10 Tips for Solo Practitioners

January 9, 2016
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I’d rather be in the woods

This is my fourth year in practice for myself, and I finished a first year as a true solo. I wrote a post back in 2012 about how to start a solo practice. I wrote this post about what it’s like to be a solo practitioner. And I wrote this piece about a day in the life of a young lawyer.

These are 10 practical tips I’ve tried to assimilate into my own practice. If I’ve found one thing it’s this – you are either running your law practice, or it’s running you.

I’ve had good months, bad months, and in between months. Borrowing a line from my former boss, all you can do is keep plugging away.

Here are some musings and reflections…

1. Stop giving clients your cell phone number. I stopped putting mine in my email signature. When you give your clients your cell, expect to get text messages on holidays, weekends, early in the morning, and all hours of the night. Expect your clients to get angry when you don’t respond to a text in two seconds, and court “isn’t a good excuse.” People nowadays expect instant communication, which simply isn’t possible as a lawyer. A conversation with my Uncle Jim, a successful commercial litigation attorney:

Me: “Man, it’s Christmas and I’m getting text messages. I thought technology was supposed to make things great…”
Jim: “I don’t do text messaging. I’m upfront with clients about that. If they send me one, I won’t respond, and I won’t check it. They can call the office, and I’ll call them back when I’m available.”
Me: “Really? Don’t they fire you?”
Jim: “Never. I return all the calls by the end of the day. But text messaging? That’s a recipe for disaster.”

I’m with Jim. Don’t do text messaging. Don’t do Facebook messenger. Don’t do SnapChat and all those other wacky things.

Instead, give clients your office number, and let clients leave voicemails when you’re busy. Schedule phone calls in advance, rather than take them off the cuff. Personally, I have the voicemails transcribed into an audio file and sent to my email via Nextiva. The only clients who have my cell phone are ones who I’m personally friends with, and yes, they still tend to abuse it. “Dude, real quick, I just need to know this one thing…”

Ever since I’ve stopped giving my cell out to clients, life has been much easier. I’ve had time to blog again, return calls, and write briefs.

And if a client doesn’t want to hire you because you’re not always immediately available? They’re not a client you want.

2.  Make time for office hours. As a solo, one of the things you have to do is plan strategically. Make sure you have at least two or three days a week where you’re in the office, and not in court, a deposition, or with a new client. You need to find time to write briefs, return emails, send letters, etc. It’s too easy for a solo to book up their week with court appearances, meetings, and new client interviews.

While I hate doing this, the best time for office hours is early in the morning around 5am. I’ve started getting to the office around 7am, which creates a three hour barrier before the phone starts ringing and emails start piling up.  Read the rest of this entry »


The Break Up

January 29, 2015

tombstoneIt was a good run.

But ultimately, Jordan and I have decided our practices are taking us in different directions.

So after much discussion, a bit of Sarah McLachlan, a few boxes of tissues, some Crossfit (I hated it), and a brief custody dispute over our awesome furniture, Jordan and I decided to part ways effective Jan 1, 2015.

I’m continuing with a new entity, “Mulvihill LLC”, where I’m going to keep doing what I do, namely, defend my clients and be a thorn in the side of prosecutors (by the way, got another Not Guilty verdict today).

Jordan’s continuing to practice as “A. Jordan Rushie, Attorney at Law“, where he’s going to keep doing whatever it is he does (namely, wiping the floor with opposing counsel in poorly considered lawsuits against his clients. See, e.g. this).

But don’t cry for us, blawgosphere, as we both are going to continue to write here for PhillyLawBlog and be general pains in the ass. We still have a lot to say, whether you want to hear it or not. Don’t be strangers.

Hugs and Kisses. XOXO,

-Leo & Jordan


Should I Start a Law Practice? (Redux)—Retrospective, Dec. 31, 2014

December 31, 2014
The Author with an Author

Sometimes real lawyers agree to slum it with the likes of me.

The practice of law is about relationships“.
-Me (And Brian Tannebaum, and probably plenty of other people much smarter than I am).

About two and a half years ago, Jordan wrote a post called “Should I Start a Law Practice?” It remains one of our most-viewed articles on this blog. Because it’s the end of the year,  rather than being creative and thinking of a new and exciting topic, I decided, now concluding my fourth year of practice, and having started as a true solo fresh out of law school, to revisit the topic Jordan discussed back in 2012. I’d intended to write this follow-up to his post way back then, but simply never got around to it.

My perspective is different that Jordan’s—partly because I graduated in 2010, when the market had tanked—and partly because I did not work at a firm before I hung my shingle.

Here’s my point: You should start a practice if you want to, and if you understand that the practice of law is all about relationships—with your colleagues, with your mentors, and with your clients.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Appointment, Part 2.

November 25, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 10.55.39 AM

[Ed.- This is part two of an ongoing series. For part one, click here.]

