My Shingle

Crowdsourcing Advice for a Struggling Solo

by Carolyn Elefant on September 16, 2011 · 40 comments

in Growing Your Practice, New Marketing Ideas, Practice Areas, Questions & Advice

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[Update 9/23--Readers - thank you for your response.  We've collected an enormous amount of information, some very helpful, some of it obvious and some of it (diving in full force to cases by copying pleadings stood out to me as inadvisable and potential career killer but there are others). I've got to read through everything myself and post my thoughts sometime next week]

To read the blogs on solo practice or to see the joyful utterances emanating on Twitter (just signed up five clients!!! Best. day. ever!) you’d think that every solo in the world was running a bustling and lucrative practice. But as we all know, that’s not the case — it’s just that no one ever wants to admit that keeping a law firm operational, after the heady excitement of the early days is really hard. So even though there are more resources than ever for solos seeking help — listservs, blogs and educational communities, at the same time, it’s also harder to ask for help because the constant stream of online success stories can make even the hardiest among us — myself included — feel like an utter failure.

Thus, I was gratified when one MyShingle reader reached out to me seeking advice. But this time, instead of just offering my own response, I’d like to give my reader the benefit of your advice. So take a look at the letter below, and share your thoughts in the comments section, or write your own blog post and I’ll link to that as well.

Here’s the email which has been sanitized to remove identifying details:

I am a solo with a practice in a large East Coast city. I handle real estate transactions, bankruptcy, divorce and general litigation. I started my solo practice three years ago, following several years of employment at a smaller firm. Initially, I was able to sustain a practice through referrals – although even then it was a struggle. But lately, I find that people don’t want to pay for legal services. I do an initial consult, but then the potential client will haggle over the price. In addition, the referrals come in spurts and I would like to find a way to produce a steady revenue stream.

I am updating the firm resume, adding a Facebook page, joining Linked In and I have started sending email updates to colleagues. But I would like ideas to jump start my practice – to start bringing in work right away while developing a reliable stream of revenue for the future.

So readers, the floor is yours. What’s your advice for jump starting a solo practice? I know that there’s not a lot of detail here, but work with what you have. What should – and shouldn’t this struggling solo do to succeed in both the short and long term.

Update 9/23] Readers – thank you for your response.  We’ve collected an enormous amount of information, some very helpful, some of it obvious and some of it (diving in full force to cases by copying pleadings stood out to me as inadvisable and potential career killer but there are others). I’ve got to read through everything myself and post my thoughts sometime next week]

  • http://twitter.com/jsfabian Jeffrey Fabian, Esq.

    As far as using the social media sites is concerned, consider hiring a good social media coach, or at least reading current publications on the subject. I thought I had developed a pretty good (and actually pretty active) social media campaign only to be told that it was a “complete failure”–and within my first few weeks of making changes the response increased significantly.

    It seems to me that one of the best options for an immediate boost is paying for Google AdWords, though this may not necessarily be as effective for all types of practices. It seems like it might make sense for your practice.

    Otherwise–and I hate to say it because I am worse at it than anyone–active in-person networking still seems to me to produce pretty good results.

    As a side note, I am a solo IP attorney a few years out in a large East Coast city, so if you are interested in making a connection give me a shout.

    http://www.fabianlegal.com

  • http://www.legaltypist.com LegalTypist

    There is simply no better way to gain clients than face to face networking.  Join local clubs and organizations which are of interest to your target market(s) and also join your local Bar Associations so you can let other attorneys know  the type of client/situations in which you can help.

  • Guest

    I would really like to see responses from solos who are
    making at least 6 figures (in profit) from their law practice (not another
    business) and have been making this amount consistently for quite some time.
    Not that I discount the advice of someone making less, but so many people offer
    advice that they haven’t implemented themselves or haven’t implemented correctly.
     

  • http://flanderslawfirm.com Joe Flanders

    As suggested, I posted on this topic over at my blog Solo In Minneapolis.  I hope some of my suggestions helped.  If there are more specifics, I would be happy to offer other things that have worked for me.  

  • http://www.legalpracticepro.com Jay S. Fleischman

    This is what’s been called, “gun to the head marketing,” not the long-term strategic planning you’re going to want to do.

    First off, all of this presupposes that you’re a good lawyer who does excellent work for your clients.  If you give bad service, screw up client matters and don’t give 100% to every matter then neither I nor anyone else can help you.

    I disagree that you should hire a “social media coach.”  Bear in mind, this is coming from someone who’s not only a practicing lawyer in a big East Coast city but also a legal marketing consultant.  Social networking platforms require care and feeding in order to produce success, and isn’t going to turn a buck quickly.  As for hiring someone who’s going to tell you that you’re doing it wrong – that’s garbage.  But it’s a post for another day, I’m afraid.

