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   April 2002


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Edited by Milton W. Zwicker

One reference site is so comprehensive that it can serve as a practitioner’s home page. Also, a lawyer shares the lessons learned in succeeding as a solo.

www.refdesk.com. Facts and reference site.

Reviewed by Milton W. Zwicker

In his best-seller Designing Web Usability, Jakob Nielsen predicts that by approximately the year 2007, online information will replace books. Whether or not this actually happens, Web sites are an undeniably important source of information, especially for lawyers. I am much aware of this every time I use Refdesk.com—my Web library.

Nearly everyone who uses the Internet has a list of favorite sites, much like book lovers have their favorite volumes. That, of course, is why browsers let us keep our favorite sites under the label "bookmarks." Refdesk.com is not among my bookmarks, because it is my home page.

In fact, I removed many sites from my bookmarks list because now I simply link to them in Refdesk.com. It’s difficult to think of a topic that does not have a link to this site. It bills itself as "The single best source for facts on the Net," and that is not a boast. (The site gladly displays a testimonial by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who says this site is so comprehensive, he has thrown out all his encyclopedias and dictionaries.)

Refdesk.com has 75 subject categories. Among my favorites is a Law and Medical Dictionary lookup. I still have my backup—Black’s Law Dictionary—but it’s gathering dust. Lawyers will also appreciate the links to federal, state and local government sites.

I love using quotes in letters and brochures, so I often use the links to Bartlett’s and Columbia Quotations to find what I need. My favorite search engine is Google.com, which is also there—it’s at the top of the page. In addition, I frequently visit Microsoft’s Knowledge Base for information to solve my Windows OS problems. With Refdesk.com, I now have this link on my home page under Help and Advice. This section links to many other useful sites, such as Consumer Search, Financial Advisor and How Stuff Works.

For keeping abreast of the latest software updates, ZD Net Downloads is among the best places. I search it from my home page because Refdesk.com links to it. And, not surprisingly, it links to Amazon.com, too.

My French vocabulary is very small but, being Canadian, I frequently need to use French words. That’s when I turn to Refdesk’s English to French translation window. This facility is also available for translating English words to Spanish, German and Italian.

At a recent meeting of a nonprofit board on which I sit, a member challenged a ruling by the chair. The ruling generated a heated debate about the correct procedure. I remembered that Refdesk.com has a link to Robert’s Rules of Order, and a quick search provided the chair with the correct procedure. Refdesk got some converts that same night.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give this site a 10. Though I still hope that Jakob Nielson’s prediction doesn’t come true. I love to buy, handle and read those legacy publications.

Milton W. Zwicker (zwicker@zwickerevanslewis.com) is Managing Partner of Zwicker Evans & Lewis in Orillia, ONT, and the author of Successful Client Newsletters (ABA 1998).

What’s Your Favorite Site?

Readers are invited to join in a Web site dialogue by sending information about their favorites (and, of course, the URL) to Bookmarks editor Milton Zwicker at zwicker@zwickerevanslewis.com.

Teach Me to Solo: The Nuts and Bolts of Law Practice Hal Davis. (Anchovy Press, 2000.) $29.95. ISBN: 0-9701869-0-8. www.anchovypress.com.

Reviewed by Ed Olkovich

When you set up your own shop, your library must include reference works on a variety of marketing and management issues. You need to research many options in mass-market business books. But you will also want to read Hal Davis’s success story, Teach Me to Fly Solo, for its legal perspective. Davis is a Dallas-area lawyer who went on his own years ago and writes about his experiences starting out. Now he even runs seminars for lawyers going into business for themselves. In this book, he covers fundamentals of opening a law office from start to finish. You will find it reassuring to hold the big picture in the palm of your hand.

Chapters are short and easy to read, with headings such as, "You Can Do It," "Image" and "Sources of New Clients." The book does not preach but covers everyday decisions like what furniture and telephones that solos need to buy. Davis also competently discusses computer hardware, software and file organization, both paper and electronic.

(Because technology information can quickly become dated, Davis recommends that readers visit his Web site, www.nutslaw.com, to check for updates.)

Teach Me to Solo offers numerous tips that can save its readers unnecessary suffering. For example, some lawyers think they can never turn away a client—otherwise they’ll starve. But successful solos know this holds true only for so long. Why let clients antagonize you and lose control of your office? Eventually, and usually painfully, I learned this lesson. Davis offers helpful advice for getting rid of problem clients. He also offers this tip: In his client contact book, he writes the words "Refuse Future Work" next to the names of troublesome clients. He doesn’t want to trust memory alone, and that is sound advice.

As a story about a business startup, though, this book does not offer detailed analysis of first principles. That’s one problem with the nuts-and-bolts approach. One size does not fit all, and not everyone needs the same bolts. Private practice is diverse, and the details one lawyer needs can bore another. I found that this book crawls in places. Also, it lacks checklists or sample forms that could have made some points more concrete.

Still, Teach Me to Solo is a worthwhile read. It covers the basic practice development and marketing skills vital for solo survival. It also illustrates why private practice is rewarding. Earning a living by flying solo can be a fantastic adventure. You will profit from the author’s personal observations on how one lawyer succeeded.

The book’s greatest strength is how it demonstrates a key marketing lesson. In writing a book, Davis established himself as an expert. It’s an example of what solo practitioners do to flourish: Find what makes you different and expose it to the world. Becoming known as an expert is the first rule solos must learn for long-term survival.

Ed Olkovich (edo@mrwills.com) is a Toronto lawyer and author.