In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, New York solo lawyer Joleena Louis gives her top tips to make sure your solo practice doesn’t look incompetent.
As a solo, you are often doing everything on your own. While being the boss can afford you more flexibility, it’s also a lot to keep up with and can cause you to cut corners in ways that make you look less professional than larger firms.
Appearing incompetent to both clients and colleagues can set your firm on a downward trajectory. In order to have a long and successful legal career, you will need both clients and colleagues. If you appear incompetent, you are far less likely to get either.
To help, avoid these mistakes that make solo’s look incompetent:
Not Having a Custom E-mail
I admit that I’ve been guilty of accidentally sending professional emails from my Gmail account, but if your professional email account is Gmail, Hotmail, AOL or some other free account, you are surely being judged by your recipients.
If you can’t handle the most basic task of setting up a custom domain email address, clients will assume that you also can’t handle their complex legal matter.
From a client’s perspective, a “real” law firm will have a real email account [email protected]. If you have a website (and you SHOULD), your web hosting company probably offers custom email addresses. You can also get one through Gmail.
No Website/Outdated Website
I can’t tell you how many times I went online to find a lawyer’s phone number or address, only to discover that they have no website. It baffles me. And it’s almost always a solo attorney.
Even if you get all of your new business through referrals, I guarantee that many of those referring attorneys still Google you. And if they can’t find you online then you’re missing out on business.
Having an outdated website is better than having no website, but it still makes you look unprofessional. If you have a blog or recent events section that has not been updated since 2015, you may be turning off people who view your site. An outdated website sends the message that you are an outdated lawyer.
Poor Document Drafting and Preparation
Unfortunately, whenever I receive a poorly drafted document, I know it’s coming from a solo or small firm. Believe me, I get it- with little or no staff it can be overwhelming to stay on top of everything constantly produce top quality documents.
This can be resolved by having systems and technology in place to produce consistent, quality work. This could include a checklist for each type of document and using assembly software (which is included in most major case management software) instead of starting each document from scratch.
NOT DRESSING APPROPRIATELY FOR COURT
Early in my career I was waiting in court for an adversary that I had communicated with for several months but never met in person. She was very professional over the phone so I was very surprised when she walked in with some very wrinkled slacks, a tank top, and a cardigan. The court attorney was apparently not surprised because he grumbled about solo’s are “always showing up sloppy.”
Bottom line is you will be judged by your appearance. If you want to be perceived as a professional, you have to look like a professional.
As solo’s we have to work extra hard to compete with bigger firms that have more resources. Doing your best to always present yourself and your firm in the most professional light possible is a great first step to getting ahead.