Game Plan Before Business Plan

Of course, it has been weeks since my last post!  A goal of daily posting (really what was I thinking!), turned into a weekly goal (possibly doable, if my work world wasn’t in the middle of being turned upside down), transformed into three weeks!  Seriously, where does the time go?  Part of the problem is I had it in my mind that I need to write a novel every post; when really I need to just keep the energy and focus going. So, if I did not think I had a lot to say, I would just push it for another day.

Work really has changed- a lot- and just over the past 3 months.  I have had 4 bosses in about 3 months.  If that does not meet the definition of “a lot” then I don’t know what does.  With everything going on, I told myself I had to get out of the office at lunch, and that would be my time to write or research. There are not too many places in a rural area with free wi-fi that I could bring my own lunch to.  Remember now, I am supposed to be frugal and saving my pennies for my law practice.  And of course there are the days like today where lunch was not even a possibility.  Three weeks it is then.

Where am I at today?  I need a game plan.  Several of the books and legal bar practice sites seem to lay out some general questions I should be asking myself.  I found a decent set of beginning questions within a great article on point by Robin Kravitz, Esq.  It can be found on the NYC Bar Association website here:

 “Before developing a plan for a lawyer, answer the following:

  • Identify your practice niche(s)
  • What skills and experience you bring to your practice
  • What legal structure to use: sole proprietorship, PC, partnership, LLP, etc.
  • What clients you currently have and might potentially acquire
  • What clients you want
  • What business and social contacts you have
  • What other attorneys you can call upon to fill in practice gaps
  • How your firm’s records will be kept
  • What equipment and supplies will be needed
  • What library and other information sources will be needed
  • What insurance will be needed
  • What other resources will be needed
  • How you will compensate yourself
  • Review your current finances re assets, current cash flow, expenses
  • What financing may be needed
  • What financial assets do you have
  • What banking accounts will be needed
  • Review your current non non-financial resources
  • Identify your market
  • Describe your startup plans
  • Where will your office be located
  • What will the name of your firm be.”

So, my goal for the next week is to sit down and start to answer at least half of this starter list.  I am leaving for a quick conference out of state this weekend, and it looks like there will be plenty of airport time without my children.  I think this is doable.  I would outright say the whole list, but I need to set some realistic expectations.  And well, I also need to practice this marvel concept of under promising and over delivering that I hear so many solos talk about.  With that, I will leave one more quick quote from Atty. Kravitz’s article on business plans for lawyers:

You’re no longer thinking about starting a business, you’re now in the process of starting a business.”



Business School for Lawyer Dummies

Steve Jobs Quote at

Goodness.  I often contemplate all my regrets in life.  Why did I do this and not that.  How come I didn’t think to do such and such.  I know, it is not healthy to sit and dwell on what you cannot change, but… Well, one of my newest regrets is not taking business classes in college (other than Business Law).  What on earth was I thinking???  Seriously, basic business knowledge can hurt no one- NO ONE.  And now I’m scrambling to piece together some of that basic knowledge like a fool.

It was sitting here chatting with a fellow service industry individual also looking to strike it on her own (not in the legal field), that it occurred to me that it makes no sense for services orientated educational programs to not have classes geared towards teaching one how to run a business for those services. Thus, some mandatory basic business for lawyers classes would have really made sense.  I’m not talking about Business Organizations, because I took that class, did very well even- and I feel lost right now.  I’m talking about “Business Law for Solo Lawyer Dummies 101.”  I believe some law schools are in fact beginning to do more of this. Hopefully, with a different title.  And they should- remember my post from 1.11.15 where I cited to a 50-50 chance of landing a job!  People have no choice, but to go solo.

The fact of the matter is most of us who graduate realize our shiny $100,000 law school education has not even taught us how to practice law, let alone know how to run a solo law practice.  The old adage that “law school doesn’t teach you how to practice law, it just teaches you how to think like a lawyer” is true.  Very very true.  And while my school at the time did have required skills courses- they were usually only a day long class that really just skimmed the topic de jour.  We also had our share of awesome legal clinics, but unfortunately Hurricane Katrina cut my year long clinical into only one semester.

I always find that the really cool stuff happens after I leave.  I’m not going to lie, the fact that the class of 2000 got to go on a whale watch in Cape Cod, while us 99ers got to hit up the alpine slide at Song Mountain one town over in central NY still hurts.  Yeah, you Lancer Class of 99 feel me- don’t lie.  But seriously, Loyola College of Law is jumping on the Solo Law Incubator Program bandwagon and I’m absolutely green with envy.

