Maine Bar Journal
Fall 2003 #7.
Small Can Be Beautiful
Maine Bar JournalFall 2003Small Can Be Beautifulby Paul Peter Jesep"I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence;Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by -And that has made all the difference."- Robert FrostLawyers have long known the joys, benefits, and challenges of keeping their practice at a manageable size. Small firms and solo practitioners dot the majestic Maine landscape. Quality of life is a priority for many of these country attorneys. They live the state slogan, "Maine - the way life should be."
David Johnson, tucked away in Nobleboro near the coast, operates his practice from home. The practice of law is a recent career change for him. "I worked another career for twenty years before becoming an attorney," he says. "I love the free time I now give myself by being small. Previously, I would work upwards of eighty hours a week for months and years on end for no gain other than financial. Money is nice, but it is the lowest item on my priority list."
Although there is a certain romance in being a "country lawyer," there are the realities of running a business. There are numerous administrative issues for a new attorney to consider. Work from home? Where to meet with clients? Maintain a print library - or go strictly online? Maintain a solo practice - but rent space with another attorney? Hire a secretary - or sharpen your own typing and computer skills?
Fortunately, the availability of online services has made the access of information, marketing opportunities, and communicating with clients faster and more efficient. The Internet has especially revolutionized access to information. The new attorney or a seasoned practitioner has the option to access articles and websites, or to email brothers and sisters of the bar directly from the computer.
"Technology and learning how to manage and leverage technology helps all lawyers," says Les Wilkinson, president of the Maine State Bar Association. "It balances the playing field, and permits delivery of services efficiently. There are lawyers at small firms who use technology far better than some at large firms, and we want them to share their knowledge with others as well."
Attracting and Keeping Clients
Technology is often a key component in today's law firm, but it's not everything. Johnson offers realistic advice for those still in law school seriously considering an individual endeavor. Any business, of course, has to generate revenue and show a profit. That starts with clients. Attracting clients requires a creative marketing approach in which involvement in community can play a key role.
"The goal," Johnson continues, "is to maintain a minimum of ten to fifteen billable hours a week. To reach this point takes time and does not arrive overnight so my advice to a new attorney starting his or her own law firm is to have enough financial resources to go at least a full year with no/low income. Spend the time being involved in all aspects of your community, it may seem like a burden on your time but the investment will come back in the form of clients."
According to Janet McCaa, a partner in the Portland-based Johnson & McCaa LLC, getting and keeping clients "is an ongoing challenge." Alan...