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When you open a solo law practice, especially early in your career, it’s easy enough to do everything yourself. Often you’re too poor to hire anyone anyhow, and if you haven’t yet built up your book of business, you have the time to figure things out on your own. I’ve had my firm for almost two years, though, and now I’m getting to the point where I’m so busy it’s time to start outsourcing some things on my to-do lists.
Where to start? I kicked this question over to a handful of solo lawyer groups and solo attorneys to find out the first thing they had outsourced. The answers, for the most part, did not surprise me.
By far the most common answer I got was to outsource bookkeeping and payroll first. This makes perfect sense. QuickBooks is something you can learn, but it’s even easier to let an expert do it for you, especially when you have complicated accounts and are responsible for others’ livelihoods. Even if you do your own books, you want to find a bookkeeper you can hire for an hour to set up your QuickBooks accounts properly — and whom you can call when you break things.
Along the same line, the next most common answer was to hire an accountant. I guess I was outsourcing from day one of my firm because I hired my accountant even before I started my practice, and he is worth his weight in gold.
Unless you were a business CPA in your life before law school, never do your own business taxes. It’s way too complicated. Every January, my CPA sends me a packet of worksheets to fill out, where I report my income, expenses, mileage, charitable giving, etc., and he magically makes my completed taxes appear, along with the completed forms for my estimated quarterly taxes for the coming year. I gladly pay his bill every time.
Several respondents reported that they outsource the answering of their phone. This allows people to call the firm and talk to someone even when you’re unavailable. It also keeps you from being distracted by phone calls when you’re working on projects.
Rackham Karlsson is a family law mediator and collaborative attorney in Cambridge, Mass., who uses a virtual receptionist. He said, “Some people are much more comfortable talking with a receptionist than leaving a voicemail. [The virtual receptionist] can answer the phone even if I am in a meeting, at lunch or just taking some downtime. They also keep longer hours than I do. It’s been a huge benefit to my practice — just this morning, they took two calls from potential clients while I was out of the office on other business.”
I received a collection of responses from people who said they outsource research or paralegal tasks and they use a variety of providers: other attorneys, outside paralegals, law students. One respondent said they outsourced projects to the Philippines! Karin Ciano, a civil rights and employment attorney in Minneapolis, said “[W]hen things get really busy, sometimes a student or junior lawyer can get a project started sooner and more cost-effectively than I can. I now include an outsourcing paragraph in all my engagement letters and have found that my clients … are very accepting of the idea that I may outsource to save them money.”
Hiring a per diem attorney to appear for routine or trivial matters was another answer. Also, more than two people replied that they outsource marketing and public relations. That answer makes particular sense, considering how complex marketing can be. Brent Kleinman, a DUI, business and real estate attorney in Phoenix, remarked, “I had to develop a brand and for that I needed a professional marketing and public relations company. This has been a very successful cost for me as I have been able to be interviewed on multiple TV stations and create a brand that is becoming recognizable without paying for typical advertising.”
I was surprised that almost everyone who responded only spoke about outsourcing tasks in their professional lives. In the coming year, I suspect the next thing I’ll outsource is the cleaning of my house. I’m very particular about who I let work on my business, especially when it requires me to relinquish control over certain tasks. However, if I had to predict what I’ll outsource next from a professional standpoint, it will probably be some of my marketing and PR tasks. Maybe I’ll work up to taking David Crum of Legal Research Pros’ advice: “[E]verything that does not require your particular expertise should be outsourced if you can. Hard to do when you first start, but will work miracles for your practice.”
Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her practice focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth is the author of the ABA book, Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans, as well as The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or Killed. In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new practice. Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.
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