SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 18, 2021 — An experienced lawyer and the founder and managing partner of Penney and Associates Injury Lawyers, Fred Penney throws out some suggestions for those first getting started in building their law practice. https://www.penneylawyers.com/locations/roseville/ .
This is a very brief practical guide on how to build a law practice. According to the American Bar Association of the lawyers that responded to their survey in 2020 only 26% were solo practitioners. The survey also showed that 30% were at law firms with 2-9 lawyers, 17% were at firms with 10-49 lawyers, 5% of the lawyers were at law firms with 50-99 lawyers, 10% were at law firms with 100-499 lawyers and finally 12% were at law firms with 500 or more lawyers. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/techreport/2020/ssf/ .
IN THE BEGINNING
I remember just passing my bar in 1992 and I was clerking at a large nationally recognized personal injury law firm. I thought to myself, I can do this and soon began to consult with several experienced solo practitioners about starting my own personal injury law firm. Most advised me to wait several years to start my practice so I could obtain a little more experience in the courtroom. Only one experienced lawyer had the faith in me and told me that if I wanted to eventually start my own practice, now was just as good of a time as any other. However, one piece of advice he gave me that I will never forget, I would later learn was crucial and impacted the success of my practice for years. The most important thing for a young lawyer, he said, is to latch on to another experienced lawyer and work on cases together. For example, if a case came into my office, I should study that area of law and then bring in an experienced lawyer as co-counsel. I worried that this would just build up the experienced lawyer’s practice more. He agreed but advised me that it was the price to be paid to receive the experience at the hand of a seasoned trial lawyer. It is better to lose a few clients to another lawyer and get the experience from that trial lawyer than trying to do it on your own without any experience.
Find your niche as a lawyer and stay in that lane of traffic, try not to flip flop to different areas of law. I believe that a lawyer that does a little bit of everything is one that has not mastered his or her area of law. There will be times you will be tempted to take on a case that is outside of your lane to help pay the bills. Resist this urge. You must look at the long-term goal, to get a reputation throughout your legal and local community as an attorney that only handles one area of law. If you jump around practicing different areas of law, you will find that others will be confused about what you do and never really know if you fit within a certain area of law that they need help. The most damning thing though is the fact that other lawyers will not refer cases to you. If you are a personal injury lawyer but decide to dabble in a little bit of estate planning, bankruptcy, or corporate law then you just lost personal injury referrals from lawyers that practice in bankruptcy and estate planning. In other words, the lawyers that are staying in their lane will not want to refer to you because you keep jumping in their lane.
Get in touch with lawyers in your area of practice and take the small cases that they do not want to handle. At the beginning of my practice, I knew I had to build up my clientele fast. I was a personal injury lawyer, and I knew the managing partner of the largest personal injury law firm in the nation. I went to that lawyer and told him that I would take those cases that he did not want and would handle the cases from the beginning to the end. I even offered to pay them part of the fee in accordance with the ethics of the State of California. This did two things. First. my caseload built quickly and second, I had access to experienced trial lawyers to talk to about the cases if needed. I then found a few other experienced lawyers outside this national law firm to associate in on cases as needed. The most surprising thing that I found was that like anything in business when doing huge volume, you sometimes miss little gold nuggets. What would happen on occasion is that this large national law firm was so busy with the volume of cases coming through sometimes they did not have time to carefully review a case and thought it was not particularly good and would pass it down to me. When in essence with some hard work and deep review I would find that the case was good and had a substantial certainty of a very favorable outcome. This soon got out to other big firms and the next thing I knew within one year I could not handle all the cases that were being referred to me by other people and law firms.
WHERE DO I OPEN MY OFFICE?
The number one cliché you hear is location, location, location. Well, I agree it is a silly cliché, but it is important. This is an especially important question that needs to be answered at the beginning of your career as a lawyer. Though one can move and make changes, it is important build a base early in your practice. Once you plant your stake so to speak, you can become well known in that community as being a lawyer in your area of law. I always marvel at the lawyers that plant their stake somewhere and five or ten years later move somewhere else. I believe with a few exceptions that is not the right way to build a practice. I knew that I needed to plant my stake somewhere and once I did, I would have to work hard to build a solid foundation of trust and credibility in the surrounding communities.
