Solos & Small Firms

Make Lemonade

Just because your practice is slow doesn't mean you should be

Posted Oct 1, 2009 8:20 PM CDT
By Barbara Rose

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Photo by iStockPhoto.com

California lawyer Martin Trupiano, feeling overloaded, tried to schedule time with his equally pressed wife to talk about ways they could make their lives less hectic.

“We had to cancel the meeting because we were too busy,” he laments.

It was not always so. For solos just starting out or for anyone hit by the drag of a slumping economy, there will be days when the calendar is empty and the phone doesn’t ring. What’s an enterprising attorney to do?

“I look around for marketing analysis,” says Trupiano, who’s from Encino. “The clients I’ve served—have I heard from them lately? Who’s been giving me referrals? Should I call them? How many clients did I get from various websites, and should I update what I have posted there? Who might give me some business today, and who do I need to develop for tomorrow?”

A former BigLaw commercial litigator, Trupiano expanded into advising nonprofits and charities when he went out on his own two years ago. “I was ramping on a learning curve,” he says, “trying to jam as much into my head as I could while I was beginning to develop relationships to develop clients. So I had plenty to do.”

DITCH THE DOWNTIME

That’s how it ought to be, says Susan Cartier Liebel, an attorney in Northford, Conn., and founder of Solo Practice University, a Web-based educational and networking community. “There shouldn’t be any downtime,” she says. “You should be doing whatever gets you learning and others learning about you. You need to be doing this all the time because you never know where your business is going to come from.”

For a new attorney, there’s no better way to learn the ropes than spending time in court, Liebel says. “You’re being seen and getting to know the players. You’re putting in face time in front of judges, seeing who the clerks are. You listen, you learn—it’s a never-ending process.”

Matt Jenkins knew no one in the Portland, Ore., legal community when he opened a practice last October, three years out of law school. He followed Liebel’s advice.

“I’d go in and review a case to see how another attorney approached an issue,” he says. “I’d sit in on trials. Whenever the attorneys seemed approachable, I’d talk to them about the case. It’s a kind of substitute mentor experience. It’s great for networking and learning.”

Now that he’s considering expanding into bankruptcy law, “I may go in and sit in on some [creditors] meetings,” he says.

Los Angeles attorney Adrianos Facchetti discovered his best strategy is blogging and networking online. His Internet defamation work took off after he started his Califor­nia Defamation Law Blog last year.

“Social media is the most effective use of a lawyer’s time,” he says. “I use Twitter during downtimes to promote my blog and my brand.

“In a sense I create downtime,” Facchetti adds. “I don’t take every case I get in the door. Unless it’s a good case, I won’t take it. I’d rather market my efforts and target the specific clients I want.”

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