McDonald isn’t a true solo – he was hired by a small firm in Grand Cayman as senior associate for an eat-what-you kill position in the Investment Funds Department. In January 2007, two months after McDonald joined the firm, the department’s billable hours totalled 43. But over a period of two years, McDonald built the practice to $2 million in annual billings. He reached his goal by putting together a plan to identify his best opportunities, delivering value — even though it meant hiring and training his own staff, and taking advantage of all connections, no matter where they might be (for instance, McDonald mined business opportunities in Poland, his wife’s native country).
One of the most interesting aspects of the article to me was the way that McDonald was able to leverage his relationship with other law firms through participation in Terralex, a global network of law firms. By working with other member firms, McDonald was able to tap clients in other countries and also offer his clients more value. In addition, McDonald recognized that at least initially, he probably couldn’t compete for business from large institutional funds, so he focused on smaller alternatives. Even today, his portfolio is comprised largely of smaller clients, though he has secured some larger ones as well.
So how can McDonald’s lessons work for you? First, if you can’t find a network that serves your needs, then consider starting your own. For example, if you’re a new solo with a family law practice, you could create a network with a bankruptcy lawyer or an estate planning lawyer so that you can offer clients full service. Second, if you compete for business with larger firms, rather than targeting major players, identify newcomers to an industry, where you can get in on the ground floor.
The Originate article is fairly extensive and contains plenty of good ideas that have been proven to work. So take a look and see if any will work for you.