To Boldly Go Solo

How do you know if solo practice is right for you?  Do you have what it takes to organize, manage, and assume all the risks of running a law practice?

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As Bill Nye would say, please consider the following:

Independence

Solos get to call all the shots: client selection, case selection, setting fees, choosing a practice location – every decision that goes into running a practice.  The responsibility rests on your shoulders.  Do you find that appealing, daunting but doable, or overwhelming?  If you answer is appealing or daunting but doable, please proceed.

Are You a Decider?

Some people are decisive, others are not.  If you agonize over choices and normally poll multiple friends and family members before making a decision, solo practice will be difficult.

Solos need to make business and practice decisions every day.  Some of these decisions must be made under pressure with little time to reflect. The reward, of course, is that you get to decide.  You have the freedom and independence to use your creativity, knowledge, and skills to solve problems.

Are You a Self-Starter?

Solo practitioners must be self-regulating. Can you get the work out without someone supervising?  Give regular attention to administrative tasks like billing and bookkeeping? It will be up to you to meet deadlines, organize your time, and follow through on details. If you are a good planner and organizer, your solo practice will be successful.

Are You a Marketer?

All lawyers in private practice are expected to develop business, but in a solo practice the pressure is greater.  You’re it.  Can you create your own networking opportunities and business contacts?   Devote time to blogging or updating your website?  Post to social media?  Speak at CLEs?  Write articles for bar publications?  Build business referral relationships?

Financially Speaking

What resources are available to you?  What financial demands and commitments do you have?  Is it possible (or desirable) to apply for a micro loan, regular loan, or line of credit?  Are you up for crowdfunding?  Start by reviewing your expenses, then prepare a start-up and monthly budget.  Read about other business/financial essentials here.

Drive, Stamina, and Work-Life Balance

Can you practice law, run a business, and keep it all in balance with your personal life? Are you strongly motivated?  Healthy?  Is your family supportive of your efforts?  These are all good markers.  Nonetheless, make a plan to care for yourself and manage stress.  If you are looking for ideas or resources, contact the attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program.  Services are confidential and free to Oregon attorneys.

Final Thoughts

Solo practice requires a lot of time and work, but it also has benefits: no one looking over your shoulder, no pressure to take a particular client, freedom to work in the areas of law that you prefer, and complete flexibility in deciding when, where, and how to work.  Is it a match for you?

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

Cost per Case Analysis and Your Firm’s Marketing Decisions

The following is a guest post, courtesy of Deanna Powers, eGeneration Marketing.

There are more than 12,000 attorneys in the state of Oregon. Many firms, particularly small firms or solo practitioners, may not be able to hire someone to handle all marketing efforts. If you’re in charge of marketing for your law firm, it may be challenging to know which channels are most profitable. TV ads usually lead to a lot of claimants calling your office, but is this marketing option overall more profitable than simply spending more time optimizing your firm’s social media pages?  Fortunately, there is a way to accurately compare every marketing venture to one another. A cost per case metric will help your firm make better-informed spending decisions by examining the profitability of all current marketing efforts.

What Is Your Cost Per Case?

A cost per case (CPC) analysis examines the profitability of a particular marketing venture by taking the total dollars spent on that advertising effort divided by the new clients signed because of that effort.

Marketing Effort Budget ÷ New Clients Signed = Cost per Case

It’s unlikely that your marketing channels will all yield the same CPC. Some new clients will have a CPC of $0. This happens when past clients refer your firm’s services to their friends or family members.  This is perhaps the most beneficial marketing avenue for your firm, since it cost you nothing in terms of advertising dollars.

Unfortunately, no matter how strong your firm’s reputation, not all new clients can be signed from referrals. A CPC metric gives you the data you need for a thorough analysis of every paid marketing effort, which in turn puts stronger marketing budget decisions well within your reach. Some profitability can be calculated for you—Google AdWords gives your firm a wealth of data on how your campaigns are performing if you use PPC ads. Unfortunately, non-digital marketing efforts are a little more challenging to evaluate, but the CPC calculation still comes into play. We can use billboard pricing as an example as how you would calculate your firm’s CPC through a traditional marketing channel.

Billboard Ads: High Exposure Generates Greater Leads

When considering marketing avenues for law firms, high exposure is a key factor. Many firms choose to use billboard marketing because it gets you the most views for the lowest price. Outdoor ads have a crucial place in a well-devised marketing strategy according to the Arbitron Out-of-Home Advertising Report, a national survey that examines advertising and spending habits in relation to the increasingly mobile lifestyle of Americans. According to this report, eight of 10 Americans make buying decisions while out of the house and many of these decisions are made in the car. About 75% of travelers see billboards, and about 50% internalize the messages viewed, often later acting on them.

Lamar Advertising, one of the nation’s biggest billboard and other outdoor advertising firms, offers a range of marketing locations in Portland, Oregon and the surrounding communities. Prices vary, based on ad size, location, and whether messages are static or digital, but this means your firm has ample choices for remaining within an established marketing budget. For example, Lamar offers a billboard on Mt. Hood Highway, near Haley Road, which receives more than 92,000 views during an average week. This 14’ x 48’, permanent billboard rents for $7,500 per month.