    The first thing you want to do is get on the phone with your top 5 referral sources and let them know you’re actively looking for new business.  If they are lawyers, accountants, etc. then ask if they’d be willing to send out a letter to all of their clients to let them know about your services (at your cost, with your efforts put into drafting the letter and sending them).  If referral fees are permitted in your jurisdiction, you need to be prepared for that.

    Next, send a letter to all of your prior clients asking them if they would pass along your card to their friends and family members.  Include 3-4 business cards in the letter, and make sure your business card says exactly what kind of work you do.

    Think about the top 11 ways a potential client knows it’s time to call a lawyer who does what you do, then offer it to a local newspaper for publication (not the big dailies – I’m thinking the small community papers).  Now you’re a celebrity (albeit a minor one).

    Go onto LinkedIn and join the groups frequented by your best referral sources.  Introduce yourself (no pitch, just introduce) and start answering questions.  Make yourself known.  Don’t pitch or sell, just be a nice and smart person.  Referrals come from people who like you.

    Read and comment on local blogs and those frequented by your clients and referral sources.  People read the comments section of many blogs more closely than the main post areas.  Be smart, rational and never – ever – pitch your services.  You’ll become known to regular readers as an insightful professional, and to the blog writers as a potential source for news and referrals.

    Want to have some fun and get publicity?  Not afraid to look like a human being rather than a staid lawyer?

    Consider doing something completely outrageous in connection with your practice to drum up publicity.  For example, September 20 is National Punch Day (look it up).  If you’re practicing bankruptcy, think you could celebrate it in your office (by setting up a punching bag and inviting people to “punch their bill collectors”) and alert the news media to it?

    Just imagine the human interest story of consumers battered by bill collectors getting out their frustrations.  Live on camera.  With a smiling lawyer making the serious point that people are fed up with years of recession and bill problems, and that real help is available.

    Cheesy, yes – but attention-getting in the extreme and actually fun (I can’t wait to see the follow-up comments to this suggestion).

    Nobody ever got successful in business by sitting in the office in fear.  Go out there and hit the bricks.

  • http://twitter.com/DanielGershburg Daniel Gershburg Esq

    You’re 100% right.  Every time I hear another marketer say something, I am absolutely hesitant to listen. In fact, what I say is, “I’ll implement everything you want me to.  Show me your tax returns and I’ll show you mine”.  Sounds ridiculously pompous but its true.  If you’re not making more than I am, you have zero business telling me how to run my show.

    I’ve made over 6 figures and I’ve grown consistently, and there are no “tips”.  Yes, I set up a nifty website, do social media, but its utterly worthless if you’re not going to do great work.  You have to hustle, plain and simple.  If you’re in a small city, go to the Chamber of Commerce or whatever meetings there are.  Figure out what area people need the most, learn as much as you can, and start practicing in it.  If you’re in a big city, hustle locally.  Someone you know have a restaurant?  Maybe they need an Operating Agreement.  Maybe they know someone who does.  But maybe not.  Maybe you need to go to networking event after networking event until something works.  Maybe you have to take out all the Real Estate brokers to a lunch for referral sources.  There is not one answer.

    And, personally, I would never ever ask contacts I know to send out letters or business cards for me.  It looks and smells desperate.  

    The more we realize there is no one central answer, the more we know that success has to be done on an individual level.  Not everyone is going to make 6 figures.  Not everyone has the personality traits inherent in success.  Not everyone is going to succeed.  Work harder than the next person and go the extra mile and you have a much better chance.

  • http://www.hamilllawoffice.com/ Leanna

    Things that worked for me when I was needing business (in the first couple of years of my firm): 
    1. Getting really good and comfortable talking about money, asking for money, not giving free consults, and not negotiating on price.  This is key. Read Foonberg’s chapter on fees, read some Barbara Stanny books, read/buy some of Mikelann Valterra’s materials. If you are getting people in the door and then running into money issues with them, work on your own issues with money first.

    2. Sending out a paper newsletter to all past clients and contacts. Every time I send this out, I get about 5 calls from referral sources or past clients. Can’t afford  a whole newsletter? Make some post cards on Vista print and send those. I sent one with “winter driving tips” on it (I’m an estate planning attorney) but my goal was to remind people I exist and give them some useful information.

    3. Networking in person. Not desperately, but to fill up to the hours when you’d just be sitting in your office reading solosez or tweeting. Get out and meet actual people. Figure out ways to be useful to them and make friends. When I started my firm, I had 3 clients. Going to networking events was my part-time job until I started to get more clients.

    4. Cultivate your existing referral sources. These are the people who already know, like and trust you. Send them a thank you card for their past support of your business, remind them you are taking new clients in particular areas and think about what you might be able to refer to them.

