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October 13, 2021 The Chair’s Corner

Free Money

Stephen J. Curley
What if you could improve your practice’s bottom line without spending an additional dollar?

What if you could improve your practice’s bottom line without spending an additional dollar?

twomeows/Moment via Getty Images

Some may recognize the title of this column as the title of Marlon Brando’s penultimate film, in which he terrifies a county as a deranged warden who has an unnatural attachment to a pickup truck. Sorry to disappoint, Brando fans; this article has nothing to do with that cracked oeuvre. Rather, consistent with the theme of this edition of your Division’s magazine, I employed an old marketing stunt; after all, we tend to pay attention to the word “free.”

This issue largely concerns itself with fairly sophisticated and chiefly novel practice enhancement techniques designed to improve your practice’s revenue. Many of the suggestions focus on the Internet and, in particular, your firm’s website as a portal to riches. All of it is good advice for the lawyer looking to grow a practice. However, many of these techniques come with a financial commitment. What if you could improve your practice’s bottom line without spending an additional dollar? What if there really were such a thing as “free money”?

What if you were reading one such tool right now?

If you have access to this magazine, you are probably already a member of the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division of the American Bar Association. It cost you nothing to join the Division. Membership requires nothing of you. Much of the continuing legal education and other programming offered by the Division costs you nothing. Even this magazine was free to you. You likely knew these facts.

It is less likely that you have explored all the valuable marketing opportunities your membership brings you. To start, the Division boasts roughly 20,000 members involved in literally every aspect of the law. Many are preeminent attorneys either in their community or in their area of specialization. Your membership allows you to access their thoughts and share in their success through the Division’s extensive programming. You also have the chance to interact with your fellow members directly. One way this is done is through the Division’s free virtual water cooler, SoloSez. In this forum, questions are posed, relationships are established, and referral sources are identified. SoloSez can be accessed through this link: https://tinyurl.com/4wv4hkht. SoloSez can serve as a marvelous introduction to the Division and, more importantly, its members.

The Division also offers other means of featuring your practice and highlighting your skills through volunteer committee leadership positions. Joining any committee is free. You can start by following this link: https://tinyurl.com/fvbr5xjx.

By joining a committee, you will automatically expand your network of contacts and elevate your practice. Committee members are thought leaders in their respective fields and valuable referral sources. Committee membership may also lead to additional opportunities to speak and write on your favorite legal topics, which, in turn, enhance your professional reputation and, eventually, bring more clients to your door.

The Division also is a leading publisher of books on a wide range of legal topics. As a Division member, you have the inside track to peer-reviewing another’s work, penning a chapter of a book in progress, updating an existing edition, or even creating a brand-new offering. The chance to write articles and columns for this magazine and the Division’s monthly GPSolo eReport also exists. To learn more about the Division’s publishing opportunities, follow this link: https://tinyurl.com/3pcmn239. Once again, these opportunities are free to you.

The skeptic in you may ask whether involvement with the Division is financially beneficial even though it may cost you nothing. After all, exploiting these resources does cost time that could be used in more conventional marketing efforts. In other words, what is the return on investment on Division membership?

My response is that such a commitment is more than worth the time invested. In my experience, the return on Division investment has been mountainous. Nor do I consider my history unique.

I have been a lawyer for nearly 30 years. When I first became an attorney, the notion of “marketing” my skills downright frightened me. The notion of pitching potential clients for work was anathema. I preferred to stick to my briefs and depositions. As a young associate, I thought my work would speak for itself and the clients would simply follow. My aversion to trawling for new business was one of the factors in my choosing to start my career with a large, established firm. My rationale was I would simply do a good job and inherit the firm’s long-standing clients through partners’ retirement and associate attrition. I soon learned that is not how the business of law got done anymore. As I rose through the associate ranks, it became very evident that rainmaking was just as important to my superiors as good lawyering. It was dawning on me that a law degree did not excuse me from salesmanship.

At just about the same time, I had the opportunity to attend my very first ABA meeting because one of my colleagues had a scheduling conflict. I checked in with the head of my department. He was gracious enough to give me the time off with one proviso: I would not be permitted to go to another gathering on the firm’s time unless I brought back new business from the meeting. I agreed.

With the partner’s words in mind, I attended the meeting with a plan to put my introverted personality aside and meet as many people as I could. As a result, I met bright, motivated attorneys from every corner of the country before I returned home. Two weeks later I received a phone call with a referral. It was a very small assignment (local counsel work on the service of an out-of-state subpoena, as I recall), and it generated only a few hundred dollars for the firm, but it fueled my trip down the hall back to my boss’s office, where he kept his word. I have been volunteering ever since. Now, not a month goes by without some referral crossing my desk, either incoming or outgoing.

That trip down the hall took place more than 25 years ago. It has led me to hundreds of thousands of dollars of referrals, dozens of trusted advisors, and countless friendships. It also gave me the support and confidence that, nearly 20 years ago, enabled me to form my own firm to take full advantage of what the ABA and, more specifically, this Division provide me for free. Year in and year out, referrals with an ABA or Division pedigree consistently account for more than 30 percent of my revenues.

As we begin the new bar year, I encourage each of you to take advantage of the Division’s free resources and opportunities. Be assured that if you do not, then your competitors will. To be plain, there is such a thing as “free money”; the Division is one of its banks.

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Stephen J. Curley is Chair of the GPSolo Division. He is a sole practitioner in Stamford, Connecticut, practicing in the area of complex commercial litigation.