law interesting, to talk and think about, and to strategize about, but to actually do…..not so much fun. Haven’t we all, as generalists, had the experience of calling someone who really knew about a particular area of law? At some point I realized it would be better to be receiving those calls rather than making them.
4. They have systems geared for their specialty. Generalists (hopefully) have general, all purpose systems, that work, to a point. But within a specialized field these same systems are grossly inefficient by comparison.
5. They know the players in their field, and they recognize the fakers. The specialists are also known (and respected) by the Judges, the Court attorneys, the Court Clerks, and the other lawyers in the case. For the generalist, being in a big case against specialists is like playing an away game in bad weather after a west coast plane trip.
When you have articulated your goals, you can and will take some focused actions:
- You will define yourself that way. “I’m a ________ lawyer”. This feels great, and when it is the truth, confidence builds more confidence.
- You will make marketing moves that are guided by the goals. Most likely this will take the form of doing a great website. It will likely also include blogging and social media. You will do these if your goals are clear and engrained in you. If you don’t have solid goals, chances are you will do what many lawyers do, continue to “think about” your website and social media and marketing. Thinking about your website does not lead your potential clients to do a Google search and find you on page one. Creating a great website makes this happen.
- You will make and develop good systems to handle the work you want the way you want it. This of course makes you even better at it, and helps profits.
- You will take extra CLE in your field, and follow all the cases, and otherwise get really good at it, for two main reasons: It’s the right business move and because you want to.
- You will locate and be in contact with mentors. This is crucial, and much easier than people think. On the surface, mentors can help with substantive legal questions. But the deeper value is asking about and learning about billing, case selection and rejection, and handling clients.(Think Solo Practice University.)
When I decided to evolve my practice into probate and estate administration, my thoughts and approach were like this:
“I want to consistently earn $**** per year. I want to do probate and estate cases, not estate planning. I want most if not all of my Court cases to be in Queens County. I want to be known and recognized by other lawyers as someone who really knows his stuff.
Those were mine, yours will be yours. A lot of words are not needed, but some time and even some soul-searching goes into it. Doing this “don’t cost nuthin” other than some time and effort. A small price to pay, considering you are worth it.
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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