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A Small Firm Model That is Sustainable in This Bottom-Feeding Climate (Image)


A new/young lawyer in New Jersey offers his thoughts on $40k a year/no benefits job offers (click for a large version):

new small firm model

Seen at r/law. You can find the requisite discussion on the above post here.

Of course people are discussing the comedy of the above post. Many other young lawyers are critical of the above poster as they would be happy for a $40k a year job and the ability to gain experience. And people are also genuinely concerned and curious regarding the  future of the small firm model. How can anyone make a small firm model work? Virtual practice? Outsource work to India? Work from Starbuck’s? All of the above are suggested by speculators. “What if…” answers.

But the best answer, and the only answer from someone actually doing what they suggest, is this one (in response to the question “what works in your area?”:

House calls have worked, as it is a rural area with a high elderly population and no public transportation. I also cover a multiple-county area. Perhaps conversely, a brick & mortar office is a must for me, as people in my area also seem to stick to the traditional ideas of a lawyer-client relationship and thus many expect to meet/find you in an office. Not only does this make a “virtual office” setup less effective, but my area (like many rural places) doesn’t have good broadband penetration, so doing everything online isn’t easy. I stick with a combo of traditional advertising in the newspaper & phonebooks, but also maintain a small online presence. They seem to be equally effective in bringing clients to me.

Pricing is tricky. Sometimes clients can pay everything up front. Many times we work out a payment plan, or I do work in a piecemeal sort of way (always under a very clear, very thorough client engagement agreement). I have not had a problem under this system with local judges forcing me to stay on a case if a client does not pay, but under the payment plan I find clients are more able and more likely to pay so it’s rarely a problem. I have also bartered for goods/services (I have the clients provide a written value for what we barter, so the transaction is clear), and I know other attorneys who have held titles to personal property as security (though I’ve never done this) awaiting payment. I have some “package specials” I use for transactional and estate planning work that are popular, and by doing a few of those a month I can cover my overhead.

Forming relationship with local entities, like banks, title companies, and private business owners has been a good strategy. Not everyone has their own in-house legal department, and these are the type of clients that become long term relationships.

Civic involvement, the occasional charitable donation, and the fact that I grew up in the town round out the “strategy.” A good deal of what I do is classic small-town networking alongside practicing law. However, my ultimate goal is to help anyone who needs my help, so I remain flexible in doing so. Sometimes, that may end up with me doing more pro bono than the average share, but I still sleep ok at night.

This is my system, in my town (and my partner follows roughly the same strategy). I don’t think it could work everywhere.

Huh. That sounds like work. Crazy talk.