SITES FOR SORE EYES: Online Help for Starting a Law Practice

Vol. 29 No. 6

By

Jim Calloway (jimc@okbar.org) is director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program.

I’m acutely aware that opening a new law practice is challenging these days, especially for those intrepid souls opening a practice immediately after obtaining a law license. There are many available online resources that can help. But first let me note that not all of the resources are online.

Opening a law practice means connecting with people. Lawyers will have advisors as well as clients. Those opening a practice in a new city are well advised to get involved in local bar activities and meetings so they can meet other local lawyers. In my home state, many new lawyers become involved in the Young Lawyers Division of the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA). Lawyers who are new to a particular location should not hesitate to introduce themselves around the local courthouse before they have a pending matter. So I want to stress that people connections should come before Internet connections.

 

Building a Practice Management Newsfeed

“A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade” is the often-repeated quote about law practice from Abraham Lincoln. Even with all of today’s labor-saving devices and the huge amount of information available within seconds on the Internet, we all still find that time is our most precious and finite resource. So if you are going to benefit from the wealth of information flowing online, you need to (1) figure out what information is valuable to you and (2) set up a system where your desired information comes to you effortlessly—ideally on a mobile device—so you can make use of unexpected opportunities to read it.

There has been a lot of information written about RSS newsfeeds, but the concept often seems too technical for busy lawyers to embrace. Most are now familiar with the concept of “streaming news services” of different sources selected by the user. Two of the most popular streaming news services are Twitter and Facebook. These two services look very different when you log in via a computer, but when accessed by a smartphone, they look remarkably similar.

Anyone who has looked at Facebook or Twitter with a mobile app can appreciate that you can scan/read a lot of items quickly that way. So that is the best way to take advantage of the resources noted below that offer RSS feeds, in my opinion. Set up a way to pull them all together into one “feed” that you can check from your phone or other device when you have the time. Many use the magazine-style news readers such as Zite (zite.com), Flipboard (flipboard.com), or Pulse News (www.pulse.me).

My advice is to use Google Reader (www.google.com/reader) and then couple that with a phone app that displays the feeds well on your mobile device of choice. Based on the advice of Tom Mighell (ipad4lawyers.squarespace.com), I direct you to Reeder (reederapp.com) for the iPhone and Mr. Reader for the iPad (www.curioustimes.de/mrreader). For Android users, I’d follow the advice of “Droid Lawyer” Jeffrey Taylor (thedroidlawyer.com) and try the free Google Reader app (goo.gl/g1UvC) or gReader (goo.gl/4yZDk), which is an unofficial Google Reader client. Taylor also reminds us to organize the specific resources in Google Reader by folders (Feed settings > New folder). This saves time locating items as Google Reader will organize them by the topic (folder) selected.

 

Online Magazines, Blogs, and Ezines

Now that you have set up a way to stream online content about starting a practice, exactly what content should you stream? The ABA Law Practice Management Section’s free webzine Law Practice Today (www.lawpracticetoday.com) leads my “must subscribe” list. You can sign up to subscribe via e-mail, which actually works a little better than the RSS feed for many because subscribers receive the entire issue when it is published online at mid-month.

Law Practice Today’s sister publication is Law Practice magazine (www.lawpractice.org/magazine). You can subscribe to the print/online magazine for $64 if you are not an ABA member; if you are a member, it’s a better value to join the Section ($50). This magazine now has a nifty phone app that is free to Section members and print subscribers. The app also may be purchased separately (iOS: tinyurl.com/8es4boc; Android: tinyurl.com/8gdvxfz). At $19.99 per year or $4.99 for a single issue, this is a real value.

Also from the ABA, the “Legal Technology Resource Center” (www.lawtechnology.org) brings us the recently relaunched blog Law Technology Today (www.lawtechnologytoday.org).

My fellow practice management advisors (PMAs) working at other state bars and Canadian law societies are great sources of law practice management information. We aggregate all of their posts online at the OKNEWSBAR feature, the PMA Alert (tinyurl.com/9xvzxgr). These folks are my go-to team when I need advice, and they should be your go-to online team. To allow you to visit each blog and subscribe, I have included the individual blog names and addresses below so readers can easily locate them and incorporate them into Google Reader. The individuals below work for U.S. state bar associations and Canadian law societies (and in one case a professional liability carrier) to provide lawyers with resources and advice on practice management and law office technology. The URLs link to the feed pages, and there should be a link near the top to allow you to subscribe in Google Reader or other RSS newsreaders. If you wish to visit their respective blogs, click on the title of the blog at the top of the feed page:

I want to single out one of these PMA’s blogs because it is relatively new. Catherine Sanders Reach started a new PMA program at the beginning of the year with the Chicago Bar Association, and her CBA Law Practice Management & Technology blog (lpmt.chicagobar.org) is a “must subscribe.”

