Tag Archives: Solo Practice

Concept: Secured solo practice

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Pro Serve PR, a public relations firm serving law and professional service firms. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition based on his experience in legal marketing, public relations, and practice management. Nick shares career growth experience and innovation with legal job seekers.

Here’s the problem: there are no jobs for recent law grads and many are hanging shingles right out of law school; without co-counsel support, many risk failure and malpractice. The solution is a concept I call “secured solo practice.” This collaborative practice model satisfies the needs of solo practitioners along with their senior counterparts.

The equation: new solo attorney + affiliate counsel = secured solo practice. What secures it? Money.

Newly licensed and practicing solo practitioners are frequently advised to negotiate of counsel relationships. This seems easy in theory, but the practical application presents some roadblocks. Why would senior counsel be motivated to stop their billing clock to help the new attorney who may not be aware of errors and omissions in their client representation? The answer: secure the relationship with a mutually beneficial business relationship.

The secured solo is secured, in part (not to ignore professional liability insurance) by the engagement of “affiliate counsel.” I suggest that the affiliate counsel have a minimum of 10 years in their practice area. Often, the senior set of eyes will spot issues a less experienced practitioner might miss.

Secured solos compensate their affiliate counsel by paying them a reasonable monthly or annual fee. Knowing the affiliate counsel will be available to field calls and questions, the secured solo has backup and can take a client inquiry and get up to speed on issue spotting before meeting the client. I suggest limiting the practice area exposure in these relationships – general practice can backfire.

The affiliate counsel would agree to bill their time at the same rate as charged by the new solo. Full disclosure of the secured solo practice relationship is important. The secured solo could pass on affiliate counsel charges directly to the client as a cost. Clients should be aware of the scope of this of counsel format. In the event the affiliate counsel wishes, and the secured solo agrees, assistance could be delegated to an affiliate’s associate or partner.

By attaching compensation to the relationship, the workflow process is prioritized. Think of this concept in terms of paid mentorships. The affiliate counsel benefits from professional good will. To the extent the secured solo practitioner has an extensive social network; there might be an opportunity for both to take the next big case. Certainly the parties to a secured solo relationship must be knowledgeable about professional responsibility and applicable legal and liability factors.

What do you think of the secured solo practice model? What concerns would you pose? What additional benefits to you see? I am keen on further development of this concept.

Be of counsel, keep your own shingle

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Inc. company.  Law Publicist Communications is a public relations agency also offering coaching and consulting.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management.  He shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Attorneys starting their own practice want to be able to build their name and reputation while earning money from “of counsel relationships,” as I will term them.   I suggest anyone looking for of counsel opportunities should first do their research, including a call to the ARDC and the ABA.  Knowing, and being able to demonstrate the finer points of an of counsel relationship, should help you when approaching seasoned lawyers with too much work on their plate.  Here are a few of today’s economic realities we need to consider.

Economic Reality #1:  We are practicing in a rebounding economy where seasoned professionals are cautious when approaching mergers and acquisitions of new associates.  There are two things lawyers generally dislike, turning away clients and terminating employees.  I may get some disagreement on turning away, or referring interested clients, but I doubt anyone enjoys terminating an employee.  Keeping associates with no scheduled work is a realistic concern for many lawyers in solo and small firm practices.  Having another lawyer as a back-up is a great proposition in a rebounding economy.

Economic Reality #2:  You never make more money working for others as you would on your own but bills need to be paid now.  If you establish an of counsel relationship with a firm who has work now but no promise of continuation, you can bring in money today to pay bills while building your own practice.  Along the way, you may just happen to stumble upon your very own client.  If you continue the of counsel relationship you will likely reach a point where the income from your main practice eclipses the value of the work being fed by the of counsel firm.

Economic Reality #3:  The clients who retained an of counsel firm are more likely to be loyal to that firm and won’t send referral clients to you.  If you have and market your own practice the chances of referrals are minimal compared to associates of a growing firm. People will assume the firm who hired you has a solid book of business and is less concerned about client generation. But don’t forget, you have bills to pay now.

Economic Reality #4:  The economy is rebounding, but remember, it will take some time.  If you are set up to accept those clients next year, the setup activity this year becomes well worth your investment.  Remember, an of counsel relationship doesn’t have to dissolve when you are well on your own.  You just might be in the position to hire an associate who you can feed with an of counsel workload.  Consider as well that you might be listed as an of counsel lawyer on another firm’s site.  They will probably keep all the work that comes from their own marketing efforts, but isn’t it nice to be found another place online?

With the caveat that young attorneys should always get help when practicing in new areas, I suggest losing the training wheels and take the solo plunge. The sooner you establish your own firm the sooner your value will grow among your colleges and clients.  Again, get help, don’t practice on your own without having co-counsel and of counsel plans in place.

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.

The Road Less Traveled: Working as a Contract Lawyer

By Lisa Solomon

For many, the term “contract lawyer” refers to an attorney who is hired by a staffing agency to peform relatively low-level work (such as document review), related to a major litigation or transaction, for a large firm or corporation. But there is another path for contract lawyers, one that comes with intellectually fulfilling work, excellent working conditions and a comfortable living. I’m referring to becoming an independent contract lawyer.

Independent contract lawyers are a small but growing cadre of solo practitioners who, enabled by technology, work on a project-by-project basis for other lawyers. Contract lawyers perform various tasks, including making court appearances, conducting depositions, and researching and writing briefs.

Getting Started as a Contract Lawyer

Contract lawyering is well-suited to the needs of attorneys in transition because it takes advantage of their existing professional networks. As a contract lawyer, you have a ready pool of potential clients, including your former law school classmates, the colleagues you meet though bar association activities, and even former employers (who may not have enough extra work to justify hiring a permanent full- or part-time employee, but may have a periodic need to have more hands on deck). Continue reading