“The Incubator Program is an opportunity for Loyola Law School graduates who are engaged (or seek to be engaged) in a full time, social justice oriented solo practice in the Greater New Orleans area. Participants will receive instruction, case referrals, mentorship, peer feedback, and access to a wide variety of resources including office space. With a requirement that at least of 1/4 of time be spent on cases that fall into the “justice gap”, participants will accept pro bono referrals for individuals who are at or below 200% of the poverty line and will receive a $6,000.00 stipend to support the year of pro bono work. Admission to the Louisiana bar is a requirement of the Program although applications may be submitted before bar passage is confirmed for the summer 2014 bar.”

Mike Ditka-

If Ditka says that’s how it’s done, then golly be that is how it’s done folks.  

This sounds amazing.  These legal incubator programs are cropping up all over the country, but the concept of a business incubator program is nothing new as mentioned here.  The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in America no matter what anyone says.  Unfortunately for me, I’m so far removed from law school in years and distance, involvement in a program like this is nearly impossible.  I thought of starting my own, but it comes back down to this: how can I start something to help fellow solos, if I myself have never been solo?  And while I am not closing the door on the idea, or one similar to it that I have been pondering, I am just not in a place to bring in the mentors needed yet.  Working an hour from where I live has led me to not have many legal contacts where I live.  I would not even be able to implement one of the most critical pieces of an incubator program- mentorship – at this time.

So, let’s get real.  What can I do right now?  Well, first, my State Bar has recently began an endeavor called “Business School for Lawyers.”   And this is a great first step.  The downside is the expense of it.  Just to participate in 5.5 hours of “Business Plans for Lawyers” it will cost me $219.  Ouch.  And then if I want to do the 6.5 hours of “Business Principles for a Successful Law Firm” it will cost me another $219.  Double Ouch.  And then each of the lunchtime roundtables is $79.  Triple, Quadruple, and so on and so on… I just sit here and think of the law student fresh out of law school, with no job prospects, having to hand over a couple weeks worth of food to pay for these.  And the State Bar is not insulated from similar attacks made regarding the prices of the CLE programs.  The listserves were all abuzz recently with complaints over how much CLE costs have increased, but the speakers are volunteers and we have to purchase hard copies of materials now.  Something I will need to keep in mind when budgeting for being a solo.  Note to self: find free or cheap CLEs.

Whereas, for $250 I can participate in a 10 week program at my local college called the “Entrepreneurial Training Program.”  That’s 55 hours for only $250.  The only catch is I have to apply for the scholarship and submit a final business plan within 3 months of completing the class.  And since it appears that I make all this money I probably will not qualify, so then it is $750.  Still cheaper than my State Bar in an hour to dollar ratio, but this is the year of frugality to save some money to go solo…

I have already participated in the $29 Western-Dairyland Business Plan Basics class.  It was alright. Not amazingly helpful, but not bad for $29.

And I cannot wait for the Women’s Business Conference to come around this year.  I’m counting down the days until April 30th.  I think I only heard about it last year either right before or after, so I missed it. Not this year!  It is on my calendar.  And not even an April Blizzard is keeping me from attending, which being in WI is completely possible since we had snow well into May last year. :/

And last, I still have to pay my dues for my local bar association.  I need to get networking and meet some people and hopefully find a great core group of mentors.  My fear quite frankly is that there is so much perceived competition for services (really how much competition is there when so many people’s legal needs are not being met) that people will not be arms wide open waiting for me to join the solo field.  I have tried reaching out to solos recently, and it has not gone so great.  Part of me tries to bear in mind that they are solos.  They probably do not have a lot of time because they are constantly working, if it is not writing a motion or meeting with clients, then it is sending out bills or marketing.  However, part of me also feels pretty discouraged too.

Am I going to have mentors available?  I’m an ideas-bouncer-offer.  I am an independent and skillful worker.  However, I do really enjoy throwing my ideas at someone.  Not so much because I need their affirmation, but because sometimes I just work through legal analysis and issues by speaking them aloud to someone that has a pulse- even if I don’t necessarily need them to answer back.  So, that is a huge fear for me by going solo.  I do think listserves will help fill some of that void.  However, it seems like it is always the same people talking on listserves and the few times I have spoken up with a question it is crickets.

But for now, I’m just going to keep taking a crack at it.  Keep trying to network.  Keep looking for business training courses.  Keep my feet and mind moving forward.  Because if there is one thing I am very knowledgeable about, it is perseverance.



Mapping it Out

Yet again, too much time has passed since my last post.  My current position, of which I’m trying to escape, has only become that much more of a motivating factor for this change I so desperately need and want.  Time has been a huge factor.  Many nights have been worked late, hour commute, dinner, kids, and here I am struggling to keep my eyes open so I can set out to do what I said I would and blog. C’est la vie I suppose.

