In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, Joleena Louis discusses four mistakes she has made (and witnessed others make) as a solo attorney.
Every day is a lesson when you are running your own law practice. Solo attorneys are constantly struggling to balance client work with keeping their business running smoothly. Mistakes will be made, but how you deal with them makes all the difference.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made and that I’ve seen other solo attorneys make:
1. Failing to Properly Track Time
Developing reliable timekeeping practices is something I should have done from the start of my law practice, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes solo attorneys make.
When working for a firm, employers usually require you to keep daily or weekly records of your time; therefore, you’ll have to adjust to being self-motivated about tracking your client work. As a solo, it can be easy to fall into the habit of waiting until the end of the month to write down what work you did on each case.
This a huge mistake for a solo attorney because you are likely losing money by forgetting the small tasks that fall through the cracks. When first launching a solo law practice, many attorneys operate on a very small budget so you can’t afford to leave room for error when it comes to your timekeeping practices.
Some solo attorneys invest in technology to track their time, such as a practice management software like Clio, while others are able to develop a timekeeping system using free tools like Google Calendar.
2. Forgetting The Importance Of Reputation
New York is a big city, but the legal world is small. This means your reputation is everything. What you do in one courtroom will follow you to the next.
Recently, I was sitting outside of a conference room during a lunch break in Family Court where a group of court staff gathered eating their lunches and discussing lawyers.
They talked about lawyers who were unprepared, dressed unprofessionally or who were rude to court staff and other attorneys. This was a huge reminder to me that solo attorneys must be mindful of how they present themselves and how they treat others.
People are more likely to share a negative experience they had with you than a positive one. In a profession that relies heavily on word-of-mouth referrals, what people say about you is critical.
3. Being Afraid To Admit Mistakes
One of the easiest ways to lose clients is to lie to them. This is one of the biggest lessons I learned early on in my law practice is that it is always best to be honest and own up to my mistakes. I have yet to lose a client by telling the truth because accountability builds trust.
Trust is the key to a successful attorney-client relationship. It’s better to admit a mistake and create an action plan to correct it than lie about it or offer excuses. Owning your mistakes will make you a better attorney, and boost your reputation among your clients.
4. Not Being Selective About Clients
Many new solo attorneys are concerned about making a profit, which leads them to think they shouldn’t be selective about what clients they take on. I also made this mistake early on in my practice and I even know very experienced solos who have this problem.
You meet with the prospective client and they tell you they’ve fired two attorneys already. They immediately ask for a discount and say their only goal is to crush their spouse.
You see the red flags but you still take the case because you need the money. It’s easy for solo attorneys to make this mistake.
Having the freedom to choose which clients you want to work with is one of the major benefits of owning your own practice. Clients who are disrespectful or too demanding are always more trouble than they’re worth.
Whatever this client pays you, if they pay, will not be compensation enough for the hassle of dealing with them. Even worse, you don’t want to face the possibility of firing a bad client later on.