Hanging Up That Shingle: A Heady Moment. But Where Will the Clients Come From?

WhereMore years ago than I’d like to remember, a cousin sold me my first whole life insurance policy.  At the time, he was new to the business and initially made some money selling policies to family–aunts, uncles, cousins–you name it.  However, after that initial flurry, he didn’t do well and soon dropped out of the business.  Bottom line, he didn’t know how to prospect and market himself.  That combined with but a neophyte’s knowledge of his products did him in.

What does have to do with fledgling lawyers going solo?  Not much, except that building a client base is crucial to success.  Sure, for your extended family, you can prepare wills, help hem to buy and sell houses, incorporate a business, negotiate a settlement when cousin Bruce’s car is hit in the rear–what I refer to as a “slam dunk.”  But where do you go from there?

In this day-and-age, many solo practitioners have unique challenges.  The law, like medicine, is becoming increasingly specialized.  In the medical field, GPs are rare, with many serving as “Primary Care Physicians,” often with a certification in internal medicine.  Patients trek to urologists, nephrologists, gastroenterologists, cardiologists, etc. (All with an “ist” at the end) You get the picture.

The same “phenomenon” has impacted the legal profession.  An increasing number of budding lawyers specialize in tax or international law (picking up an LL.M along the way), bankruptcy, environmental law, various aspects of intellectual property, etc.

At the same time–and it’s been going on for years–more and more young lawyers are chasing a dwindling number of jobs.  A few months ago, a major firm in the DC lopped off roughly 250 attorneys from its payroll.  Granted, it’s a large firm with a specialized practice, but the shrinkage, the slowdown, continues throughout the profession, at firms large and small, handling all kinds of matters.  Indeed, some attorneys are slinging hash at the local bistro, waiting for times to get better.

In this market, some of you have said–or might think–that “I want to be the master of my own domain.”  All well and good.  At the same time, not many of us have that rich uncle who wants you to manage his widespread legal, business, and financial interests.

Let’s face it: I’m not telling you guys anything new. Indeed, many involved with Solo Practice University have a thriving solo practice.  That’s great.  At the same time, others are struggling to “make it.”

Solo Practice University is doing a great job of addressing the unique challenges and opportunities of a solo practice. In this regard, I have contributed to the blog–at times to a mixed reception. So be it!

In any event, at the risk of delving into yesterday’s news, in the next–and concluding–installment, I’m going to address the question, “What to do?” with suggestions, some drawn from my personal experience over the years.  I realize that some readers will click-on-by.  But if I can reach one–hopefully more than one—reader, and help make a difference, it will be worthwhile.


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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4 comments on “Hanging Up That Shingle: A Heady Moment. But Where Will the Clients Come From?

  • I read this article 3 times, wondering each time what it was trying to convey. Your relative didn’t market well, then on to how some doctors are GPs, so are some attorneys….and the point? Is that good or bad? Are you suggesting attorneys should or shouldn’t do something? This seemed to be a mash-up of random thoughts.

    • Julie,

      I completely agree with your perspective on the article. If the focal point of this post is that new lawyers should “mine” their family and friends for work, that sentiment should have been summarized/circled back to at the end of the article.

      Overall, I think this was subject matter with a lot of potential that did not get realized. This article stops short where it should have kept going. For example, why isn’t there a mention of cultivating referral relationships with other lawyers? Co-counseling? Contract lawyering? Researching the intended recipients of your services and finding avenues to connect with them directly? There is no one-size-fits-all approach to initially developing a client base, and a more useful article would reflect that reality.

      • Hi Julie and Kellie, I don’t think the focal point of the article is new lawyers should ‘mine’ their family and friends for work. The point is that new lawyers seem to ‘only’ mine their family and friends for work and forget that family and friends are finite and not a foundation upon which to build their practice. And if it’s not a solid foundation to build their practice on, what should they do to find more clients? This will be addressed in Part 2 as indicated in the closing paragraph and published shortly.

  • Julie,

    Sorry you didn’t get the message which is pretty clear. “Where will the clients come from?” Early in one’s legal career, fledgling lawyers often mine relatives and friends for business: a will here, real estate closing there, incorporating a business, etc.

    My example is right on target. Just like lawyers starting out by “pumping” family and friends for business, the same goes for newly-minted insurance agents without a network of prospective customers. “A mash-up of random thoughts”? Hardly!

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