Mapping it out.  What do I mean?  I guess I just mean making a rough outline of steps.  As lawyers it seems like outlines and lists are really what we survive off of.  My survival guide of sorts is “How to Start & Build a Law Practice” by Jay G. Foonberg.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I only have the 3rd edition of this book.  Quite frankly, I was broke in 2008 when I bought it.  After passing the bar and having no job other than part-time work at the grocery store, it was all I could afford.  So, my version is from 1991.  I know!  I was only in about 4th grade at the time.  I knew I wanted to be an attorney then…but I digress. The more recent version- the 5th edition- is still quite old in technological advancement years, considering we get a new I-phone or fancy gadget thrown at us each year.  Instead the 5th edition of this book is from back in 2004.  A lot of advancements have for sure come about since 2004.

Needless to say, this is by no means gospel.  Well, maybe that is not a fair conclusion.  There are MANY things that have made law practice easier since 1991, and 2004 for that matter.  So, I read Foonberg’s book knowing that many of the general principles still prevail, but I recognize that I may learn more about virtual offices, virtual receptionists, new case management systems, computing, gadgets, lawyer apps, and so on, from blogs and youtube tutorials.  And I’m not alone in this understanding.  Carolyn Elefant, who is a solo start-up giant in her own right, wrote about this very thing at the end of 2013 here.  I absolutely loved what she had to say about Foonberg’s book:

“[l]ooking back, it was Foonberg who first articulated in the 1970s the sense of autonomy and possibility that hanging a shingle could confer on lawyers. Taking the time to speak those words out loud and commit them to print — that was the innovation.”

I think there is no paragraph in this book that epitomizes the sense of autonomy and possibility than right in the very beginning.  In Part I, entitled “Getting Started” he lays it all out on the table for you.  No holding back.  And for that I cannot help but appreciate his innovation that much more.  This is where it is at folks:

Risks of Failure– Nothing in life is guaranteed except death, and some religions claim they can guarantee against even death.  There is a substantial risk of failure in opening up your own law practice.  There is also risk if you accept a job with a law firm.  Law firms merge, are absorbed, and go out of business.  Megafirms open and close branches, leaving lawyers unemployed.  There is also an element of luck involved.  This is no more or less true with a law practice than with any other activity.  Marriages fail, children and parents divide, even the Penn Central went bankrupt.  I would not be candid if I didn’t make clear the possibility of failure.  Should You Start Your Own Practice?  Are the risks justified by the rewards?  In my opinion, YES.”

There is certainly risk involved in this, but you cannot have possibility without them.  And really, there is risk staying in my current position too.  That is much more personal and I care not to go down that path, as I have had a paycheck and a sense of security for which I cannot ignore and be ungrateful for.  So, I will just state it is time to move on.  It is time to take new risks, spread my own wings.  I have kids so I am certainly in no position to jump without a parachute, but the parachute of a year’s worth of salary that Mr. Foonberg suggests in the 1991 edition is certainly NOT available on this aircraft.  Nor will it be at the end of this planning year even. I will just have to look to other safety devices.  Hey, I did just get a coupon in the mail to sell my plasma. 😉  So, I have that going for me.



Lawyers: Are There Too Many of Us?

It seems like EVERYONE is talking about innovation these days.  My State Bar has focused a lot on it lately.  And well, for good reason.  Our profession is going somewhere, but where?  It is a scary road as everything attorneys knew 20-30 years ago is being turned upside down.  Big Law is learning it cannot be so BIG.  So, as those firms shore up their faltering businesses, they are slimming down. Many of these Big Law Firms are emulating Small Law Firms in how they do business and the products they use.  My question then, is where does that leave the solo?

Law Schools are churning out more and more attorneys.  Are there too many attorneys though?  I find myself making this statement often- mostly from the general feel of the market in this region- west central Wisconsin.  However, on what fact?

National Association for Law Placement executive director James Leipold stated this past summer:

“It is not true that there are too many lawyers—indeed even today most Americans do not have adequate access to affordable legal services—but the traditional market for large numbers of law graduates by large law firms seeking equity-track new associates is not likely to ever return to what it was in 2006 or 2007, and thus aggregate earning opportunities for the class as a whole are not likely to return to what they were before the recession.”