    5. Clean your office and shine your shoes. Does your image project the type of attorney who is worth the fees you are asking for? If your office is cluttered, dusty, outdated or just looks cheaply put together, people will be less likely to want to pay you what you are worth. You don’t need mahogany walls, but it should be an attractive place that makes you proud to have people see, and makes them feel comfortable.

    6. Screen your potential clients betters. People should not be getting an initial consult with you unless you have screened them to make sure they have some idea of what kind of money they will have to come up with, and that they have the ability to come up with this money.  I put fee ranges on my website so that people know my services aren’t free, and that they need to pay me money. It helps them, and it help me.

  • Carolyn Elefant

    As Joe mentioned, I did encourage people to post ideas on their blog – and am glad to push traffic to sites that do so. So please visit Joe’s blog and see what he has to say – and again, feel free to write your own blog post and link to it as well.

  • shg

    Too funny, Brian Tannebaum pretending to be Jay Fleischmann and offering such ridiculous “advice.”  I nearly fell off my chair laughing.

  • shg

    One point of reference, Joe. You’re a new solo giving advice to another new solo. Is that because you’ve discovered the secret to making millions or just want to flawg your name around the blawgosphere?  If the former, how wonderful that you, new millionaire that you are, are willing to share with others. 

    If not, then who are you to give anyone else advice?

  • http://flanderslawfirm.com Joe Flanders

    Wow.  Sorry if I offended blogosphere by trying to be helpful.  I guess new solos should just shut up and not try to be helpful.  We clearly have nothing of value to add.  You sound like my former law firm partner.

  • Anonymous

    My 2 cents:
    1. You are without a marketing plan.  Waiting for people to refer you things is not a marketing plan.  The three big marketing methods are direct mail solicitations, yellow pages and internet.  Yellow pages are dead so don’t bother with them.  Regarding the others:

    2. Direct mail works like this:  1. Find a potential client source. For example, criminal clients from court arrest records, foreclosure defense and bankruptcy from court foreclosure records, bankruptcy from credit card collections court records; you get the picture.  There are services that you can subscribe to that have this information. 2. Put the target client information into a Word table or Excel spreadsheet.  Use the mailer function on Word to merge this data into customized letters.  You will send out hundreds of customized letters a week.  Make sure that you follow the ethics rules in your jurisdiction.  For example the letters must say “attorney advertising material” and must have your name on them. You must keep copies (software copies are ok) of everything that you send out.  Mailers are not a panacea because hundreds of lawyers do them, but they still work well.  After you get some mailer clients, ask them to bring in mailers from competing lawyers.  Follow the format of the best competitor mailers.

    3. Internet:  There are two methods of internet advertising:  Paid search (ie Adwords) and organic search.  You should put up a nice (doesn’t need to be expensive) website with good info for the clients.  Hire an internet service to get you hits. Don’t sign a 1 year contract, do it in smaller increments.  Start out with paid search.  Regarding organic search: learn these words: Search Engine Organization (SEO). SEO is the science of getting page 1 on Google. Become a master of SEO.  Besides hiring an internet consultant, you should learn everything that you can yourself from books.  SEO is basically: 1. how you write things for the search engines, 2. the number of good inbound links, and 3. how often you update your site or blog.  A good service will ghostwrite blogs for you that have good keyword content. Make sure you read what they write before publication because you are ethically responsible for the content.  Get in the habit of writing high quality and SEO friendly blogs of your own.  Avoid comments or, if you allow them, moderate them.  Don’t get involved in commenting on other lawyer blogs (especially a crew of criminal defense lawyer blogs who are friendly with this site)  They are well followed and readers will follow your comments from their sites to yours, but these guys get into the habit of picking fights with other lawyers on the internet.  You want your name to be associated with that.  Stay away from “social media gurus”.  I think that twitter and Facebook are bullshit.  Blogging helps in SEO. Sticking an RSS feed or an automatic Facebook publish is a trivial thing that the computer consultant can do for you. Besides that,  I don’t see the point to the rest of that “social media” stuff.  People who need a divorce lawyer google “New York divorce lawyer” and, with good SEO, you come up on page one.  I don’t see the point of twitter.

    4. From this point forward, 50% of your gross will go to internet and mail advertising.  In a good economy, it drops to 25%.  Cut non-advertising expenses.  You can use a virtual phone network, get rid of the secretary, etc; but you can’t skimp on advertising.  Do quality work to generate referrals.  A broad advertising base that generates good work will generate referrals. Over time, you may get much more business from referrals and advertising expenses will be less of your gross.

