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Solo & Small Law Firms

Solos Team Up

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With so many large firms moving towards a “one stop shopping model,” what can a small firm r solo with a more specialized focus do to compete?  You could try to become a jack of all trades, but in expanding your capabilities, you may compromise quality.  Or, you could take the approach of the Birmingham, AL law firms described in this  Business Journal story (9/25/06) and join forces to compete without formally merging.  From the article, here’s a description of the arrangement:

Goodrich Law Firm LLC, Cunningham Firm LLC and Hahn Law Firm PC announced Monday the formation of Red Mountain Law, a network that will provide expertise through the individual firms in a broader range of legal services. Areas such as wills, trusts and estates and probate will be handled
primarily by the Hahn Law Firm. Commercial and residential real estate
and loan closings will be assigned to attorneys at the Cunningham Firm.
Work involving securities law will be overseen by the Goodrich Law

Is there a strategic alliance that you can form to expand your business opportunities?

  • I’ve participated a few times in these teaming arrangements, which make a lot of sense (as long of the lines of authority are well drawn). One should consider, however, the manner in which local ethical and malpractice rules treat more permanent “professional associations”. In Massachusetts, where an office suite operated under a single name, it’s become a de facto partnership for many purposes–including professional liability, even though the letterhead indicated all practices were independent. Do these arrangements make good sense? Sure they do–but one must also be sensible in how they are presented to the world.

  • For those who are reluctant to make this kind of a formal arrangement, you may be comforted to know that there are many solos in every market and in every practice area whose technique of selling their services is simply to focus on helping prospective clients (and potential referral sources) identify their priority problems and then helping to find a solution for those problems (or opportunities)regardless of whether or not the solution calls for the services of our own firms.
    If you think about it, that’s really what the most successful Rainmakers in large law firm do for their clients. Even if you’re a partner in a big firm, clients come to you with all kinds of problems & opportunities, many of which you are not qualified to handle yourself. So what do you do? You look through your roster of associates and partners to find the right fit. And if you can’t find the right fit inside your own firm, you expand your search. You don’t just tell your client “Hey, sorry you’re facing this big crisis. We don’t do that kind of work. But good luck!”
    With this in mind, many very successful Rainmakers go out and make Sales Calls to establish informal arrangements ahead-of-time with other professionals whom their clients are likely to need. That way whatever problem comes through the door, there is already someone in our networks and an overt agreement discussed for how the referral will be handled. Not just in terms of whether or not to exchange a referral fee (don’t) but in terms of so many other nuances that make a referral truly effective for all concerned.
    Hope this helps,

  • These kind of arrangements definitely make sense, especially given the state of technology, which could allow solos to form such a “virtual firm” across great geographical distance. I have been exploring some possibilities in that vein myself.

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