Blowing horns on Bleeker Street on New Year's Day

Marjory Collins, photographer, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,LC-USW3-013050-E

With the new year comes a new blog for me – Little Law Office on the Prairie (LLOotP for short). My plan is that LLOotP will be a place to discuss the business of running a rural law firm – everything from the marketing and business challenges rural solo’s and small firms face to the technology that makes our jobs easier. Don’t worry, RuralLawyer will still go on, but  RL is going to focus more on the why than how – more mens rae than actus reus if you will.

Now, there’s not much going on over at LLOotP at the moment, but you are welcome to cruise on over and see if I fixed all the 404 errors. And if that doesn’t set the bar low enough, LLOotP will have roughly the same posting regularity as RuralLawyer – generally monthly, some times bi-weekly, occasionally weekly but always when I think about it.

Happy New Year.

Becoming A Rural Lawyer - A Personal Guide to Establishing a Small Town Practice by Bruce CameronWell, it’s official – Becoming a Rural Lawyer is here. Like RuralLawyer the blog, RuralLawyer the book is designed to help you decide if you’re meant to practice in the 128,000 small towns dotting the US landscape. Becoming a Rural Lawyer looks at the myths of practicing in small towns, discusses emerging areas of rural practice, talks about the rhythms and (unwritten) rules of small town life, and  includes advice, tips, and words of wisdom from rural lawyers from across the US.

Becoming a Rural Lawyer is available through Amazon.com (where I welcome your impressions of the book).

Once in the dark of night, Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose (O coming of delight!) And went, as no one knows, When all my house lay long in deep repose – Saint John of the Cross

One of the more nerve-racking things about public speaking is the wait between the speaking engagement and the receipt of the program evaluation sheets. It’s a giddily self-deluding period where, based on the positive feedback from the 3 people who talked to you in the 5 minutes between speakers, you are sure that all went well and that you are on the road to becoming the next great orator of our times. Then the evaluation sheets arrived and you realize that it will be some time before you are a threat to Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King or Emmeline Pankhurst. But, as often is the case, it is the comments and not the numerical evaluations that strike a chord , and it is one of these comments that I would like to take a moment to respond to. The writer states:

Rural [law] equals less rich (not necessarily ‘poor’). At age 28, I was desperate for a job, so I moved to a small town to work with an experienced attorney who is nearing retirement. Now, almost 7 years  later, I want to leave and will if I can. Modest income clients don’t (or won’t) pay attorney fees even though we charge much less per hour than attorneys in urban areas. Fact is, attorneys in rural areas make far less than in urban areas, often have bad clients, and can get better & more interesting jobs elsewhere. 

As our young writer has travelled halfway down life’s path, let me play Virgil to his Dante, and let our journey begin not in our Dante’s dark wood or in the proponent’s idealized celestial sphere, but rather at the foot of the craggy mountain of boots-on-the-ground reality. Young Dante,  I’ve yet to run across a lawyer (big city or small town) who has not had at least one the-grass-is-greener moment at some time or other in their career. Lawyering is a tough slog for anyone who gives half a damn about doing the best possible job they can for each client, and it sure doesn’t help that, for the average lawyer, it sure ain’t the high-paying, jet-setting, celebrity career the law school brochures described. Even I must admit to having the occasional lustful thought about packing it all in and heading off to look for a quiet associate’s position with a regular salary. However, if this is not merely a passing fancy but is one of those dark nights of the soul, then it is far better to move on to those greener pastures than to unhappily till the same dismal furrow. But before you go, talk to someone (a mentor, a friend, your local branch of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers); perhaps there are other options out there and it may be easier to fix what you have than to start something new.

The comment continues:

(more…)

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.Henry David Thoreau

Yesterday, Carolyn Elefant announced that the second edition of her book Solo by Choice (actually it is a two volume set – there is also a companion volume entitled, appropriately, Solo by Choice, The Companion Guide). In a nutshell, Solo by Choice 2011-2012 brings the original work into the age of Social Media, Cloud Computing and the realities of being a post-2008 economic collapse solo attorney and adds to Carolyn’s remarkably lucid and thoughtful prose the voices of other solo attorneys – basically, Carolyn explains the theory, the greek chorus provides a bit of in-the-trenches reality.

For anyone thinking about starting a solo practice, there are two must read books – Jay Foonberg’s How to Start & Build a Law Practice and Carolyn’s Solo by Choice. In my opinion, Carolyn’s book has always been the more accessible of the two and has been much more relevant to this rural solo – I’ve found that her take on things finds more resonance with my rural clients (perhaps its just that she’s just better at explaining things in ways I understand).

