GPSOLO April/May 2009
From the Editor
Maybe We Need to Suffer the Small Things
The January/February issue dealt with big issues, and this one focuses attention on small ones. However, I made a big mistake in my last column. I neglected to mention the outstanding work of issue editor Jim Menton as the person responsible for the big issue. Mea culpa, Jim.
This was Jim’s initial foray in editing an issue of GPSolo. He handled it with a calm professionalism that was a delight to watch. He recruited the authors and helped troubleshoot the inevitable problems that arise with any issue. Jim’s efforts brought us a spectacular issue replete with interesting and thought-provoking articles.
Jim is one of the Editorial Board’s newest members. The editor of the current issue is one of the longest serving. Bryan Spencer, a retired U.S. Army colonel, has again shown his prowess in producing an issue. Bryan uses the telephone as much as the Internet when contacting his authors. The end product shows his dedication to quality.
The Business of Law in Troubled Times
We live in a chaotic time. This economic free fall taxes us personally and professionally. It is at times like these that we question where we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re going. How do we maintain our practices? Pay the bills? Meet our family obligations?
As lawyers, precedent can control our professional lives. Past may be prologue when it comes to history or writing a brief, but it is not the best way to look at the business side of a law practice. I know many lawyers abhor the idea that law is a business. We talk about the “practice of law” as if it is above the fray of everyday office operations. But I wonder who handled the nitty-gritty of overhead, employees, and such for lawyers in the past? Did elves come in at night?
We delude ourselves if we refuse to accept the need to be competent in the mundane nature of business. The average age of our members is 42. Most of us have been in practice long enough to know what we don’t know. We understand the law and how to represent our clients. But, for many, managing our practices—the business part of our practices—continues to bewilder.
Like the January/February issue, the current one tackles the business side of practicing law. The articles on marketing and management may prompt consideration of possible alternatives to the way you’re doing things.
The Need for Education
GPSolo cannot address all the issues. Nor can it answer all the questions. There needs to be a more comprehensive look at how we manage our practices. What are the best practices? Are there any best practices? If something works in a small firm in Idaho, will it work in Florida? How do we find out what other firms are doing? SoloSez (the ABA’s electronic discussion list for solos, www.abanet.org/ soloseznet/about.html) may be a starting point for some, but many of us do not have the time or inclination to wade through all the postings. So, is there an answer?
I think law schools fail their students by failing to offer courses that teach the basics of practice management. They are also shortsighted by not offering courses in practice management for practicing lawyers. Many of us could benefit from a practical course—with no grade pressure—that helps us manage our practices wisely. CLEs just do not cut it; they are too short.
How many lawyers have been disciplined for co- mingling client funds? Was it intentional? Or, does it happen because the lawyer does not understand account management? Does representing clients interfere with a lawyer’s ability to devote sufficient time to practice management?
We need to start thinking about how we learn to run our practices. Are the rules governing the practice of law relevant? The osmosis theory of practice management doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did.
What are the options? Is it technology? If so, how do we find time to learn it? Can we delegate? If we do, what is our liability for mistakes? What will the future business of law look like? Do we offer a commodity or a service? There needs to be a discussion of where we are and where we are going as a profession—and not just from the viewpoint of client representation and practice area.
Let me know what you’re thinking. You may contact me at email@example.com.
Joan M. Burda, editor-in-chief of GPSOLO, operates a solo practice in Lakewood, Ohio, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.