Choosing a Practice Area

10-16-2013 4-34-22 PMIn my last post, I shared some words of wisdom from our If I Only Knew panelists at Learning the Ropes 2013.  This week I’m offering further advice from our panelists on how to choose an area of practice:

Business and Financial Considerations

  • In what businesses do you have knowledge and expertise?
  • Do you have special contacts in a particular field?
  • Can you identify a specific market for your legal services?
  • What is the competition like? 
  • Are there enough clients to warrant another practitioner in the geographic area? 
  • Can you provide better, less expensive, or more convenient service?
  • What are your cash flow considerations?

Personal Considerations

  • What area of law do you like?
  • What kind of clients do you want to represent?
    • Businesses
    • Individuals
    • High income – estate planning, business, real estate
    • Low income – poverty law, domestic relations, consumer law
  • What challenges you?
  • What gives you great satisfaction?

Other Considerations

Overall, do you prefer civil or criminal? If civil, do you see yourself as a litigator or transactional lawyer?  If criminal, how do you feel about court-appointed work?

Still Unsure?  Conduct Informational Interviews

If you are unsure about what area to practice in, talk with people who practice in the areas that you might be interested in. Take them out to lunch or to coffee and conduct an “informational interview.”

You’re Off and Running

Once you figure out what area you do want to practice in, try to develop your marketing niche.  This may be the practice area itself, or it may be a twist that differentiates you from someone else in your geographical area. Figure out your difference, and make sure that people know what it is.  Sample marketing plans, business development checklists, and marketing worksheets are available on the PLF Web site.

Parting Words

Practicing is a process, and changes are inevitable — what you choose may be a stepping stone to something else.

Learning the Ropes 2013

Are you new to private practice? Then I have just the ticket for you!

Attend our three day conference – Learning the Ropes: A Practical Skills & Ethics Workshop – for a mere $65.  Attendance at the full program satisfies the MCLE requirements for new admittees’ first reporting period.

Choose from these concurrent sessions:

  • Domestic Relations or Criminal Law
  • Tort Litigation or Estate Planning
  • Civil Motion Practice or Bankruptcy
  • Creating a Firm or Joining a Firm

Can’t decide?  All tracks are recorded for later viewing at no charge.

Plenary sessions include:

  • How to Develop a Successful Practice and Avoid Legal Malpractice
  • Client Communication and Other Practice Management Survival Tips
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • The Ethics of Practice Management
  • Recognizing Child Abuse and Fulfilling Your Duty to Report
  • Negotiation Tips, Tricks, Traps, and Tools
  • Courtroom Do’s and Don’ts
  • Employment Law and Conscientious Communication
  • Bridging the Cultural Gap

Day 1 includes a “Meet the Judges” luncheon.  Day 2 features a networking luncheon with bar leaders and respected practitioners in the fields of Appeals, Criminal Law, Employment Law, Intellectual Property, Business Litigation, Debtor/Creditor Law, Estate Planning, Litigation, Business Transactions, Elder Law, Family Law, and Real Estate.

All meals, including the luncheons, are included in your $65 workshop fee.  The program is at the Oregon Convention Center November 6-8, 2013.  Register here or visit the PLF Web site > Upcoming Seminars (under the heading Loss Prevention – CLE).  Sign up early.  Space is limited!

Copyright 2013 Beverly Michaelis

Are Contract Lawyers Automatically Independent Contractors?

Many new lawyers seek out contract lawyering assignments as a means of getting their practice off the ground.  If you are interested in contract lawyering, there are many excellent resources to help you get started.

Begin by checking out the following forms and practice aids available from the Professional Liability Fund at no charge:

  • Contract Lawyers Checklist
  • Contract Project – Letter of Understanding
  • Contract Project Intake Sheet
  • Letter Declining Contract Project
  • Project Assignment

Next, order the following free CLEs:

  • Choice of Entity for Contract Lawyers and Sole/Small Firm Practitioners
  • Practical Contract Lawyering

Both can be found on the PLF Web site.  Select Programs on CD/DVD under the Loss Prevention – CLE heading.