This new edition maintains those qualities – Carolyn’s text is still a joy to read; yet I am of two minds about the material provided by those other solos. I like having other voices, other explanations of the whys, wherefores and what-works and think its great to have those been-there-done-that experiences as object lessons. Unfortunately I find that the change in the “voice” of the work slows the flow of my reading.

Now, this new edition is not all roses and Skittles. There are a few places where a little tighter editing would have caught the odd typo – this is more apparent in the companion volume where the answers to the 34 questions read as if they were taken verbatim from an interview. While this doesn’t really affect the books’ readability, its does make them seem slightly less polished. But this is a minor nit – my biggest concern is that my copy of the new edition will become as dog-eared, tattered, and abused as my copy of the original.

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasmSir Winston Churchill

There are fifteen steps that, if followed precisely and in the correct order, will guarantee your small town law practice will be a successful, profitable enterprise. Unfortunately, the last person who knew what these steps is also the only person on record to have found a way to successfully transmute lead into gold. So, rural entrepreneur, you will have to be satisfied with these few suggestions to ease your way between failures.

Get paid up front

I cannot claim credit for this – this is, after all, Foonberg Rule #1. Discussing fees and collecting a retainer is the first of many difficult conversations you will have with clients, but it is something that must be done and is necessary if your practice is to thrive. It is far easier to get paid up front than it is to try to collect when all is said and done. If you aren’t collecting fees, you are doing pro-bono work and that is simply an expensive way to fail slowly. Develop a reputation for providing quality service at a reasonable price and most rural clients are not going to quibble about the price; but they also aren’t going to volunteer to pay it either – you’ve got to ask.

Give it everything you’ve got

This is more than just a reminder about working hard, in a small town there is little distinction between the profession and the professional – what you do is part and parcel of who you – so accept that you are going to be a lawyer 24/7/365 regardless of what your office hours are. Until you are established as a community fixture, you and your business are going to be evaluated, weighted and measured. You are going to be always building your reputation, so give this endeavor everything you’ve got and use every skill you have. After you are established as a community fixture – you’ll still be a lawyer 24/7, you and your practice will still be evaluated, weighted and measured, and you still have to maintain your reputation, but at least now folks will have funny stories about the day you… to tease you with – this is a good sign, it means you’ve been accepted. (more…)

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say that there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe. Frank Zappa

This post is off-schedule in part to that particular brand of “what were you thinking when…” stupidity that keeps lawyers employed and in part to the sheer genius of the purveyors of commercial advertising space that leaves in its wake a feeling of  absolute wonderment that any organization could survive the disconnect between the people selling the service and the people serving existing accounts.

Now, I am not a marketing wunderkind – frankly my entire theory of marketing is that one should address potential clients as if they have a functioning brain and tell them “what’s in it for them” in as few words as possible. Hopefully this can be accomplished before their eyes glaze over or they run screaming from the room – my marketing theory has yet to incorporate bondage, but I do hear that it is popular in some circles. However, the idea that one’s customers might possibly be thinking creatures seems to be out of favor this week in some sales circles. (more…)

The deed is done, the shingle hung, and practice begun!

The weather conspired against a June 29th opening (when the crop is ready and the weather is right you harvest and all else gets delayed), but on July 8th the planets aligned and I opened the doors to my new office.

In no particular order here is what I’ve discovered about opening a practice:

  1. If a tape measure says the distance between your computer and the network port is 15 feet, use a 20 foot cable to connect the two.
  2. Telemarketers start calling about 3 days after phone service installation. The corollary to this is that junk mail is the first to find its way to your address, followed shortly by bills.
  3. The “new” wears off guest chairs after the 4th use or so – don’t get attached to unblemished furniture.
  4. There are two types of installers – those that say they’ll be there in 2 weeks and then show up in 2 days and those that say they’ll be there in 2 days and show up 2 weeks later. I don’t think this is due to the random nature of work – I think it is somehow related to how difficult it will be to fit a given time/date into my schedule
  5. Buy local – don’t always assume that you get the best price on-line and/or in the big town just down the highway. Paying for personal service often trumps paying for shipping and handling.
  6. Pens walk out the door with installers, delivery people, contractors, etc – make use of this and have your pens imprinted with your name and phone number.
  7. After all the preparation and the hustle and bustle of moving-in and setting up, opening day will seem like an anticlimax.
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