    5. Other practice areas: You do real estate and divorce.  There is no money in real estate and real estate has died with the housing bubble collapse.  Divorce is really real estate.  Divorce lawyers got paid (very well) from the equity in the client’s house. That scam is over with the collapse of the housing bubble.  You might want to do short-sale real estate closings.  I understand that the banks authorize a fee of about $2k for those, which is good.  All practice areas are hurting but you may want to learn something like this: 

    A.. Foreclosure defense: there is a market for it. You can learn it by copying the pleadings from a dozen cases and copying the form motions. You can mail and internet advertise for clients. Caveat: many ethics boards attack foreclosure defense lawyers; I don’t know why, but be careful.  

    B. Criminal:  Lots of people get arrested and need a lawyer.  Do misdemeanor and DUI. Stay away from felonies in the beginning.  Criminal cases are all flat fee paid up front (or at least half up front).  Unlike civil litigation the opposing counsel (the prosecutor) isn’t out to crucify you for your inexperience.  They’ll offer you 20-30% more jail that to an experience criminal defense lawyer who is part of the club; but they won’t crucify you.  Why would they?  Prosecutors don’t get paid on commission.

    C.  Bankruptcy: The one growth are in this terrible economy.

    D. Employment

    6. Have a lucrative practice area that you will excel in which, over the long term, will make you a lot of money.  The stuff in #5 is just to pay the bills now.  Read biographies about rich lawyers like Joseph Jamail or Bill Lerach to motivate you.  #6 entails you actually becoming an excellent lawyer, which will take many years of experience with the right type of cases; but is well worth it.

    In conclusion, your present business model is to say “I’m a lawyer” and essentially take whatever comes in the door from acquaintances.  This is a common model and a terrible one. No one becomes rich from it and, in todays economy, many can’t pay the bills.  Specialization driven by good and organized marketing is much better.  Marketing driven specialization in routine practice areas (criminal/bankruptcy/divorce etc) will let you make a good living.  In the long run, specialization in a “good” practice area (medical malpractice, intellectual property, complex business litigation) can, over many years, make you lots of money.  You can also get referral from ordinary lawyers once you become good and get a reputation in a good practice are. 

    Good luck to you!

  • shg

    “They’ll offer you 20-30% more jail that to an experience criminal defense lawyer who is part of the club; but they won’t crucify you.”

    And this is a good thing?  You would be happy to have your spouse or child get a 20-30% harsher sentence so that a young solo could make a better living?  Are you this craven?  Not that your statement is necessarily correc, but I can’t believe a lawyer with an ounce of integrity would actually promote such an idea.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/tim_baran Tim Baran

    Besides earning mandatory credits, CLE is a great way to network and build your (niche) brand. Attend in-person courses for networking, put on monthly or quarterly webinars (if possible get it CLE accredited-it’s not that difficult – you can DIY), pursue speaking engagements at bar associations and other organizations, and contact online CLE providers to record a course with them. Good luck!

  • Vbalasubramani

    I haven’t “cracked the code,” but I’d say “gravitate to work.” Develop a radar for work and the kind of work that you want to do. Be able to identify the “problem” cases/transactions/clients. Think about what the red flags are.  Consider if you are wearing rose covered glasses when it comes to potential clients. 

    Work comes from all over the place, including unexpected sources. This sounds hokey, but I think the universe senses if you’re hungry or enthusiastic for the work. If you’re energized to do it and if you do good work, it will come your way.

  • http://twitter.com/DanielGershburg Daniel Gershburg Esq

     I think the problem may be if I called the media and told them I was having a National Punching day in my office, the article the media ran may focus on me…in not the best light.  Also, my clients may, you know, not take me seriously.  Lastly, if someone punches a bag in my office and breaks their finger…

  • http://twitter.com/FollowtheLawyer Jay Pinkert

    The answer is not more leads, it’s better leads. In fact, fewer total leads resulting from better targeting of case types can result in higher conversion rates (less time-wasting) and higher margins.

    “Anonymous” makes some excellent points in his/her comment on this thread.As for promotional gimmicks to promote your practice, they make for entertaining blog posts and comments, but rarely if ever provide sustainable lift unless you’re continually running “wacky” promos — and do you want to be “that” lawyer? And the types of clients that respond to gimmicks are precisely the ones that waste your time.
    Cause-related marketing would be the primary exception, because it helps you earn durable goodwill as well as attention.

  • http://www.corinnetampas.com Corinne A. Tampas

    I would add to the list of practice areas tax appeals. Of course, for income tax appeals you would need some tax background, but for property tax appeals an understanding of real estate and comps are more important. Usually there is a “season” for property tax appeals and many homeowners have attempted to lower their property tax on their own. However, many homeowners need to have someone hold their hand.

  • http://www.mattlegal.com Cindi S. Matt

    After being with a small firm for 13 years, I started my own firm 15 months ago.  What has worked for me, hands down, in building a niche and developing my practice, is my guardianship blog.  If you have an area of law you’d like to focus in, start a blog.  Keep it up to date.  Post timely and informative information.  You will start to establish yourself as an expert in that area and will get calls, which you can then hopefully convert into business.

