GPSOLO July - August 2008
Eight Ways to Keep Your Practice Toned
As we grow older, we take additional notice of the constant barrage of news articles, TV vignettes, and general discussion about keeping our bodies toned. Whether it is through a regimented and supervised exercise program, a self-directed running program, or the latest commercial gimmick that is being touted as your savior from those extra pounds, it appears that we are being told constantly that we need to exercise at least 30 minutes every day or at the very least 30 minutes three times a week. Do this and the pounds will float away and you will be able to reclaim the body that you had when you were 20 years old. Do we all follow this regimen as we get older? Some of us do, and some of us don’t. There is no Richard Simmons enforcer out there, after all. Still, some of us will do it on our own because we want to live longer or be in better shape, or simply because we are convinced that we will complete a New York City marathon just minutes before we take our final gasp of breath.
Well, what does this have to do with a law practice, you may ask? Actually, quite a bit. Just as we should keep our bodies toned, so we also should think about keeping our law practices toned. The difference between keeping our bodies and our practices toned is that the latter receives few, if any, news articles, no T.V. coverage, nor much general discussions. The how and the when of toning our law practices is left to the winds of time—if it gets accomplished, so be it. If it does not get done, will it be noticed? Maybe or maybe not. So why bother? Well, we do have the general ethics imperative to stay abreast of the law. Also, we have an obligation to our clients to keep up to date. But simply put, we owe it to ourselves to keep our law practices toned. We who have devoted our time and effort to being educated in the law should not be willing to become flabby in how we handle our law practice.
As with our bodies, however, keeping our law practices toned will not be easy. It will take hard work and a great deal of our personal time. And for those of us who are solos, we may have to work a little harder and longer because we don’t have the luxury of associates who can take up our slack when we attempt to work through the toning of our practices. To help motivate ourselves for this endeavor, we need to remind ourselves of the potential return on our investment. By keeping our practices toned, we should be able to gain a better return when we decide to sell parts or all of the practice and enter retirement or that second season of service.
In this article I have attempted to put together a list of eight ideas that you can use to keep your practice toned. You can use all of the items below or just some of them. And remember that this list is not exhaustive—as a matter of fact, you should use it to help stretch your thinking of other ideas to add to the toning of your practice.
Become active in bar associations. One way to maintain your practice’s tonality is through involvement in bar association work, whether it is the American Bar Association or a state or local bar. Your activities in a bar association will exposed you to the practice ideas of other lawyers and larger practice trends in the field. One recent trend that will affect solos in particular is the selling of law practices. This was never thought of when I first began practicing law in 1975. The concept began with a few attorneys and spread to the ABA and the state bars, which worked to get the state courts to approve the process. Without involvement in organized bars, a practitioner might not be aware of this movement or have an opportunity to participate in establishing the procedures, rules, and processes for selling a law practice.
The extent of your involvement in the governance of the bar association is limited only by your interest, and it will have a direct corollary on your education concerning governance issues. Through the chairing of committees, sections, and divisions of the various entities within bar associations, you can learn a great deal about running meetings, handling people, and networking. As Chair of the GP|Solo Division a few years ago, I had the task of appointing committee chairs, vice chairs, and division directors as well as running the Division’s Council meetings. When you run a meeting that has more than 30 lawyers sitting on a council, you quickly learn how to apply Robert’s Rules of Order, how to work with different factions, and how to orchestrate meetings to be productive. This experience can be transposed to your own practice and quickly teaches you how to tone up your law office and your dealings in governance issues of other entities.
Get the most from CLE. When one thinks of CLE, the thought of attending the educational program is the first thing that comes to mind. This is especially true when you are in a mandatory CLE state. But the next time you attend a CLE, look at it in a different light—try to network during the entire CLE program, whether it is a local program or a multi-jurisdictional CLE. Make it a habit to meet three to five new lawyers at each of CLE program. Get their business cards and add these new friends to your database of lawyers. You never know when you may need to refer a case or in fact get a referral from a new acquaintance that you met during one of these CLE programs. Better yet, volunteer to be a presenter at one of these CLE programs or organize the administration of the CLE. You will be amazed at how your involvement tones up your delivery and, as a result, your law practice. But whatever your involvement in CLE, you need to stretch your participation until you see the results of your activities.
Teach. Whether you are a trial attorney or a transactional lawyer, you need to feel comfortable in making presentations. We generally are not trained to make presentations in law school, but there are ways of toning our presentation skills. You can teach legal courses at paralegal schools and colleges (both undergraduate and graduate programs). You also can teach nonlegal courses at these schools. No matter what route you take as a presenter in further education, whether the course work is substantive or procedural law or even if it is not law related, the process will help tone your delivery skills and help you in your practice. I am currently teaching a course on entrepreneurial studies at a local college. The skills that I am developing in the process have helped me tone my solo practice, and coincidentally, I am able to market my law practice to my students and fellow instructors.
