Independent Thinking: Newly Solo? Use Your “Downtime” Productively

October 23, 2012

Starting a law practice can be a daunting task.  And, unless you were fortunate enough to bring a full book of business into your firm at start-up, you will likely, at least initially, have a lot of free time.

Here are five tips for using that time productively:

 1. Define an endgame

What is the vision for your practice?  Although it may be necessary to take clients and their legal issues across a broad spectrum of practice areas when you’re starting out, have a vision for your firm.  Review all strategy decisions and marketing efforts against that vision, and if an activity doesn’t support your vision, don’t make the investment.  Your goal is to build a brand–both your own and the firm’s–that supports your long-term vision.

2. Identify your income needs at different price points

Reviewing your minimum financial needs at a variety of price points will allow you to make informed decisions on whether to offer a lower rate to gain experience in an area that supports your vision.

3. Develop templates and processes for routine matters

Your initial years in practice will include a lot of “firsts” (e.g., your first divorce, your first appeal, etc.).  When you complete one of these “firsts”:

  • (1) Review your process and write down the critical steps needed to complete the task or resolve the matter
  • (2) Identify critical deadlines and items on the list that caused you difficulty or involved complex procedures
  • (3) Use that information to create a checklist, and, if you do not have them, document templates for you to follow the next time you handle a similar matter.  Having this checklist will ensure that you leverage your learning across like matters (making you more efficient and less likely to make repeat or new mistakes).

After each project, review and revise the checklist and templates.  As your practice matures and you become busy, you will thank yourself for having the foresight to have created these practice aids–they will help keep you on track amidst the chaos of juggling multiple matters with competing deadlines and will also be invaluable as tools for training associates and support staff as your practice grows.

4. Expand your network

Go to solo and small firm mixers, attend solo practice bar events, and do not fear reaching out to established attorneys… even those in other jurisdictions (use Skype if you can, since face-to-face is more personal and can create a lasting impression with your contacts).

Leverage social media to expand your network and to enhance your brand.  Email early; tweet late.  Create a micro-blog.  And if that is too much of a commitment, tweet interesting articles related to your practice areas.  Consistency and presence in social media are key; sporadic communication will not achieve results.

5. Educate yourself

Read EVERYTHING you can on law practice management, trends in the practice of law, and anything remotely related to your target practice areas.  Subscribe to blogs and newsletters by government agencies, social agencies, think tanks, or private companies, as well as their press releases.   If you have questions or interesting supplemental material related to an article, contact the author and use it as a way to expand your network.  Develop expertise in your practice area and then volunteer to educate others in that area at continuing legal education seminars, in presentations to local civic groups, or as an adjunct professor in an undergraduate or graduate program.

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