    The other valuable piece of advice that I received from someone who is a VERY successful attorney in our state (he started out in the 70′s with just himself and an assistant and is now one of our top PI attorneys at a decent sized firm), is thank everyone and ask for referrals.  When you complete a case, send the client a thank you – tell them you enjoyed working for them and tell them that you would appreciate them sending referrals your way.   Send local attorneys letters reminding them that you do X and asking them to send referrals your way (you will want to put in the letter that you will, of course, reciprocate and send work their way when it is out of your area of expertise, when you have a conflict, etc.).

    Good luck!

  • http://www.meganhuntlaw.com Megan C. Hunt

    I’m also a new solo (opened in January 2011).  If you’re not sure how to network, read and implement “Get Clients Now!” by CJ Hayden.  I’ve found that it’s great for breaking down the actual steps to networking, rather than just using buzzwords.  I started using it at the beginning of September and have seen a significant increase in the number of calls and consults I’ve had since then.

    For networking, these are the groups you should look for: Chamber of Commerce, young professionals groups (sometimes they’re separate entities through the Chamber), referral groups, networking groups.  I used Meetup.com to find quite a few of these, and try to attend 5-6 events per month.  Many of them don’t have membership fees — you just pay for the meal or the event when you attend, usually not more than $10.It also sounds like maybe your marketing isn’t specific — “general litigation” means you’ll take whatever comes in the door.  While that may be true, it’s not useful/descriptive for marketing.  It doesn’t help your referral sources determine what to refer to you, and no real person knows what “general litigation” is.  Your client base is “real people” (real people buying houses, filing for bankruptcy, and getting divorced) so your marketing should be self-explanatory to them.  That’s the reason that I don’t “practice family law,” but instead, am a “divorce lawyer.”Figure out what you LOVE doing, then make friends with the most high end lawyers who do it.  They get calls from people who can’t afford them, and they want to refer them out.  You want to be the person they refer to.  There are a lot of good, paying clients who just can’t afford the lawyer at the top of the food chain.  (This does mean that you have to do a damn good job once they refer to you, or the referrals will stop.)Blog.  (Seriously.)  There are a lot of lawyers who will tell you that marketing is only as good as what you pay for it.  I have seen the greatest return on the $200 I spent to set up my website, and the 75 hours I’ve put into it since January.  (And a lot of those hours were when I had no paying work to do!)  I haven’t needed a website consultant; I read Problogger, the Rainmaker Blog, HubSpot, SEOmoz, and Larry Bodine regularly.  They are full of tips on how to create a blog that will attract the traffic you need organically, and most of them break it down into the basics.  My divorce blog gets organic traffic for “[largest city in my area] divorce lawyer,” which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.What do you blog about?  Take a look at Law Q&A (or other similar services) and see what questions get asked.  (You don’t have to answer them — you’re just doing research.)  For my divorce practice, the things that people search the most all involve money — how much alimony, how much child support, how much retirement.  So I blog on those topics.  (Setting up Google Alerts is also helpful for this; I used to get an alert in my Google Reader every time the word “alimony” appeared on the internet.)Use Google Adwords, but only after you’ve figured out what keywords people search for (and have addressed some of them on your website).  You have to figure out how your target market thinks before you can draw them to you, otherwise, you’re just wasting money on clicks.  Then, you have to spend time setting up a campaign with several ads, each with their own keywords.  It takes time to do it right.

  • Joe

    That’s 100K+ in PROFIT (which by defintiition means also AFTER your salary).  And to comfortably live in New York, your salary must be at least 80-90K. 
     
    If you really want to step the plate, show an audited cashflow and p&L statement.  In fact, that’s a good idea for a site…shutupandshowyourp&l.com

  • Anonymous

    He’s not espousing this as a tactic or a good way to make a living. He’s simply stating a common fact of criminal practice. There’s a common thread among criminal lawyers, especially young ones, that you have to prove to the prosecutor that you’re not afraid to take a case to trial if you ever hope to get any respect, and with that, respectable deals. It’s just fact.

    What he’s saying is that the prosecutor has different motives and values than a litigation lawyer. He has a job to do and cases to clear off a docket. Most of them don’t get a perverse joy out of handing a youngster’s butt to him. It’s just not that personal.

  • shg

    No, Clark. It is not “just a fact.” It’s not a fact at all. It’s a rationalization used by inexperienced and incompetent baby lawyers for taking money from people to handle matters beyond what they’re ability. 