Attend programs on legal technology. Attending ABA TECHSHOW, usually held in March or April in Chicago, is an excellent way to tone up your law practice. GP|Solo Division members usually receive large discounts on registration fees, and there are usually early-bird registration discounts as well. Furthermore, the organizers have many different registration packages available to allow even solos to attend part if not all of the three-day program at special rates. The great thing about this program is that you can take CLE programs, you can network, and you can go through the legal technology expo—one of the best in the country.
Subscribe to a newsletter. Because you are operating your practice as a business, you will run across various newsletters (delivered electronically via e-mail or in hard copy by the post) that are available to you at no or at little cost and that can be helpful in toning your practice. These newsletters can deal with legal or non-legal issues. You can sign up for various ABA newsletters such as the Law Practice Management Section’s Law Practice Today ( www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt) or Law Technology Today e-Newsletter ( www.abanet.org/lpm/ltt) or any of five separate newsletters put out by the GP|Solo Division (for more information, see www.abanet.org/genpractice/newsletter). There are plenty of non-ABA newsletters to choose from as well. You need only Google a question you have about your practice, and you will find a newsletter that is available to you for free. A word of caution is in order, however: Because these newsletters are free, some of their producers may send additional e-mails you hadn’t planned on receiving (i.e., spam) or sell your e-mail address. In an attempt to control this, I strongly suggest that you use a separate e-mail address or sign-on screen for these newsletters, or that you use a spam filter on your e-mail program. One last warning when it comes to free newsletters: Whatever you do, make it a regular routine to peruse your list of newsletters annually and determine if they are still relevant to your practice and are still helping you keep your practice toned.
Try listserves and blogs. One of the best benefits that the GP|Solo Division provides is SoloSez™ ( www.abanet.org/soloseznet/), a listserve where lawyers are able to ask questions of other lawyers throughout the country (and the world!). Questions can relate to a procedural aspect of the law, a substantive area of the law, or an administrative issue facing you as a practitioner. You do not have to be a member of the Division or even a member of the ABA to participate in SoloSez. The listserve currently has more than 3,000 subscribers. Once again, however, I must offer a word of caution: Just as I suggested you to use a separate e-mail address when subscribing to newsletters, so you should use a separate e-mail address specific to SoloSez™, distinct from your regular legal business e-mail. The reason is simple. You can receive anywhere from 100 to 300 e-mails from the listserve in a given 24-hour period. There are other online resources to help keep your practice toned, as well. Two of my favorite blogs dealing with law office administration are Ed Poll’s LawBiz Blog ( www.lawbizblog.com) and Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog ( http://jimcalloway.typepad.com/lawpracticetips).
Write articles, columns, and reviews. With the explosion of printed newsletters, e-newsletters, magazines, blogs, how-to books, and other sources aimed at helping attorneys in their struggle to practice law, there is now a constant demand for content to feed these publications. This content can take the form of feature articles on substantive or procedural issues, reoccurring columns, and product reviews. Start with short, one-off articles for smaller publications, then work up to larger ones. Who knows, maybe you will even move from there to a regular column or even a book or two. Your experience in preparing this material will enable you to look at your own practice and determine how to make it more efficient. The process also will sharpen your writing skills—essential in any law practice. And the added visibility couldn’t help but do good things for your business.
Frequent the ABA Bookstore. The last suggestion that I have to tone your practice is by far from the least important. Actually it should belong near the top of this list because of how it fits and is intertwined into so many of the other suggestions in this article. From time to time, we have needs for programming and written materials from the ABA. Whether you are looking for books, magazines, podcasts, etc., the ABA Web Store is your source ( www.abanet.org/abastore). The Web Store even offers individual PDF chapters from books and periodicals. The site makes it easy for you to find exactly what you need without having to pore over a lengthy index. The Web Store is updated on a regular basis, and in addition to offering ABA publications, it also lists publications from Harvard Press, Oxford University Press, the University of Chicago Press, BNA, Merriam-Webster, the State Bar of Texas, Encyclopedia Britannica, Kaplan, John Wiley and Sons, and many more. And it’s not just books and periodicals—you can get programming there, too. Couldn’t make it to that CLE you had planned to attend? You are able to purchase audio copies along with the actual programs. The site even offer iPods for sale with CLE materials already preloaded. Check it out and see what it has to offer. Place this address onto your favorites list and go there once a month to check out the “New Releases” and “Best Sellers”—they’ll keep you abreast of what is happening in your area of practice.
As I indicated earlier, this list is ever ongoing and ever changing. Look at the suggestions above as just the beginning of your practice workout regimen. You know it’s important to keep your body toned. Now commit to keeping your law practice toned as well. With a little bit of dedication and with a little bit of hard work, you soon will have your practice lean, fit, and running at peak performance.
Lee S. Kolczun operates a solo practice in Sheffield Village, Ohio, and is a former Chair of the GP|Solo Division . He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.