Choosing that right place to open your law practice. I believe that it is to your advantage to open your practice in an area that you already have a foothold. Maybe a place where you grew up or where your family knows quite a few people. If the aforementioned is not possible maybe open your law practice in a place that your culture, beliefs, or interests are going to help you connect with the community. For example, if you are a boater and love to be out on the water, maybe you start your law firm in an area where there are a lot of boaters, and you can join clubs or mingle with those that have the same interest. If you are a person that was raised on a farm, maybe you start your law firm in an area where there are several people that represent that type of community. This however is only secondary to opening your practice in an area that you already have established friends, family, and acquaintances. Your hometown or known community gives you a good starting point to talk to those people you already know about your law practice.
My first trial was on or about 1993. I was about one year or so into my practice. The case was given to me by another large national firm, and they did not want to take the case to trial, believing it would be too difficult to win. I took the case on, a disputed liability case where a car struck a parked snowplow. The first thing I did was meet with several experienced trial lawyers that were just starting out with their practice. These attorneys were experienced having worked at other firms or with the district attorney’s office. I found one of these lawyers that had recently opened his own office with years of trial experience that happened to need more cases and because of this he agreed to be co-counsel in the case. There were two people injured in the accident and I represented one party and he represented the other. We still worked on the case together with him handling probably two thirds of the witnesses. I learned more in those 7 or 8 days of trial than I had learned in all of law school and the time clerking at other law firms. I learned the basics of evidence at trial, pitfalls that occur within a trial, how to pick a jury and the nuances of mastering the courtroom. No, I was not the best trail lawyer after that trial, but I had a solid foundation. After that experience I was able to handle a trial with several smaller cases without the help of a mentor. Only after obtaining these valuable experiences was able to handle the larger cases. This experience was invaluable and in my opinion the best way to build your practice.
WHAT THE LAW MARKETING EXPERTS SAY
I had the opportunity to interview lawyer marketing expert Dimple Dang who is based out of Chicago Illinois. https://player.fm/podcasts/dimple-dang .
Frederick Penney: Ms. Dang, tell me a little about yourself and about your expertise in helping law firms build their brand.
Dimple Dang: I have been in marketing for over twenty years, starting first in yellow pages, selling google pay per click, then writing articles for attorneys that appeared in lawyer magazines. I have a podcast where I talk about all things marketing and especially the latest trends in social media including Instagram, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, Clubhouse, and other marketing outlets. I am good at looking at a law firm and assessing what would be the best strategy to build their clientele within their budget.
Frederick Penney: What marketing advice would you give a lawyer that is just striking out on their own as a sole practitioner?
Dimple Dang: That is a great question. When first starting out you need to focus on a short-term marketing strategy but then incorporate your short-term business strategy with your long-term strategy. This is what I mean. A short-term business strategy would be advertising on Google with pay per click, this helps you bring in leads immediately. Simultaneously, you work on your long-term strategy which would consist of creating a good website, creating blog posts, getting someone that knows how to help with search engine optimization, social media, and other online strategic focus. However, one of the most important things to do is be consistent in weekly or bi-weekly blog posts and building your website with as many pages as possible. A professional marketing and website individual would be able to help a new firm get going this. Remember when building a website Google is going to look at the different websites and if a law firm has 100 pages of relevant content on its site the algorithm will generally choose that website over a law firm that only has a 20-page website. This is a very brief overview.
Frederick Penney: Once your law firm is established and you are doing quite well, how does a firm increase their marketing reach?
Dimple Dang: Once you are established you need to continue to push your personal brand. This is an ongoing process to continue to get you and your law firms name out into the public. There are so many ways of doing this, the list is exhaustive. However, it is important to focus on yourself as the founder or sole practitioner and the publicity will naturally follow or flow to your law firm. This is a never-ending process. There are so many platforms that you can build your brand including Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, Clubhouse, and many others. I believe you need to have an Instagram account and get proficient in posting reels which are short videos. This is the latest trend. You can also put that same content on YouTube or Facebook. Make sure your Reels are relevant to your industry and interesting so your followers and those who see the post do not lose interest. Use Instagram live to tell your followers about who you are and what you do. Make sure you relate to your audience and let them get to know you in a little more personal way. I know it sounds like a lot and it is, but you can manage it with the help of professionals.
GO AND DO IT NOW
Now that you have a good idea how to get started with your own law practice, you need to weigh the pros and cons of working for someone else or going out on your own. When you do decide to go out on your own do not look back, push forward with a conviction that you can succeed. You will fall and make mistakes but get back up and keep pushing. Sometimes it is scary and a sacrifice to start your own law firm. It does cost money and you may have to sacrifice a few things in life to get started, but there is usually no better time to start your own law firm than now.
SOURCE Penney and Associates