Surviving the economic climate

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of ALR/PRA Inc., a full service law practice management agency.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations and marketing.  Nick also shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

I often ask lawyers in my social networks what advice they want to hear.  For some attorneys in transition, the advice is easily taken; in other situations advice can be more complicated.  This week’s advice goes out to a solo practicing attorney in California.  A native of Egypt, my friend likely anticipated a career in the Golden State here in the U.S. would be a “dream come true.”  Today he is asking how to survive in the present economic climate?

“Suddenly Solo” is being tossed around as a remedy for associates who have fallen from big firms or law school graduates who just passed their bar exam and are looking for employment.  One of our leaders in law practice management, Ed Poll, recently appeared up on my Facebook wall with a link to a story about the risks of going solo versus riding out the storm.  I tend to agree with the sentiment that if you don’t have to make a great change, you might be better off holding on to your hat and waiting a while longer.

First, to those who want to leave a firm temporarily challenged by a dip in revenue:  hold on a while longer.  Take an assessment of your capital contributions and consider the amount of brand equity you have with your current line-up.  Even though the cash may not be flowing this month, the contacts and connections you’ve made already will suit you well in the future.  Many professionals have said that economic cleansing leaves behind the people who are best suited for their jobs.  The lawyers who hold tight in their current positions are more likely to appear successful and maintain the respect of clients and colleagues.

Second, to those solo practitioners who want to hang up their shingle:  hold on a while longer.  A few attorneys have mentioned that they terminated some associates last year when there was little work; now, instead of hiring new associates, principals are bringing some struggling solo’s into their firms instead of re-hiring associates.  While this may be a temporary fix, this scenario could require you to hang up on the tremendous human capital and sweat equity you invested into your solo practice.  If you are going to go this route, consider an of counsel relationship to another firm instead of closing the doors to your solo practice.

I expect some to say:  “Nick, how can you expect us to hold on where there is no money?”  OK, fair question – there are always alternative incoming generators you can tap into while maintaining your status quo.  When I started my business in 2005 things were good, then in 2007, the clients started drying up and I took an extra part-time job to keep cash flowing.  Is it a shock to the ego to take a second job?  Yes.  Is it worth it in the long run to be able to ride out the storm?  I think so.

Taking a second job can be as simple as assuming some overflow cases as an of counsel attorney to another firm.  Taking on contract work through an agency can be another secondary income source – you would be surprised how many solo practitioners are doing just that.  To my colleague in California, I wish you well; to all the attorneys in transition:  just hold on a while longer.

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