It’s very hard to know how many clients you’ll sign from a billboard, as the overwhelming majority of commuters won’t need your legal services. Conversion rates for billboards can be as low as 0.002%, and this is simply the number of people who call your firm, not the number of cases you take! You may only think one of 10 claimants who reach out to you have a pursuable case. If you sign a respectable two new clients per week due, your CPC for this example will be $938.

Is This a “Good” Cost Per Case?

Some firms may be thrilled with a CPC of $938, while others will be horrified. It all depends on how much return you’re expecting from your claimant.

If your firm specializes in divorce and family law, for example, then you’re likely to see fees of $10,000 or more per complex case, which would make the spend of $938 for signing a new client profitable. On the other hand, if your firm specializes in Social Security disability law, then the $750 spend might be a bit steep. The average Social Security attorney only receives $3,000 per settlement, with a maximum of $6,000. The profit margins would be too slim for Social Security attorneys to pursue any marketing channel with a CPC that high.

Ultimately, if your firm realizes a CPC of about 15% of the fees earned per claimant, then the marketing effort is considered a profitable advertising venture.

Getting the Facts Needed for CPC Analysis

A CPC metric only works if you have the appropriate data to complete a reliable analysis. With many of your online advertising efforts, you can easily determine how and where clients learn of your firm. When a new client calls or walks through your doors though, you’ll only discover the data you need if you pose the appropriate questions, and the most important one is:

“Where did you hear about us?”

A new client’s answer lets you construct a reliable CPC. This in turn allows you to evaluate accurately your current marketing efforts. It additionally offers the data necessary for developing profitable marketing plans for the future. Regardless of whether you use TV ads, billboards, digital marketing, or are simply working to build a name in your community, calculating your CPC can all you to pinpoint your marketing inefficiencies and invest more into your most successful campaigns.

Deanna Power

eGenerationMarketing

Flex Space and Other Meeting Options for the Home-Based Practitioner

Practicing from home has its challenges, chief among them finding a place to meet with clients.

Until recent years, meeting options were fairly limited. Some lawyers elected to pay for an executive suite.  Others borrowed a colleague’s conference room, met clients at their location, or gritted their teeth and used coffee shops.  A few lawyers invited clients into their homes.

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Traditional Meeting Options Aren’t the Greatest

Executive suites are fine, if you can afford one.  Using someone else’s conference room is hit or miss. Going to your client’s location can be a nice touch, but isn’t always optimal. Be prepared for interruptions from others vying for your client’s attention.

Coffee shops are bad for the obvious reason (confidentiality) and some would add they are unprofessional.

Seeing clients in your home?  I am not a fan.  You are sacrificing your privacy and the privacy of everyone else you live with.  In addition, most jurisdictions require a special permit and a business license.  In addition to the fees involved, your special permit may carry a long list of conditions and standards.  Tigard’s “home occupation permit” is an example.  Also be prepared to purchase a rider on your homeowner’s policy adding premises liability coverage for business invitees.  (If you’re a renter, the same would apply to your renter’s insurance – assuming you are allowed by the terms of your rental agreement or lease to operate a business on the premises.)  Have I discouraged you yet? Good. I’m all for working at home.  I’m only opposed to seeing clients at home.

Flex and Co-Working Spaces

Fortunately, there are a growing number of flex space and co-working options. What makes them different from an executive suite? You can book co-working space, a business center, or shared space by the hour, day, or month on-demand through a website.  Think of it as Airbnb for client meetings.

Here are two to consider: ShareDesk and LiquidSpace.  Both are good solutions for meeting space in larger metro areas, or if you need to set up a meeting out of state.  As they catch on,  I suspect options in less populated areas will become available too.

In the Portland metro area, take a look at:

Another possibility is Regus meeting rooms by the hour.  (Regus is a long-time competitor in the executive suite business.  A quick check of their site shows meeting rooms available in Portland, not elsewhere in Oregon. Perhaps a better option for out-of-state business meetings… ?)

Some flex spaces require membership or give perks and discounts to members. Depending on specifics, this may end up making them very similar to an executive suite.

Statewide Meeting Options in Oregon

If you don’t know about the “Oregon Meeting Rooms” list on the Professional Liability Fund website you’re missing out.  Visit the website, select Practice Management, then Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room.  Scroll to the bottom of the page and locate the heading “Other Options for Meeting Space – Metro Area | Statewide.”  A link to the meeting list appears here. It contains four pages of options for free or inexpensive meeting space made available by libraries, bar associations, and courthouses throughout Oregon.  The state is well-covered, with meeting options in places like Dallas, Lakeview, and Vale in addition to the valley, coast, central Oregon, and larger cities in eastern Oregon.

Portland Metro Area Choices

  • The Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room is free meeting space courtesy of the PLF and Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. To learn more, visit the PLF website, select Practice Management, then Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room.
  • The Multnomah Bar Association makes its conference room available at no charge to members.  Read about the conference room use policy here.
  • The Oregon State Bar offers meeting rooms on an hourly, half-day, and full-day basis.  Extensive amenities; check the website for rates.
  • Naegeli Deposition & Trial generously makes its conference room available to Oregon lawyers.  Contact Naegli by phone for more information: (800) 528-3335.
  • Specialty bar groups may also be willing to lend out their conference rooms – make a phone call if you want to pursue this option.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017