11 Things to Know When Starting a Small Town Practice
By Stephen Beam
I realize this is a new generation of lawyers who do not necessarily want to take the time for one-on-one mentoring. While there is still a great deal of merit in traditional mentoring, especially in a small town, there are other resources readily available. Listservs can be a great source of information. One of the very best is the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Listserv. You can ask questions and obtain forms readily from other members. I personally use that listserv. The American Bar Association offers a listserv called Solosez, which is also very good.
2. THE OKLAHOMA BAR ASSOCIATION
Get to know Jim Calloway, the director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program. This is a free service. Mr. Calloway has a wealth of knowledge and is very willing to share it with anyone who asks. Books and other resources are readily available. If you have a technology question, or any other question about starting a solo or small firm practice, ask Mr. Calloway.
You should make plans to attend the Oklahoma Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Conference held each June. It is a family-oriented event and a lot of fun. You will get all the CLE you need for an entire year. The CLE is practical and you will learn things you can put to immediate use. In addition, you will meet other Solo & Small Firm practitioners who might refer you a case. You can share ideas and exchange information.
Make plans to attend the OBA Annual Meeting in November. You will see lawyers from across the state, and it is a great source for referrals.
Fastcase is a free research service provided by the Oklahoma Bar Association. Many people are not aware this is available and is free.
The Oklahoma Bar Association has an ethics counsel. If you have an ethics question, use this service. It is free, and most of your questions will be answered over the telephone. The new ethics counsel is Joe Balkenbush.
I have never spent any money on advertising. I ask potential clients who come in my office who referred them to us. Almost every response is word of mouth or through the Internet. I would not spend one cent on yellow page advertising. That is not how people find lawyers today. Get a website as soon as you can. Almost all of my referrals other than word of mouth come through Martindale Hubbell, Super Lawyers, our website or some other way potential clients can search for you on the Internet.
4. OUTWORK YOUR OPPONENT
You will find many older lawyers who think they know the law but they really don’t. The law they know may not be anywhere near current. You may not be as experienced as your opponent, but you can always outwork your opponent. Always start with the statutes and go from there.
5. BILLING IS IMPORTANT
Get your bills out on time. Make sure your bills have sufficient detail. No one wants to pay a bill that says simply “legal work” or just gives the number of hours you spend on a particular project. Make sure your client knows exactly what you did and in detail. Send a copy of everything you produce and receive in a case to your client. Make sure you send your bills by the first of the month and bill regularly.
6. ASSOCIATE WITH OTHER LAWYERS
Do not be afraid to call another lawyer to ask for help on a case. Some of the most fun and success I have had practicing law is trying a case with another lawyer. Most of the time two heads are really better than one.
7. SPEND YOUR MONEY ON COMPUTER EQUIPMENT
If you have to cut corners, do it on furniture and office furnishings. Do not cut corners on computers and software. It is vitally important you are able to produce good quality work quickly.
Hire at least a part-time employee as soon as you can. Hiring employees is a big deal. You may think it is a headache and not worth the trouble at least initially. I cannot stress how important it is to have a real live person answer your telephone to talk to clients, other lawyers or judges. Hire employees with a good personality and who are loyal. You can teach them what you want them to do.
9. BUY ADEQUATE MALPRACTICE INSURANCE
Most of the time when you make a mistake, and you will make a mistake, it can be fixed relatively easily. For those things that cannot be fixed, adequate malpractice insurance is a must. It is not as expensive as you think it will be.
10. IF YOU HAVE A CLIENT WHO DOES NOT PAY OR DOES NOT FOLLOW YOUR ADVICE – GET OUT FAST
No one likes to withdraw from a case or have a conflict with a client. Sometimes it cannot be avoided. If you have a client who does not pay, or does not pay timely, attempt to withdraw immediately. If you have a client who will not follow your advice, attempt to withdraw immediately. Do not wait. If you wait, you may not be allowed to withdraw by the court.
11. YOUR WORD REALLY IS YOUR BOND
This is the most important one. Every person can name an attorney or two you cannot trust. It becomes universally known among the bar. You can get a horrible reputation and the practice of law can be miserable, if you cannot be trusted. If it is not true, do not say it.