I got an email from a nice fellow the other day that asked for advice on starting a new practice.
I thought his question and my response might be helpful to other folks in his situation, so (with some light editing) I’m reproducing his question and my response below.
The Email Question
“I am writing to ask for some advice. I was hoping you might be able to offer a couple of general principles for a 3L getting ready to practice in a small firm or as a solo.
I’m a 35-year-old, nontraditional law student. Before law school, I was an officer in the Navy for 10 years, where I worked in contracts and supply chain management. I’m going into my 3L year, but I have listened to your podcast since before I took the LSAT. Thanks for all the great info you share there!
I found you because I want to run a paperless practice. I’ve been using Evernote for years and have spent a lot of time thinking about how to incorporate Dropbox or Google Drive into my practice. I’ve done well in school and joined the law review, but I decided to bypass the big firms in favor of more autonomy in my career. I have a young family and value time with them over the money that the long hours at a big firm could offer.
My real question is, what things do you think a new lawyer at a small firm (1-3 attorneys) in a rural market should consider when building a practice. What types of things are important to get right in the beginning to scale later?
Thanks for the nice email. I’m glad you like my podcast and find it helpful. I’d be happy to give you some guidance, which hopefully will be helpful.
Let’s begin with your main question…
What things do you think a new lawyer at a small firm (1-3 attorneys) in a rural market should consider when building a practice.
This is a good question to be asking, and it implicates at least a couple of factors that are worth identifying specifically:
- Starting to practice law
- In a small firm (1-3 lawyers)
- In a rural market (not sure how rural, or population size)
When you are trying to identify foundational elements of a business (or law practice, which is a business) you should break things down and think about them separately.
And then reflect on how they work together.
Whenever you can, simplify each consideration.
Boil things down. Keep things simple.
That’s the best way to make good decisions.
(assuming that your quest for simplicity does not become dangerously simplistic)
Relationships are 80% of business success
Most business success depends on relationships.
The more relationships you have with other people, the more help you’ll be able to get.
And the more prospective clients (i.e. revenue sources) you’ll have access to.
This is a simple, powerful element that most people seem to lose sight of.
But it’s the heart of everything in any business that involves humans working for and with other humans.
This is obvious right now while you’re reading this, but it might not be later on. When you get distracted with other things you’ll probably do what most people (me included) do and forget about this factor, or undervalue its weight/importance.
Marketing your practice is about creating new relationships that are beneficial, and then nurturing those relationships.
In a rural market, this will be more obvious.
What will NOT be as obvious?
For most people, it’s not obvious that you can create, nurture and benefit from virtual relationships.
Learning how to create and nurture virtual relationships is harder and less familiar to most of us —especially lawyers of a certain age.
So, now to the 2nd part of your other question…
“What types of things are important to get right in the beginning to scale later?”
If you want to make it easy to create, nurture and benefit from ALL types of relationships, find a simple, easy way to nurture those relationships (real world, and virtual) in one place, using one tool/system.
The way to do that is through email addresses that you collect from every person that might be a source of referrals (old clients, prospective clients, friends, family, acquaintances, etc.).
You then have the option of emailing them occasionally for various reasons:
- To individually wish them a happy birthday
- To individually ask them how things are going
- To individually invite them to lunch or for a cup of coffee etc.
But you can also send one email blast to many people at once if you use a service like ConvertKit (which is free for up to 1,000 names).
You have already met many people in your life who know, like and trust you.
And all of those people are potential referral sources.
They want to hear from you from time to time, some want more contact than others.
And that’s the part you have to be sure to keep in mind when you use a tool like ConvertKit to blast people en masse.
ConvertKit has a lot of sophistication when you get to the point that you want to tap into that power.
But’s simple to use in the beginning if you start small.
Keep it simple
That’s how you should start everything you in your law business.
- Start small
- Think systematically
- Build slowly and steadily
- Keep things under control.
That’s how you should grow any kind of business…
Especially a business that operates in a globalized, virtual world dominated by endless complexity.