On Balance

Spring Cleaning, Solo Style

By | Mar.07.17 | Daily Dispatch, Ethics, Law Practice Management, On Balance, Solo Practice

On Balance Legal Ethics

Every new year, there’s always lots of talk about how to start the year off right. For solo and small firm lawyers, that can mean many things. One of my attorney-clients told me her mentor taught her to begin the new year by revisiting her retainer agreement and reading the evidence code cover to cover. Those are great ideas.

But if the first weeks of 2017 got away from you — maybe you were busy with winter vacation, a big court case, hitting your new gym — spring is also a great time to clean up your practice.

Top Five Cleanups

Here are my top five spring cleaning tasks for solo lawyers.

1. Update fee agreements. My client’s mentor was right. You should periodically review and revise your fee agreement. Check to make sure you are still in compliance with your jurisdiction’s ethics rules. Pull your state’s model fee agreement and compare it to yours. Is any critical piece missing? Do any of your terms hopelessly conflict with the bar’s model?

Perhaps something has changed in the way you practice that needs to be added to your fee agreement, such as acceptance of credit cards or your file destruction policies. (See “What Exactly Is the File?”) If you now take credit cards, make sure you include that in your fee agreement. You may want to include an automatic replenishment of the deposits on credit cards. (Check your state’s rules before adding this provision.) As for file destruction, if you don’t have a policy on it spelled out in your fee agreement, this is a great time to add one.

2. Consider your marketing plan. Your practice needs a marketing plan, no matter how simple your advertising and business development efforts may be. Look into technology that can help, such as automated social media schedulers that allow you to spend a day writing posts and schedule them to publish throughout the month. Include a budget in your plan for paid advertising too.

3. Connect with your network. This is a good time of the year to renew connections with your network because your message won’t get lost in a crush of holiday cards and email wishes. Just say hello and happy spring in an email or a voice mail — it does not have to be complicated.

4. Check your CLE status. Many of us are caught off-guard when compliance reporting comes around. Even if your deadline seems far off, check on your status. If your state requires reporting of all courses, send in your certificates now. If you are in a self-reporting state, make sure your set of certificates is complete in case you are audited. Go through your emails and pull all of those certificates so you don’t miss any. If you need more credits, check out as many CLE sources as you can. Many courses are free, but it is hard to get a large number of free classes all at once. Some vendors conduct monthly free seminars. Sign up so you can take one every month until your deadline.

5. Refresh substantive practice area knowledge. It may not be the evidence code for you, but each of us has some piece of the library that is critical to our practice. As an ethics lawyer, for me, it is the rules of professional conduct. Take a couple of hours and read the latest information to make sure you are on top of your game.

Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth in the natural world. Use that inspiration to get set for a great rest of the year.

Megan Zavieh is the creator and author of "The Playbook: The California Bar Discipline System Practice Guide." In her law firm, Zavieh Law, she focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing full and limited scope representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action, and providing guidance to practicing attorneys on questions of legal ethics. Megan is admitted to practice in California, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, as well as in multiple federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. In "On Balance," Megan writes about the issues confronting lawyers in the new world of practicing law. She blogs on ethics at California State Bar Defense and tweets @ZaviehLaw.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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