Once you’ve done a bit of homework you will start to get the drift that there is a bit more involved in being a contract lawyer than merely taking an assignment and completing a project.  For example, your classification.  Are you an employee or an independent contractor of the hiring firm?

Some contract lawyers assume they are “independent contractors” because they produce “contract work.”  But a true “independent contractor” must meet the criteria of federal and state agencies for income tax, employment tax, wage and hour, pension, health, Medicare, retirement, disability, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance purposes – to name a few.  So how to proceed?

In their article Contract Lawyers: Independent Contractors or Employees? Lisa Brown and Jim Vogele provide some answers.

First, enter into a written agreement with the hiring firm confirming your independent contractor status.  Brown and Vogele suggest including the following provisions:

  • The contract lawyer is responsible for his or her own income tax withholding and Social Security self-employment taxes, professional liability insurance, and excess coverage.
  • The firm will issue a Form 1099 for the services performed by the contract lawyer.
  • An acknowledgement that this is not a joint venture and the parties do not have any shared business interests.
  • The contract lawyer is currently licensed and in good standing with the Oregon State Bar, has current professional liability coverage, and has no pending malpractice claims or ethics complaints.
  • The contract lawyer does not have a conflict with any of the parties involved in the assigned project.
  • The contract lawyer agrees to at all times fulfill his or her professional duties to protect the client’s privileged and confidential information.
  • The contract lawyer will at all times comply with his or her ethical and legal responsibilities as a lawyer licensed to practice law in the state of Oregon.
  • The contract lawyer will return all client documents, including all copies of the documents, when the project is complete.
  • The contract lawyer will not receive any employee benefits or workers’ compensation coverage.

Second, behave like an independent contractor:

  1. Maintain your own office (virtual or brick-and-mortar)
  2. Provide services to a variety of firms
  3. Print and use your own business cards
  4. Keep an e-mail account separate from the hiring firm(s)
  5. Use your own online legal research tools, computer, and copying capability
  6. Get your own taxpayer ID
  7. Work independently, setting your own hours
  8. Exercise control over how your work is performed
  9. Invoice the hiring firm and arrange for payment on a project basis
  10. Obtain a 1099 from the hiring firm at year-end
  11. Fulfill the other hallmarks of working as an independent contractor

Read the complete article on the Professional Liability Fund Web site.

New Solos: Go Where You’re Needed

New solo lawyers are often attracted to setting up practice in a large metropolitan area.  But is that really the best choice?

No doubt big cities have the most clients, but they also have the most lawyers.  Who are other lawyers?  Your competition!  And in a big city, how does one solo stand out from a sea of other attorneys?

New solos who fail to consider a small town practice are doing themselves a great disservice – at least in my estimation.  In a small town, you can create a niche and become part of the community.  You automatically stand out – sometimes as the only lawyer in town.

If you’re a skeptic, consider what others have had to say:

Small Towns Have Jobs for Young Lawyers – The Lawyerist

Small-Town Practice Suits this Lawyer Just Fine

Life in a Small Town Law Practice

Small firms, small towns

I was born in a small town, I will practise in a small town – Canadian Lawyer Magazine

Practicing in a small town will also save you money – rent will be lower, utilities and services are less, and taxes are likely to be less of a burden.  And the ratio of clients-to-lawyers will be in your favor.  (Believe it or not, there are places in Oregon that are under-lawyered.)

So if you can be flexible, and you are willing to put down roots in a new place, small town practice may be your quickest path to success.

Copyright 2012 Beverly Michaelis

Running a Successful Law Practice

What does it take to run a successful law practice?  Sound financial management?  A detailed marketing plan?  Absolutely!  And if you want tips in these or related areas, see the links at the end of this post.

But for the law school class of 2012, this may not be the first concern that comes to mind.  For many the real question is: “How do I stay out of trouble?”

The answer?  Get organized!  Establish effective office systems and learn the ins and outs of handling client funds, managing deadlines, and tracking conflicts:

For more tips, see these posts:

Financial Management

Marketing, Networking, and Client Relations




Some Other Favorites

Copyright 2011 Beverly Michaelis