    There are plenty of young criminal defense lawyers who do not, and would not, tolerate such results, and will fight to the death rather than have their clients suffer a “baby lawyer tax” of 20-30% harsher sentence.  Don’t insult them by suggesting that they are happy to tolerate their own incompetence.. 

    If you find this acceptable in your practice, then I hope you inform your clients that by retaining you, they can expect a harsher sentence than they would receive from a better lawyer.  To do otherwise would be deceptive, and I hope that your practice isn’t based on deceiving clients.

  • http://www.legalpracticepro.com Jay S. Fleischman

    Scott, it sounds as if Clark and you are in agreement.  Clark is saying that there’s a need to take a case to trial but also that a criminal defense lawyer needs to take “respectable deals.”

    Perhaps Clark’s not seeing the part of the comment from Anonymous that he’s willing to sell his clients down the river (“They’ll offer you 20-30% more jail that to an experience criminal defense lawyer who is part of the club.”) in furtherance of a fee from a criminal defense client.

    By the same token, the original comment is, I’m sure, correct.  A prosecutor will low-ball you on a deal much as an insurance adjuster will lowball a newbie on a settlement offer.  It happens in all fields – the more experienced will always test the mettle of the newbie in an effort to get a better deal.

    The measure of a good lawyer is in the ability to draft the best deal for his or her client.  That includes knowing when an offer is bad, and in showing a willingness and ability to do as well as possible for one’s client.

  • shg

    Perhaps, Jay, but I didn’t read it that way.  The question isn’t whether a prosecutor will test the mettle of the young lawyer (heck, they’ll test the mettle of an old lawyers as well), but whether the need to get business and make money trumps the need to be able to provide competent representation. 

    My read is that the comment supports the proposition that it’s fine to take on a case where your client will pay an “inexperience tax” for having a young lawyer because, hey, young lawyers need to make a living too.  If the young lawyer was to “market” himself by saying, “I charge less than a better lawyer, and you will suffer a 20-30% worse outcome because of my representing you,” then he’s being forthright with the client and putting the decision into the clients hands.

    Anything less is false and dishonest.  No lawyer, young or old, can justify deceiving a client. We do not have the right to make a living at the client’s expense.

  • Anonymous

    I am the Anonymous poster. Clark is exactly right about what I mean.   Every practice area will “low ball” you and “test your mettle”.  So young or inexperienced lawyers will get worse offers than experienced ones. In civil litigation, if one side completely devastates the other, the winning attorney gets a big benefit.  In criminal prosecution, the prosecutor just wants to clear his docket with respectable deals.  He doesn’t benefit from getting a defendant the maximum.

    This exchange PROVES MY POINT ABOUT THIS OBNOXIOUS GROUP OF LAWYERS. who do the following:
    1. Misunderstand what the poster is saying and create a strawman argument.
    2. Get deeply offended by the strawman argument.
    3. Inform everyone how ethically superior they are to all other lawyers.
    4. Moderate their blog posts so that they get the last word.

    Clark merely gave the plain meaning understanding of what my post meant; to correct sgh’s strawman missunderstanding.  Now when people google Clark’s name they can come to this site and have read sgh’s strawman missinterpretation of Clark’s post:

    “If you find this acceptable in your practice, then I hope you inform your clients that by retaining you, they can expect a harsher sentence than they would receive from a better lawyer.  To do otherwise would be deceptive, and I hope that your practice isn’t based on deceiving clients.”

    Clark didn’t even mention his practice, and I’m sure that is not how he practices..
    SGH: Thank you for proving my point  about not engaging you or your crew with non-anonymous comments.  Lawyers who use the internet for marketing, as opposed to fun and games, can’t  be bothered with this.  

  • Anonymous

    SGH:
    Can you point to the part of my post where I say or imply that?
    Professors of rhetoric should copy your posts as a textbook example of the strawman argument.
    I hope that you never venture into anything beyond criminal.  (And I say this is a former prosecutor who proudly has criminal defense as one of my practice areas).  In a sophisticated litigation, you loose credibility with the judge if you make a ridiculous strawman caricature of the other side’s legal argument.  Maybe this explains the question on your blog of why only the 3 stooges have the tactic of making ridiculous strawman missinterpretations of what other lawyers write, and then pretend to get indignant about it.

  • Anonymous

    sgh:

    Do you have a disclaimer on your door that says: “John Keker, David Boies, John Quinn and hundreds and hundreds of lawyers are better than I am and, statistically speaking, they will get you a much better deal than SGH will.”?

    These lawyers are also leagues better than either of us are (as you will readily concede if you are not a narcissistic fool). 

    Does this mean that we all give up our law licenses and refer all future cases to Quinn Emmanuel or Keker van Nest.  If you are competent to handle a case, then handle it. I am not aware of an ethical duty to disclose that “I am not the best  lawyer on Earth, there may be some who are better than me”.

