Not surprisingly, most lawyers would rather handle one $30,000 case than 30 one-thousand dollar matters or 60 five-hundred dollar matters. Managing thirty, or worse – 60 – different matters can involve significant transaction costs even when a firm is highly automated.
On the other hand, when you’re starting out or if business is slow, a couple of $500-$1000 dollar matters in hand are worth more than an elusive five-figure case because at the very least, they’ll cover the bills. What’s important, however, is that if you’re going to open your doors to $500 or $1000 matters is to get in and out of them as quickly as possible. That’s why I suggest developing what I call “in and out legal services.”
In and out legal services are those that you or an associate can complete in a matter of hours. They differ by practice area. In my practice, one type of in and out service that my firm offers is trouble-shooting power purchase agreements for compliance with applicable federal law. Another, now that I have an associate with applicable specialization, involves filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request or appeal. But it’s easy to imagine similar, one-off services. Maybe it’s drafting a will for a very small-estate, reviewing a contract that’s already been drafted, preparing papers for an uncontested divorce or writing a letter challenging denial of health-care coverage. Or, you can offer paid client consultations or strategy sessions.
Getting bogged down is the worst risk of an in and out service. So you’ll need a well-defined standard representation agreement that ruthlessly constricts the scope of work to avoid uncompensated creep-age. Also bear in mind that there are some obligations that you can’t contract around – for example, if you prepare a document for a client, you’ll need to explain its implications or make yourself available to answer questions – or you may find yourself in this lawyer’s unfortunate situation.
You’ll also have to adopt a system for prompt payment – either credit card or electronic check, to maximize the time value of bringing money in the door quickly. After all, when cash flow is slow, there’s a huge value to pocketing $500 within 24-hours, but not so much if you can’t collect it for three months. As for marketing in and out services, you can decide whether to make it a formal offering on your website – or simply an additional service that you share with colleagues who may not have interest in small matters, or that you present as a fall-back option to clients who don’t want or can’t afford full-service.
Relying solely on a diet of in-and-out matters is unlikely to serve as a foundation for a sustainable practice. But if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t make rent or there’s a CLE you want to attend but can’t afford, that $1000 in and out matter will sustain you at least until the next five — or maybe even six figure case comes along.