Rachel Rodgers, the intellectual property and business lawyer for digital entrepreneurs, returns to finish her excellent series on starting your own practice. In this post, she talks about all the details of running your own solo practice. Welcome, Rachel!
So now that you know a bit about starting up a solo practice, you may be wondering what it’s really like to run a solo practice. There’s often an illusion that you’ll spend all your time writing contracts and legal briefs while you maintain a successful practice that pays all your bills.
The reality can be very far from that picture.
Sometimes, it feels as though you’re juggling 20 imaginary balls while riding a bike because when you’re a solo, you have to do a little bit (or sometimes a lot!) of everything. There are a few major tasks that you have to manage each and every week so let’s start with those.
Marketing Your Firm Offline
This is a big one because marketing is how you’re going to start building your client base.
Even after you start getting repeat business and referral business, you’ll still be marketing yourself to new clients.
This often takes the form of attending networking events and conferences, speaking engagements and meeting referral partners for lunch from time to time, just to name a few.
These all take time, effort and energy to accomplish and yield results so they can seem overwhelming at the beginning. One thing many entrepreneurs find helpful is to simply start with one marketing activity and slowly add the rest as you get more comfortable.
Building Your Brand and Online Presence
In addition to marketing offline, you want to be sure that you have an online presence associated with your brand. Online marketing involves social media engagement, blogging, contributing to online commentary, and maintaining a coherent look and feel on your website.
As you build your brand, you want to be sure that you stay true to yourself and are consistent about who you are and who you serve because being authentic sells and its much easier than being phony!
The most important aspect of low-cost, high-return content marketing is to be consistently delivering quality information in one form or another.
Obtaining and Managing Clients
This is a huge one since this is the end goal of all that marketing and branding!
Once you attract the leads, you then have to convert them into clients.
This is going to require a consultation and follow-ups after you’ve been contacted by a potential client. Some potential clients only require one interaction prior to getting on board whereas others can require dozens of touch points before being ready to sign your engagement agreement. Throughout the conversion process, you’re likely to communicate at least 3-4 times before they ever become a paying client.
Then, once they become a paying client, you have to onboard them with things like engagement agreements, intake forms, and coordinating calls. Again, it varies because some clients are going to require more support than others but you can expect to need at least another 3-4 interactions before you can get started on their actual legal work. You know, the legal work you went to law school to do, right?
Then you have the sometimes monstrous task of managing the client workload (and the deadlines associated therewith) while regularly communicating with your clients and managing all of these other activities necessary to keep your doors open. Are we having fun yet?!
Managing the Finances
When you start your practice it can seem like the money will never flow, but don’t you worry cause eventually it will. And then its going to be mo’ money, mo’ problems.
As a business owner, you now have to worry about more than just paying yourself.
You have to take care of operating expenses and make sure everyone is paid on time. And did I mention taxes? Taxes become a whole new (scary) world when you’re self-employed.
At a certain point, it’s worthwhile to delegate managing the finances to a bookkeeper or accountant (and for many that point comes pretty early when they realize how time-consuming and knowledge-specific these skills really are!).
It’s easy to think you only need to make X dollars because that’s your salary but in reality, you have to make more than that so you can cover all the other operating expenses and STILL be able to pay yourself. Weeeee!!!
Managing a Team
This is something many solo lawyers never anticipate because when you first start the idea of having a team seems like an impossible goal.
The reality though is that you’ll probably need to get support fairly quickly if your practice starts to grow.
After the first year, I had added several different contractors to help out with things like my marketing and bookkeeping as well as client service. It didn’t add up to a lot of actual hours but the support was essential in helping to grow my practice. It did mean though that I now had to figure out how to manage a team rather than just myself.
So instead of just watching for my own deadlines and responsibilities, I now also needed to monitor and supervise my team as well.
So What Does It All Mean?
These tasks all add up to a whole lot of time, work, and energy. And sometimes it can get really, really hard.
However, if you have the drive and the passion for it, you will be successful (because you won’t tolerate any other outcome).
I started Her Virtual Law Office because I wanted to help other lawyers successfully start their own solo practices but I do think it’s important that you know what you’re really getting yourself into. I’ve worked countless hours and put in endless amounts of energy into my practice over the last 3 and a half years; much more than I’d probably have to if I worked at a small firm or other non-Big Law position.
Now that my practice is more established I have a team and systems in place so that I don’t have to continue to work until 10pm every night (I have to get home to my babies every night!).
There are plenty of lawyers that would rather work for an established firm and collect their paycheck and be done with it. A solo practice is not for everyone and that’s good.
If it is for you, then you’ll have the drive to build a successful practice you love.
Thanks, Rachel! Solid advice all around.
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And check out these other helpful posts:
- Catapulting to a Career in Solo Practice
- So What’s It Really Like to Run a Solo Practice?
- Going Solo Right Out of Law School? To Partner Up or Not
- The Real Secret to Getting Clients for Your Online Practice
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