10 rules for solos and small firms
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Where are you going?

10 Rules for Surviving as a Solo or Small Firm Practice

Change can be unsettling or exhilarating — you decide.

By Dustin Cole

We hope this doesn’t come as a shock, but the legal profession is going through some monumental changes.

Walmart now has a niche for lawyers next to the bank and a doc-in-a-box in many stores. Sam’s Club now offers LegalZoom as a benefit. And a growing number of states are licensing paralegals to deliver limited legal services, a la physician assistants. But that is just a tiny glimpse into what’s in store.

Some futurists predict that as many as one-third of the lawyers in practice today will have left the profession within the next five years.

What Are You Going to Do?

News like this can leave a solo attorney or small firm lawyer feeling (to paraphrase “Hamilton”) outgunned, outmanned, outspent and outplanned. It doesn’t have to be that way. How will you need to change your thinking to stay viable? Here are 10 rules and recommendations:

  1. Learn from change, don’t resent it. Ask yourself, what is the opportunity here?
  2. The past ain’t coming back. Move forward or be left behind.
  3. Embrace technology. It’s not a choice. Every old dog can learn new tricks. As Yogi Berra once said, “First ya gotta wanna.”
  4. Hire or keep a strong right-arm paralegal or assistant. Without this, you don’t have a practice. You have a job.
  5. Attracting work is just as important as doing it. Get over it.
  6. Develop a clear identity. General practice is not an identity. It’s a plea.
  7. Three (OK, four) words to remember that will help you stay alive: focus, niche and target market. You can’t survive trying to sell everything to everyone.
  8. Be highly visible and active in your own and your target market’s community. You won’t be found by prospects if you are hiding in your office.
  9. Your worst enemy is inertia, not your competition.
  10. Think beyond this month’s billings. Without a road map to tomorrow, you are living in yesterday.

Are You on Track to a Successful Practice and Happier Life?

Last year I wrote a series of articles to help lawyers build outstanding practices — and “Why Lawyers Really Struggle with Work-Life Balance” was rated one of the top 10 most-read articles here. Attorney at Work has created an e-guide based on the series, called “Six Steps to a Successful Practice and a Happier Life,” that you can download here:

Dustin Cole Download image

The crux of the matter is that successful lawyers learn new ways to operate their firms so they can keep building their practices while having (or recovering) a life. The six steps will help you lay a foundation of great business practices so you can stop struggling over revenue as the stress continues to mount, and instead, prosper both professionally and personally. Download it today and get going.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

Categories: Law Firm Strategy, Managing a Law Firm, Small Law Firm, Solo Law Firm
Originally published March 1, 2019
Last updated December 15, 2020
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Dustin Cole Dustin Cole

Dustin Cole is President and Master Practice Advisor with Attorneys Master Class. For nearly 25 years, he has delivered CLE programs on practice management, marketing, risk management and succession planning for bar associations and organizations. He has keynoted and trained at nearly all of the nation’s solo and small firm programs, worked with more than 400 attorneys, and conducted operations and marketing analyses for more than 100 firms. Email him at dustin@attorneysmasterclass.com.

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