Solo Network

How Solos Get Costs So Low

Sometimes the Clients Themselves Are Key to Saving Money

Posted Sep 29, 2005 3:07 AM CDT
By Margaret Graham Tebo

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Reta McKannan knows the one thing that matters to her clients almost as much as the outcome of their cases: cost.

McKannan, who runs a solo practice in Huntsville, Ala., knows that her clients will appreciate any thing she can do to watch the bottom line—and that happy clients are more likely to return and recommend her services to others. For some, she knows, the difference between having a lawyer who pays close attention to costs and one who doesn’t is the difference between affording legal help and having to go without.

That means using a paralegal intern from a local training program to do some of the prep work or hiring high school students to retrieve, copy and sometimes even serve documents. It can also mean allowing some clients to review documents by e-mail, rather than requiring them to return to the office for an appointment each time

“It depends on the client, the level of trust. If I have somebody I know will read the e-mail carefully and respond appropriately, I have no problem with sending drafts for review and having them only come in when it’s time to sign the final draft,” McKannan says.

Check It Out

Dallas lawyer Jimmy Verner says one way he saves clients the often massive cost of ordering a certified copy of a court file is simply by borrowing it from the clerk’s office. “They allow lawyers to check out the file for a few days at a time, so rather than automatically ordering a full copy, I’ll just check it out when I am ready to write my brief,” says Verner, who handles mostly family law appeals.

Verner says he also saves clients hundreds of dollars by videotaping depositions, rather than hiring a court reporter. Then, if a transcript is needed, he’ll sometimes allow clients to create the transcript from a copy of the video, allowing them to participate in the preparation of their case and save money.

“They’ve already spent a lot ... trying the case. Saving every penny you can sometimes makes the difference as to whether they can afford to appeal at all,” Verner notes.

Faxing documents, rather than mailing them, is another simple money-saving method, Verner says. Many jurisdictions now allow faxes, with appropriate confirmations, to serve as proof of delivery of documents. Faxing directly from the computer saves both time and money, he says, because there’s no paper, envelope or postage, and no staff time to prepare the mailing and see that it gets sent.

Verner and McKannan both use e-mail to communicate with clients whenever they can. Verner says he often does not charge for the time he spends responding to simple inquiries. McKannan sometimes charges her clients a reduced rate for business conducted via e-mail.

“The difference is: You can answer when it’s convenient, rather than stopping what you’re doing to take a call,” Verner says. “I always try to answer e-mails the same day, but I get to it when I am ready and so it’s much more efficient than the phone.” Timothy Gutknecht takes a more expansive view of sav ing clients money. It’s all about not reinventing the wheel, he says. He meets with his colleagues at their small Columbia, Ill., law firm each evening just after the office closes. They bounce ideas about cases off one another. He also subscribes to the ABA’s Solosez e-mail discussion list, where solo and small-firm lawyers pose questions to one another about case strategy and procedure. “If they have an idea or an answer off the top of their heads, I don’t have to charge the client for an hour or two of looking for that answer,” Gutknecht says.

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