If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. – Abraham Maslow
Recently, a question posed by one of my students to an experienced and very successful new solo practitioner went something like this;
“Where I plan to set up my practice, it is saturated with attorneys. Should I open my practice somewhere else or look for a location with fewer attorneys?”
“You are focusing on the wrong issue”. She said. Some of the most successful attorneys are established where there are very high concentrations of attorneys. It is not the numbers that matter, it is how you distinguish your services from the rest. If you do it right, they cease to be your competition!
She went on to explain that although she opened her first office in a very small village with no other attorneys, there were 167 attorneys ten miles to the north of her and many more immediately to her south. She said, “Nobody would think to come to my village to get legal services before I arrived.” But, today she has two offices and is about to open a third and is not taking any more appointments for the next three months because she is fully booked out till that time.
Brand identification is one key to her success. You need to offer what others do not. And, as she explained, “It is not that hard. Simply answer the phone and return your client calls.” She described one new client who drove over 100 miles from a city to the south because he had waited 6 months to get his estate plan completed. She emphasizes personal service and open communication with her clients. She trains all of her staff to treat the clients very respectfully. The office is designed to be “like home” with carefully selected pictures and the office is laid out to make it feel like you are coming home. But it is deeper than that. In her case, it is the entire culture of the office that is tied to her theme. They live it. Most of the attorneys who are located nearby conduct business in the same manner as all the other attorneys. They have oak paneled offices with law books and a big oak desk for the owner who sits behind that “wall” of oak and (very often) speaks down to his clients.
Every practice is going to be different. There are some clients who expect the typical formality found in most law offices. But, look about you. As I have heard it said, “don’t do what the other lawyers are doing if you want to succeed.”
Formula for success: Underpromise and Overdeliver. – Thomas Peters
Just published in the Fall 2016 issue of The National Jurist magazine is an article on the “Hottest Job Markets for Entry Level Attorneys”. The link is immediately below. On page 18 of that publication is the article giving statistical evidence of the regions with numbers of “Overall Job Placement %” and Ratio of Graduates to Jobs” in a chart and in a visual depiction on a map of the US. The focus of this study is on where employers are hiring and the number of applicants compared to the number of legal jobs available. I share this with those of you wishing to go solo, not because I believe you should forget going solo. No, quite the opposite. What it should tell you is that there are concentrations of attorneys all over the U.S. and the article addresses shifts in hiring patterns and displacement of attorneys from one region to another.
What I want you to take away from this information is that your dependence on a job in a firm is unpredictable and dependent upon a moving target. If you make your plan and execute on a solid foundation of legal stewardship for each of your clients, then you can create market demand anywhere. One of the individuals interviewed for the article explained how moving from “. . . Boston to Seattle wasn’t that big of a deal.” It may not be a big deal now, but when you start having children it might become a bigger deal. When grandma and grandpa can’t visit their grandkids during Thanksgiving on the other side of the country, that move might prove to be a “bigger deal”.
Having the flexibility of moving where you want to be close to family might be a strong factor in deciding where to practice. The cost of living might be lower. Or, maybe you may be able to live at home while you are starting out to save some money. Child care costs might also save you a lot of money if you are close to family.
With a sound business plan, you can succeed anywhere!