OK, the ink on your bar admission certificate is hardly dry and you want to hit the ground running. It’s time, you say, to put up the sign, “John J. Jones, Attorney.”
Well, you reason, “I had an internship in law school in criminal law, or whatever, and read some materials on law office management.” That should be enough. As far as clients are concerned, some tyro lawyers might invoke a variation of the well-known quote from Field of Dreams, musing, “If you build it [a practice], the clients will come.”
That’s another ballgame. Some recently-minted barristers would do well not to get ahead of themselves. It might be prudent to put client development on the back burner until you are conversant with the ABCs of running a law practice. So whether your goal is going solo or setting up setting up a small law firm–perhaps a boutique practice–put first things first!
The Next Step
Apropos of the above, if you opt to seek out a sole practitioner or small firm, here are some helpful hints to get the position you want.
–They should be relatively short. A key suggestion: Emphasize benefits, not features. For example, if you include a stint in marketing for a publisher, it’s not enough to say that, in a previous life, you were a marketing manager for ABC publishing. That’s a “feature.” Instead, if you did a good job, and if it applies, say something to the effect that you “increased circulation of a magazine or newsletter from 16,000 to 21,000,” or “direct mail responses for conference attendees exceeded 5.1%, or 7.2%,” or whatever.
Résumés are often pulled by computers based on key words. Ouch! Wherever possible, try to make personal contact before submitting your curriculum vitae. And while cover letters have gone out of favor, a brief recitation of career highlights, goals, etc., in a cover letter or, perhaps, in the email message, is likely in your favor
–During the interview, keep in mind that three things are uppermost in the interviewer’s mind:
1. Can s/he do the job? Do you have the technical chops, the knowledge, to tackle the assignments? Can you hit the ground running? This applies to any “learning” opportunity–as an intern, paralegal, associate, whatever.
2. Will s/he do the job? Here, the interviewer wants to know whether you have the commitment to get the job done, whatever it is and how long it takes. Do you have enthusiasm and drive to help make a difference?
3. Will s/he fit in? This is the “culture” question. Every business, law firm, etc., has a culture, which filters down from the top. Are they clock-watchers? Supportive? etc. You know the drill. Do employees say, “It’s 3pm; I can’t wait until 5pm.” Or do they say, “It’s 3pm; where did the day go?” No matter what the job is, how large the firm or company is, the culture can make a difference–positive or negative–for many employees.
Keep in mind that interviewers may not lay out the questions as I have put forth. Be that as it may, these issues are paramount in their mind. Furthermore, if they don’t latch on to them and you have an opening, take the initiative. Ask-and-answer the questions yourself! It can be a big plus–make a difference!
Sitting on the Other Side of the Desk
When you are have relevant experience under your belt and are ready to set up a solo practice, as your practice grows it will be become evident that you can’t do it alone. So hire a (virtual) secretary or assistant, perhaps a (virtual) paralegal, eventually an associate–full-time, part-time, whatever. In such circumstances, you can “turn the tables” in the interview setting, getting a feel about candidates in their responses to the three questions posed above–what they say and how they say it.
The same principles govern the situation where you have joined a small firm that reflects your interests and goals. Or perhaps you and other colleagues decide to start your own practice. Now you may be tasked with asking the questions posed above of potential colleagues, not answering them, to see whether there is a potential match.
Okay, fast-forward to a related subject. You may have an established solo practice or are a partner with a small law firm. In either scenario, the firm recruited well–including full-time and part-time staff. Management is indeed happy with the crew. Other than financial and related issues, how can you best retain the staffers as valued members of the team? Of course, you’ve done a good job. At the same time, you may opt to keep the following tips in mind:
–Listen up! You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.
–Do not micro-manage.
–Keep the staff informed.
–Sell, don’t tell.
–Little things mean a lot; e.g., “Thank you.”
–Delegate, don’t dump.
–Let employees know they count.
–Keep the lines of communication open.
–Be fair, consistent.
–Be receptive to suggestions.
–Set an example (e.g., punctuality, courtesy, appearance).
–Pitch in and roll up your sleeves. When necessary, “get in the trenches with the troops.”
–Praise in public; criticize with tact in private. Concentrate on issues, not personality.
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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