  • shg

    You would be a lot more persuasive, despite the overwhelming power of your strong writing and lucid thinking, if you didn’t hide behind “anonymous.”  It’s a little hard to take you as anything but a joke if you aren’t tough enough to use your name.  At least Joe Flanders was man enough to use his name.

  • shg

    “SGH: Thank you for proving my point  about not engaging you or your crew with non-anonymous comments.  Lawyers who use the internet for marketing, as opposed to fun and games, can’t  be bothered with this.”

    I think this says more than anything else you’ve tried to say. There is a reason you need to use the internet for marketing, whereas the “3 stooges” don’t.  How painful it must be to have your nose rubbed in that harsh reality. 

    Best of luck faking it until you make it.  I’m only sorry that Carolyn, for whom ethics and competence is the most important aspect of solo practice, has to suffer the unethical and ignorant scoundrels this blog has attracted.

  • Anonymous

    The 3 stooges absolutely use the internet for marketing.  You guys update your blogs constantly. Don’t tell me you do it for fun.
    Please show me where I wrote that its ok for lawyers to be sleazy, unethical or deceitful. THE EXACT TEXT PLEASE.Another sgh strawman.Since you need it spelled out for you like a child: A successful lawyer should be good at marketing AND do a good job as a lawyer.  I get a portion of my business from advertising and another portion form referrals.  If I only got my business from advertising, I would gross about 50% as much as I do. So it pays to also be a good lawyer.  (To head off another strawman missinterpretation that sgh will make: I also try to be a good lawyer because it is a good an ethical thing to do).  A young lawyer who advertises may get 100 new clients (albeit at lower price than other lawyers and at great advertising expense).  If the young lawyer does an outstanding job representing these clients, they may each tell an average of one other person and the young lawyer will now have 200 clients. Now consider a second young lawyer who does not advertise and meets clients by hanging out with people and passing his card around.  He gets 10 now clients. If the second young lawyer does an outstanding job representing these clients, the may each tell an average of one other person and the young lawyer will now have 20 clients.  The advertising lawyer will begin with a much larger base for whom to do excellent work.  If the first young lawyer does a bad job, the only new business will come from advertising, so his margins will be low (low fee combined with high advertising expenses).  Your entire argument is built on the following strawman: You imply that all advertising is deceptive; and you present a false dichotomy between advertising and doing a good job. Since you make it your practice to misunderstand arguments and construct straw man arguments, I will explicitly spell it out for you:1. “Advertising”: does NOT necessarily mean “deceptive advertising”.  By advertising, I mean “truthful advertising’.2. There is absolutely no tradeoff between 1. Advertising, and 2. Doing a Good Job.  advocate BOTH  1. Advertising, AND 2. Doing a Good Job.

  • Anonymous

    How would I be more persuasive if I was non-anonymous?
    A valid argument either stands or falls on its own merits. 
    Lets add the ad homenin argument  to the strawman argument to round out your formidable argumentation skills.
    At least we are having a debate. On your own blog you would erase my comments so that you could have the last word. How is that for cowardice?

    You are not really a coward.  You use the internet for marketing and you manage your online persona so you are presented in the best light.  I have done you the courtesy of calling you “shg” instead of your real name so that googling your real name will not take a reader to this site, but to your own site where you can say whatever you want about your superior skill, ethics, integrity, and superiority to other lawyers, while you delete critical comments and get the last word.

    I gave a young lawyer honest advice and, frankly, enjoy fooling around on the internet.  I also manage my persona online by commenting anonymously.

    Feel free to get the last word; perhaps by answer any of the substantive points that I previously made. For example, 

    Do you believe that Advertising necessarily entails Deceptive Advertising?
    Do you believe that there is a dichotomy between 1. Advertising, and 2. Doing a Good Job?

  • 3L

    Please give up shg, you lost the arguement loooong ago.

  • 3L

    argument*

  • Mark Bennett

    I think those were fair questions.

    You’re offering advice; why not show people know what your qualifications are?

    You’re looking for eyeballs on your blog; why not give people a reason to think they might find something valuable there?

  • shg

    In contrast to your earlier comments, this one begins to demonstrate some clarity of writing and thought, and so it deserves a serious response.

    1. You comment anonymously, but rely on claims (such as your being a former prosecutor) that could be true or not. How much experience do you have? What do you practice? Where is your practice? These and more questions need to be answered to know whether your providing “honest advice” or you’re a 12 year old pretending to be a lawyer. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Your points weren’t stand alone arguments to be judged on their merit, but dubious assertions which reflected a questionable point of view.  Without more, the arguments were only meaningful to those who shared your point of view, such as 3L and marketers.

    2. I’m fairly well known in the blawgosphere and have used shg to write and comment for years. Using my full name, Scott Greenfield, hardly makes a difference to me.  That you think it would is, well, pretty foolish.

