Using Bar Association Resources To Maximize Efficiency - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Alice Porter

As a solo practitioner, there is a wide array of issues that you must grapple with, such as the practice of law, developing new law practice management skills, building up your business, and ethics. Bar associations of all types, whether they are state associations, national associations such as the American Bar Association, or topical associations, such as the American Intellectual Property Law Association, American Immigration Lawyers Association , or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys are invaluable tools that can be used to get you up to speed on the hot topics in your area of practice. This checklist is designed to give a short overview of how bar associations can provide invaluable assistance in setting up your practice, so that you are successful from the minute that you open your doors. As there are a myriad of resources available, I have provided a small sampling of bar association sites that offer a particular service on their web page.

The First Step: Getting Hooked Up to Solosez
Regardless of your area of practice, as a solo practitioner, it is essential to get on the American Bar Association Solosez chat group. Your ABA dues more than pay for itself by joining this chat room. The Solosez group is a good starting point when determining what resources you need to invest your time and money in when while developing your practice. Some of the topics meander away from the practice of law, and can take a turn to the whimsical, (and the sheer volume of daily emails can be intimidating) but overall the chat room is a treasure trove of advice that is invaluable to a solo practitioner. The archives are accessible to research issues that may have been addressed earlier in the evolution of the group, and Solosez also provides an online forms database. There is something infinitely comforting about knowing that 2700 other attorneys are out there, and are willing to help you if requested.

Available Legal Research Tools
When you are first starting out with a new practice, you may be inclined to take on all kinds of work, some of which is invariably outside of your earlier realms of practice. For example, clients may come in your door wanting name changes, wills, and real estate assistance, and your background might be strictly in commercial law. Or, a friend of a friend wants you to help them with their wife's immigration problem. Your nephew may call you at 3 am with a driving while intoxicated charge and is frantic. The point is that no one can know every thing about every topic. Bar associations can provide

  • Chat groups about specific topics (American Bar Association )
  • Colleagues that may refer work to you, or to whom you may refer work to
  • Links or references by other attorneys about blogs that are topics that are relevant to your practice (American Bar Association Solosez chat group, Oklahoma)
  • Library assistance (for example, Idaho, Washington, South Carolina, and West Virginia state bar associations have Casemaker services, Alaska and Wyoming have law libraries online)
  • Monitoring pending legislation that may affect your practice (Florida, North Dakota, and Montana state bars provide this type of service)
  • Providing copies of legal forms, including pattern jury instructions (Idaho, Maine, Oklahoma)
  • Practical how to guides to accomplish your client's goals (American Intellectual Property Law Association)
  • Secretary of state links, corporate partnership and trade name searches (North Dakota and Wyoming)
  • Court opinions (Oklahoma and South Dakota)
  • Position papers regarding pending legislation (American Intellectual Property Law Association)
  • Content pages from law reviews (Wyoming)

Developing Law Practice Management Skills
These kinds of references are important, as you must put careful thought into how you want to design your practice. It is important to be proactive in designing your practice to suit the client's needs, as well as your personal style. A reactive practice (i.e. a law office that is designed to respond to the crisis of the hour) can work at times, but there are long term benefits for taking the time to establish how you wish to manage your office internally. Bar associations, and their affiliated chat groups can provide guidance on things like

  • Capital utilization - making the most of your start up resources
  • Screening decisions to be made about the type of cases that you want to take
  • Payment issues to work on cases ( chat groups can offer fantastic insight on the amount of fees to charge, the types of payments, whether credit card payments are a good idea for your practice etc)
  • Estimates for the amount of work that you are going to put into cases,
  • Guidance regarding subscription online and book databases that you need to invest in to meet your client's needs
  • Providing legal practitioners with tax information for their practices (South Dakota)
  • Practice management skills (South Carolina)
  • Providing information on trust account management (South Dakota, Virginia, Wyoming)
  • Medical review panels (Wyoming)
  • Inter-professional guidelines for physicians and lawyers (South Dakota)
  • Information on digital courtrooms (Montana)
  • Helping you choose the technical systems you must establish to have an efficient office such as phones, fax, computer systems, billing systems and virus protection (Montana)
  • Researching employment practices for your office, and the types of things that you want in your employment manual to avoid problems.
  • Providing bridge the gap training for new lawyers and a legal affairs public television program (West Virginia)

The Day to Day Business Survival Skills
There's also the practical end of establishing a successful solo practice. Bar associations can assist you on

  • Confirming identity of people who may be corresponding with you and are representing that they are attorneys
  • Employment opportunities to supplement your practice initially
  • Determining reciprocity
  • Marketing your solo practice
  • Lawyer's assistance, particularly if an attorney is grappling with substance abuse issues
  • Finding healthcare insurance for yourself and your employees
  • Networking with other colleagues who practice in your area of law
  • Finding a mentor
  • Researching malpractice insurance for approved providers in your state, or that can cover your particular practice needs
  • Determining what CLEs best meet your practice needs, and which courses are available in your state or other states. (Personally, I am in favor of the North Dakota CLE, which meets in Mexico in March)
  • Finding CLE boot camps that are geared to the solo practitioner
  • Attending regular section meetings
  • Finding out information about bar conventions
  • Listing your solo practice through referral committees
  • An archive of earlier CLEs that have been previously recorded
  • Links to law schools
  • Hosting a legal vendors mall (West Virginia)
  • Sex offender registry information (Wyoming)

Ethical Considerations
A serious issue that comes up routinely is ethics. As a solo practitioner, there isn't always the opportunity to have an ethics attorney in your areas of practice, much less your office. I guarantee you will be faced with ethical issues that you never expected that may affect your bar license. Bar association ethics attorneys and ethics committees are an invaluable resource to help solo practitioners navigate through all of the ethical challenges that you will face. Depending on your state, they can respond by email, phone or fax, and provide essential information that can assist you in your practice. Use your state bar association to avoid mistakes, rather then have to face your bar association later on for disciplinary action. 


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About the Authors

Alicia Porter is the sole proprietor of the Law Offices of Alicia Porter, based in Fairbanks Alaska. Her practice is focused on intellectual property law, estate planning, family law, and criminal work. She passed the USPTO bar, and is a member of both the Alaska state bar and the Washington state bar. Prior to opening her solo practice, she worked as an attorney for the State of Alaska on child protection, adult protection, and juvenile delinquency issues.

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