General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter
When the Marketplace Changes, Can You?
By Lee S. Kolczun
Do you think that you have your law practice by the tail? Everything’s running smoothly, clients are coming in, and you are getting a good return on the work you’re doing? You just couldn’t ask for anything more, could you?
That’s how I felt a few short years ago when my practice was 90 percent workers’ compensation for claimants and 10 percent estate planning. At that time I employed five support staff.
Then the roof fell in when the state legislature changed the workers’ compensation laws. Practically overnight the contingency fee-based cases—the bedrock of my practice—were about to vaporize.
What can one lawyer do when something like this happens? Taking on the entire legislation would be quixotic, and, frankly, I don’t know how to ride a donkey. So I decided that the next best thing was to shift my substantive practice—de-emphasizing the workers’ compensation and increasing the estate planning.
To get a jumpstart on expanding the estate planning aspect, I explored the estate planning groups that provide extra support and training. I made contact with my ABA friends throughout the country. I read everything published by my state bar and the ABA on estate planning. Based on my research and networking contacts, I made the decision to join a Denver-based estate planning association of lawyers. I attended two six-day, in-depth courses to bring me up to speed on substantive law, office procedures, and marketing the practice to individuals and financial planners. While I retooled in the substantive aspects, my secretary/law office manager concentrated on the reorganization of the office management and procedures.
The estate planning association I joined provides ongoing training seminars twice yearly, helps me to market my practice throughout the year, and has a state chapter that has monthly meetings. With this support, I have been able to transform my practice to 30 percent workers’ compensation and 70 percent estate planning.Picking the moment
When do you know it’s time to change gears? That’s about as easy as knowing when it’s time to get married, to buy a new house, or start a family. Nothing other than your own sense of direction can tell you that. You may feel comfortable enough right now, sensing that any change of direction might wreak havoc. From my experience, though, turning the apple cart towards a new client base may mean a few spilled apples, but it’s a whole lot better than trying to peddle a cart of rotten fruit.
Take the plunge. You will usually find that you land on your feet. If you don’t, then there’s always that cashier’s job at the supermarket.
I think I caught the wave of change at just the right time—not too early and not too late. I was lucky. Some lawyers who waited too long are miserable now; paralyzed and afraid to make any kind of change.
Would I change again? Without a doubt. The first time’s always the hardest, but now I know that I can do it again. After all, you never know when lawmakers might outlaw estate planning.
Lee S. Kolczun is a principal with Colella & Kolczun, P.L.L., a five-person law firm in Lorain, Ohio, and director of the Section’s Solo and Small Firm Practice Division. He can be reached by e-mail at LSKolczun@aol.com