It was 10.11 am, and I was in the ante-room with my client, Barnaby Jones.

Mr Jones had been my client for all of 8 minutes now, and I had trial in a month, after his previous lawyer had sat on the case for four years. I’d just given him my spiel (e.g., I’m Leo, I’ve never been a prosecutor, I’ve always fought to the defense, I don’t treat my court-appointed clients any differently than my private pay clients, etc…).

Mr Jones was receptive to all this, and smiled as I shook his hand. I closed my elevator speech by taking out my business card.

“Mr Jones, take this. You and I have to talk. Soon. My office number is on the card, but here, let me write my cell on there…”

I don’t normally give my cell phone out to clients—for good reason. I’m not much a fan of getting calls at 10.30pm on a Saturday asking “So, what’s going on with my case?” (Answer: “Call me on Monday during business hours and I will let you know”.)

But with so little time to prepare, I had to get moving as soon as possible. I mean, we were scheduled for a jury in a month, I had literally no discovery, and I had three other courtrooms to be in that morning alone. The clock was ticking, and we needed to get started.

“Mr Jones, call my office when you get back home, and let’s schedule a time for you to come in this week to discuss your case. We don’t have a lot of time”.

He looked at me and nodded: “Yes, sir. But Mr Leo, it wasn’t me!” A familiar refrain for defense counsel.

“We’ll talk soon. Call me today”, I said as I walked out the door and down the hall to my next courtroom.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Plea

December 3, 2013

It is Tuesday at 9.30am and I am in the booth.

The booth is a tiny box where I have the honor of talking to my client through an inch of bullet-proof glass. I say “talking”, though it’s really more like yelling, since it’s pretty hard to hear through that glass.

“Booth” is a misnomer too. “Booth” reminds me of the precursor to something fun. You buy tickets to a movie or carnival rides at a booth. No such fun was happening today.

Really, the booth is purgatory, a limbo my clients sit in after they’ve made their way from the prison and to the courthouse basement’s holding cells, but before they enter the courtroom where they await final judgment.

This particular morning, I am wearing a navy flannel Brooks Brothers No. 1 sack suit, a white shirt I freshly pressed at 5.30 that morning, and a somber tie that reflected my mood.

In gross juxtaposition, my client is in an orange prison jumpsuit and has a thermal on underneath to keep warm. I guess this hell follows Dante’s rules.

My client is a good man who’d recently made a series of terrible decisions, all of which led to where he is today. Despite his cock-ups, he was truthful and admitted his mistakes not only to his family, but to members of his community.

Then the police became involved.

And he got arrested.

And his mistakes became a “case.”

And that’s how we ended up on opposite sides of the same sheet of glass on Tuesday at 9.32am. Read the rest of this entry »


Technology Is Still Not How You Build A Law Firm

July 7, 2013

Today I read an… interesting… article suggesting something that only lawyers on the internet believe. Apparently “virtual technology” (I guess stuff like cloud computing and iPads) is going to reshape the face of law. This will allow young lawyers with very little supervision to offer cheaper legal services to people, thereby undercutting large and mid-sized law firms. The author states:

I’ve seen new law school graduates successfully fill the void between the brick and mortar model and the other option of downloading do-it-yourself legal forms on-line by serving this market virtually.  Clients can find the attorney on line, the attorney comes to meet the clients  at a time and place convenient to the clients, the clients can access their attorney and documents on line and everyone is happy.

The obvious regarding my questions about “virtual lawyers” aside (where do they take depositions? Where do they store deposition transcripts, or client files securely for that matter?), here are a few observations from a young guy who has their own practice that is doing well.

Of course, take my advice for what it’s worth because I only started my own firm in 2012, and it could all fall apart tomorrow. But these are my musings…

Read the rest of this entry »


Can I Start A Law Firm With No Money?

June 29, 2013
STRAIGHT CASH

This is how you get paid.

I think one of the most common questions I get asked is, “Jordan, I want to start my own firm, but I have like $1700 in my savings account. Can I start a law firm with no money?”

The simple answer is yes, yes you can. It doesn’t take much more than a law license, a working computer, a printer, and a cell phone to start a law firm.

But here is the better question. Will your law firm succeed in the long term if you start it with no money?

Well, that answer is a bit more complex…

I will preface this post with a true story. A friend of mine was abruptly laid off from biglaw. He couldn’t find a job so he decided to start his own practice with no clients, an office from home, and very little money in savings. During the startup period, he defaulted on his mortgage and his house was sold at sheriff’s sale. He also defaulted on his motorcycle loan, and rides a pedal bike around the neighborhood. At one point, he was on food stamps. Yes, a lawyer who once made a six figure salary working for a law firm was on food stamps. A few years later, his solo practice finally pays his rent, but he lost everything in the process.

Read the rest of this entry »