    3.  As impossible as this may seem to you, my engagement in the blawgosphere has nothing to do with marketing.  The same is true of the other “stooges,” which is why we are free to write what we choose.  It’s not entirely surprising that you can’t grasp how this could be possible, but that’s the case.  In the five years I’ve been involved with blawging, I’ve accepted one client who found me through the internet. I’ve turned away thousands. My clientele does not use the internet to find a lawyer.

    4. Is all marketing deceptive? No. But I’ve seen an enormous amount of online marketing, perhaps more than you (I can’t say since you’re anonymous), and the vast majority of it is deceptive, whether by unwarranted adjective or lack of necessary detail such as year of graduation/admission or outright lies.  Some of it is outrageously deceptive. And that’s why mean, old curmudgeons like me who don’t care about our online marketing personas step in to do something about the way lawyers are “polluting our profession,” as Grisham announced.

    5.  Is marketing and competence mutually exclusive? No, but when inexperienced lawyers refuse to recognize their limitations and put their time and effort into marketing rather than gaining the skills needed to competently represent clients, to avoid their clients suffering a 20-30% harsher sentence than they would get with an experienced lawyer, they fail to honor their obligation as lawyer to put their clients first.

    This has become the predominent concern of young lawyers, that the profession owes them a living rather than they owe clients a duty of excellent representation.  If you don’t see this, or understand why this is a fundamental problem, then you will no doubt think me a mean, old fool.  A stooge. 

    And I, along with the other stooges, will continue to try to keep young lawyers focused on what it means to be a professional, to put client ahead of self, to put integrity ahead of marketing, even though many will not grasp our purpose.  Yet we will continue to try.

  • http://flanderslawfirm.com Joe Flanders

    Look, Ms. Elefant offered a chance to link.  I did it and I offered ideas.  I have made money with nearly every idea I offered.  Let me ask this:  why am I being chastised – young or old – for offering what help I could?  People can decide whether to listen or not.  We are all (I think) adults here.  Unlike some, I at least tried to answer the call of the question.

  • http://blog.bennettandbennett.com Mark Bennett

    I agree with you that “more” is not “better,” but I loathe some lawyers’ adoption of the marketing term “leads.”

    “Leads” are people the guys in the boiler room call. You buy lists of “leads” from the box at Schlotzky’s where people drop the card to get a free month at the gym. You invite “leads” to breakfast at your timeshare condo project. If you’re a top seller, you get access to the Glengarry “leads.”

    I would like to see the term “leads” banished from lawyers vocabularies. We are not dealing with “leads,” but with human beings who need solutions to their problems, current or future.

  • Anonymous

    Shg:

    This is the Anonymous Poster. I am enjoying this exchange,
    even though it got a little heated.

    I read your comments on your blog and generally agreed with
    them. Frankly, I don’t think that there is that much difference in our views.

     

    My advice to the young lawyer is:

    1.           Limit your practice to a few, or one, practice
    areas.

    2.    
    Use targeted direct mail and internet
    solicitations, for that practice area, which are TRUTHFUL and NOT DECEITFUL.

    3.    
    Do a VERY GOOD JOB for clients.  I did not go into detail about how to
    do a good job (my post was already pretty long), but I would suggest the
    following:

    a.    
    Learn as much as you can about your practice
    area from publicly available sources like CLEs, treatises, annotated statutes,
    pleadings and transcripts. Go to court and watch.

    b.    
    After you get the client, associate an
    experienced co-counsel with whom you will share the fee and learn the practice
    area.  Only after you are
    comfortable, do you handle cases entirely on your own.

     

    This is not a get rich quick scheme.  High advertising expenses,  lower fees, and sharing the fee with the
    co-counsel will create low margins. 
    In time, more referrals and the elimination of co-counsel will cause
    much higher margins.

     

    This is also not as good as starting out as an associate at
    a firm; but unfortunately that option is not available to everyone.

     

    I thought that my detailed advice was much better than “Work
    hard and do a good job” or some other meaninglessly vague platitudes.

     

    Do you find any of this morally objectionable?

    Do you think that any of this is inconsistent with “the
    fundamental nature of a lawyers commitment to the client”?

    I am asking the question in good faith and am genuinely
    interested in your answer.

    I’ve enjoyed debating this with you.

    Take care Scott.

    cc: Simple Justice

  • http://twitter.com/organicintent Andrew Irvin

    Decent reply but “Twitter is bullshit”? You need to take a look at Google Panda 2 and how Google is putting more weight on websites that are recommended by social media and those who are ACTIVELY involved in it. The days of “SEO blogging” (which I think of articles with poor content and overuse of keywords) are over. Other than that, I think you provided some good advice.

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