So, what do the numbers actually say?  Do I have a leg to stand on when I say law schools are churning more and more attorneys out?  Well, surprisingly, the numbers have dropped according to the most recent American Bar Association data.  I started college in 1999, started law school in 2003, and graduated in 2006.  Since starting college there are 19 new law schools.  However, since the peak of enrollment during this period (147,525 in 2010-11), immediately post-recession too mind you, there has been a decrease (139,262 in 2012-13).  Almost back to the levels they were when I entered law school in 2003 (137,676).  These numbers are still higher than they were in say the 1980’s, and certainly higher than they were in the 1960’s.  However, as James Leipold stated, there is a need for legal services.

2012 – 2013
# of Law Schools
# of 1Ls
+/- from previous yr
# of total law students
+/- from previous yr
2011 – 2012
2010 – 2011
2009 – 2010
2008 – 2009
2007 – 2008
2006 – 2007
2005 – 2006
2004 – 2005
2003 – 2004
2002 – 2003
2001 – 2002
2000 – 2001
1999 – 2000

According to the Wall Street Journal, “[m]embers of the law-school class of 2011 had little better than a 50-50 shot at landing a job as a lawyer within nine months of receiving their degree, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis last year. At the same time, some law graduates are saddled with as much as $150,000 in student-loan debt, in part because tuition is rising faster than the rate of inflation.”  So, even though there is a bonafide need for legal services, you have this dichotomy of Big Law with high overhead not wanting to lower their costs of services and Legal Services that can only assist those at or below poverty.  You have a huge gap in between those camps for those who need access to justice.

However, who is to fill it?  We have all these attorneys being pushed out into the big bad world, but with $150,000 in student loan debt (I actually topped out at $168,000 thinking private schools were what were going to propel me into a position to pay for it- that’s a whole different story of self-stupidity), people are scared.  Scared to take the leap.  Not scared to provide the help though.  Actually, I would say a good number of us want to serve this population, and serve them well.

And many are being “forced” to whether they want to or not.  No jobs means more and more new graduates are going solo. Creating even more competition for those struggling to offer reasonable rates, flat fees, and/or sliding scale fees, but also trying to pay off $168,000 in student loan debt, vehicle if they live in rural areas with no public transportation, housing, daycare, and whatever else they have on their plate.

A mentor of mine recently shut down her practice.  She had been the sole manager of it for 7 or so years.  And the competition of all the new solos was one of the factors in her decision to close down and join another practice.  According to my State Bar’s data, in her county there is 1 attorney for every 944 residents.  In my own, there is 1 attorney for every 423 residents.  It certainly made me think long and hard when she announced her office closing and comparing the data.

This brings us full circle to innovation.  How can we think differently, work differently, use technology differently, to provide competent reasonably priced legal services to those that need them, while keeping overhead low and paying off a never-ending pile of debt.  I think we can.  That is not to say that it is going to be an easy task.  And sacrifices will be made.  Those who are paving the way speak openly of the struggles they encounter here.  Nevertheless, this is the year I am going to try and do my part- research, learn, prepare, so I can try and help those who need it, hopefully helping and feeding my own children while I’m at it.



The Frugal Start of the Legal Start-Up

There have been several instances in which I have considered going solo.  The first was after passing the bar exam in 2008.  I could not find any legal work in this area.  In fact, the only job I was offered out of everything I applied for was making $7.25 doing part-time cashier work at a grocery store. Needless to say, that was not going to cover the $168K in student loan debt I stupidly accrued in 7 years of schooling.  So, I started to get my ducks in a row to go solo, (while working at the grocery store) as it was really my only option- like so many others in 2008.  And then I received an offer to work in California.  I came back to Wisconsin after 4 months.  It just was not the right fit.  I then fell into my current position by mere chance.

There have been several times since taking this position that I have considered going solo.  However, this is the most serious I have become.  To keep me on track with seeing it through I have decided to journal about my experience.  I figure it will keep me on task with doing the necessary research, market analysis, business planning, and number crunching.  It will force me to read up on other legal practice/solo/marketing blogs, so that I will have things to discuss with you, my audience.  And well, if my audience ends up just being me, then at least I know my audience is fully engaged in nonsensical spewing of information. 😉

So, in 2015 I resolve to take the bull by the horns and make my own opportunities.  And while the grass is certainly no greener on that side of the pasture (solo) than it is now (in-house), it will lack green for different reasons.  I know I am really turning in one set of problems and gripes for a whole different set. However, I would like to think that I am ready for those problems.  I am not going into this as the 100% solution to such problems, but instead as the adventure I’ve been missing out on.  And what an adventure it will surely be, when you throw in the fact that I am doing this frugally…


I know, it is going to be an interesting year of saving and rethinking how one practices law in this new crazy world of self-help desks, legalzoom, and nolo books.  Innovation or bust!

Cheers & Happy New Year!