Most probably the longest-running and best-known blog focused on solo and small firm practice is My Shingle (myshingle.com) by Carolyn Elefant. Many people follow her posts, and she is known nationwide as an advocate for solo and small firm lawyers. Elefant has put together her own “Start a Law Firm Guide” (myshingle.com/resources/startalawfirm). Another resource she has published is “Soloformania” (myshingle.com/resources/soloformania), with links to many resources to many forms provided mainly by bar associations and courts, including several checklists for starting a new law office.

You can subscribe to my own blog, Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips (jimcalloway.typepad.com) and receive the posts either by e-mail or RSS feeds.

I have focused above on law practice management and law office technology blogs, but there are great substantive law blogs as well. Each year the ABA Journal singles out 100 law blogs (aka blawgs) for its “Blawg 100” (www.abajournal.com/blawg100). The ABA Journal also maintains a massive “Blawg Directory” (www.abajournal.com/blawgs). These are great starting points to add new blogs to your Google Reader.

I feel I have barely scratched the surface and yet you already have enough resources here for someone to spend an alarming number of billable hours reading advice about starting and running a law practice. That is why I began this feature with the idea that the only realistic way to learn from these resources is to subscribe to them in Google Reader (or your RSS reader tool of choice) and then set up a phone app for your personalized news stream. The term “stream” is really a good analogy. As I have told several groups, think of these resources as a stream. When you need a drink or have time, you can kneel down at the stream and take a drink. When you get busy, you do not worry about what flowed by in your absence. But if you do not set up the stream, you will miss most all of this content.

Before we move on to podcasts, I want to note a few other interesting law practice blogs:

3 Geeks and a Law Blog (www.geeklawblog.com) covers issues about the future of law and law librarians. One of the 3 Geeks is Greg Lambert, who was with OSCN.Net during its early days.

Robert Ambrogi has been blogging at LawSites (www.lawsitesblog.com) for about ten years now, and he covers a lot more than just law websites.

Jordan Furlong writes deep thoughts on the future of law practice in the blog Law21 (www.law21.ca).

 

Podcasts

Most of the above resources are text-based. Podcasts, as readers know, are audio files. They are, in effect, Internet radio shows. You cannot listen to a podcast while waiting in court or the judge’s chambers. But you also shouldn’t be trying to read your newsfeeds on your phone while driving or jogging.

There are quite a few law-related podcasts. But there are a lot of podcasts on all sorts of interesting topics.

Many law-related podcasts are hosted by the Legal Talk Network (legaltalknetwork.com). Among my favorite podcasts there are The Kennedy-Mighell Report featuring Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell, The Legal Toolkit featuring Jared Correia, and The Un-Billable Hour featuring Rodney Dowell. I just discovered a podcast there called New Solo featuring Kyle R. Guelcher, so I will have to check that one out.

Sharon Nelson and I recently recorded the 60th edition of our podcast, The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology (tinyurl.com/yzge4yc). Five years of regular podcasting is quite a stretch, if I do say so myself.

For those wanting video and audio, the OBA Management Assistance Program has launched a Law Practice Tips YouTube Channel (tinyurl.com/967fcc8).

There are a variety of smartphone apps for organizing your podcasts in both the Android and iOS world. You can install products such as Downcast (tinyurl.com/43nuhw2) or Instacast (tinyurl.com/cjwqwye) for iOS to allow you to easily manage this content on your Apple mobile devices. In the Android world, there are mobile apps such as DoggCatcher (tinyurl.com/8ols4vh), BeyondPod (tinyurl.com/8zerf7c), and Pocket Casts (tinyurl.com/8n3tpxd). Stitcher Radio has an app for both platforms (iOS: tinyurl.com/7m4vr5k; Android: tinyurl.com/9lsoko7).

Many iPhone users just subscribe to podcasts using iTunes and do not bother with other tools.

 

Archived Holdings and Resource Centers

Besides these ongoing feeds, much helpful information can be found in online archives and resource centers.

The ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division has archived every issues of GPSolo magazine back to 1995 (ambar.org/gpsolomag). The Division also maintains a “Solo and Small Firm Resource Center” (ambar.org/soloandsmallfirms).

The OBA Management Assistance Program publishes a “Starting a Law Practice Web Directory” (www.okbar.org/members/map).

Finally, I will take author’s privilege to point out some of my own relevant work that has been archived online. The OBA keeps an archive of most of my Law Practice Tips columns at tinyurl.com/ar5d7. You can find the archives of my Digital Edge podcast with Sharon Nelson at tinyurl.com/7norqup. And “50 Web Resources for the Suddenly Solo Lawyer,” which I wrote with Allison C. Shields, has recently been updated and republished in Law Practice Today (tinyurl.com/8jej8gh); you can find a number of articles there about coping with change and economic uncertainty as well as links to other resources. We hope you can take the time to visit the page. Shields blogs about law practice management at the Legal Ease Blog (legalease.blogs.com).

 

Conclusion

If you are opening a new law practice, reading these resources can give you a lot of great ideas and information. Time is money, as the saying goes. But learning to do things the right way can ultimately save both time and money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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