Powered by Max Banner Ads
Well, there’s about 8 hours left in 2009 as I jot down a few thoughts here in the Central Standard time zone. Can I say that New Years Eve is a non-event for me…not sure why although it may have to do with the fact I’m more of an early morning person than a late night person so the concept of staying up past midnight to see fireworks or some lighted ball dropping isn’t quite the cat’s meow for me. But the one thing I do enjoy about the transition from year-to-year is the opportunity to reflect on the last year and plan ahead to the next year.
Here are 4 Final Thoughts for 2009 from one Solo (attorney) In Chicago…
Steady Income Sources are Nice and/or Cash Flow is King. I’d guess that like with me, this is a huge struggle for many solos. I think a lot of it stems from the fact that sole practitioners tend to be more dependent on individual clients than larger law firms. And if these individuals are anything like some of my clients they’re not always rolling-in-the-dough which equals paying their lawyers in dribs and drabs. It’s hard to lawyer like that and it’s hard to live with that. Can you find some steady sources of income to create an “income floor” that you can count on each month? Over the last 6 months or so the combination of my work as part of the Cook County Domestic Relations Division Referral Program (run through the domestic relations division of the Circuit Court of Cook County per rule 13.8b) and as an arbitrator through Cook County’s mandatory arbitration program have allowed me to create more a floor under my income. Not huge dollars but at least I have knowledge at the start of each month I can count on say $1,500 of income that isn’t dependent on a client’s payment that month. Might there be some court-appointed options that you can plug into? Or is there a way you can gain some business or entity clientele with more repeat business to supplement your individual clients?
Marketing/Selling is Key. Here’s a fact they don’t teach ya in law school: The lawyers who make the most money aren’t the best legal practitioners rather the lawyers who make the most money are the best salespeople and marketers. This fact is of the utmost importance if you’re starting/building a law firm. I’m just about at a point where I’ve located the marketing sweet spot in terms of really getting the phone ringing regularly with new client inquiries. The big 3 marketing channels that work for me are: 1) Current/former clients (reached via personal meetings/contacts, annual mailing, and monthly Constant Contact e-mail newsletter); 2) Other professionals (reached in many ways like category #1 plus memberships in local Rotary and LeTip chapters); 3) Bar Association referral services. For me categories #1 & #2 are where the action is BIG TIME. Other areas I’m pondering are better Internet-based ads and targeting the evangelical Christian community which I’m active in better. I’d hope to maybe do an interview with some small firm attorneys and their Google AdWords experience. I see them up on this blog and they just seem so generic that I can’t imagine why/how they’d be effective plus I’ve heard of some bad experiences…I suppose it’s all about the correct keywords, no?
Under-Billing: A Problem with Solutions. This is becoming less of a problem for me as my self-confidence grows, I see the quality of work I do vis-a-vis other attorneys (and vis-a-vis their billing rates), and I do better with regards to items 1 & 2 above…in other words these things are all interrelated. Lawyers under-bill because they might not think they’re very good lawyers but I’m starting to see I am a pretty good lawyer. And as I build some steady income sources and effectively open several effective marketing channels I’m not as worried about losing that 1 client if I quote too high of a fee because there will be others who will happily compensate me for the quality of work that I do.
Use Friendly But Aggressive Billing Communication. I like where I am right now with regards to our billing communication and follow-up. And I don’t say that theoretically, I say it meaning we’re getting paid well and our receivables are reasonably low. What’s working for us? It’s one non-lawyer’s job to mail our bills our each month and to follow-up with clients at specific time increments if there has not been payment. And this isn’t some a-hole collection agency (I’ve sworn off of them) rather it’s a friendly member of our staff making a reminder call. Full and accurate communication in your billing is key too…the description on your bills is as important as any of your in-court legal writing and probably more. I bet most clients are reading your bills more closely than a lot of judges are reading your pleadings. Eventually you must withdraw and bring your fee petition if there’s non-compliance. I haven’t crossed the sue-my-ex-clients bridge yet, BUT, if you’re in area like under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act where you can bring a simple fee petition as a pleading like anything else in the case you’ve got to do it. Clients seem to act if you’ve got a judgment against them and a wage deduction’s comin’.
SEE YOU BACK HERE NEXT YEAR!