Where to Get Answers - Building a Team and a Library
If you’re starting a law firm right out of law school, you have a lot to learn about practicing law and running a business. Even if you have practiced at another firm, you will face situations where you need guidance on the practical aspects of both law and business.
Mentors, print resources, your own staff and professionals in other fields can help you fill in gaps in your knowledge and run your firm with confidence.
Finding Mentors and Establishing Networks
Mentors can be invaluable in helping you understand how to practice law and run a firm. Ideally, your mentor is someone who practices in your area of law, but has more experience and can handle more complex matters. A mentor can do anything from reviewing your business and marketing plans to advising you on how to build your career or handle difficult client situations. A mentor might also be willing to share forms for common pleadings, correspondence or contracts. You and your mentor can be reciprocal referral sources, with the mentor referring simple or overflow work to you and you sending complex cases to your mentor.
In addition to your mentor, find people you can consult with who have complementary roles or experience. For example, if you represent small businesses, it can be helpful to have a CPA who you can call for advice. Your local or state bar association or local small business resource center may also be able to provide business advice.
The ABA’s GP/Solo division publishes articles geared toward small firm lawyers, and it also sponsors a listserv of thousands of solo and small firm attorneys who trade questions, answers and recommendations about everything from dealing with trust accounts to finding the best practice management software. Online services such as subscription-based Solo Practice University can also provide advice and education for solo and small firm lawyers.
Written resources can help you learn the nuts and bolts of practicing law, but getting access to those resources can be an expensive proposition.
Treatises, practice guides and research subscription services like Westlaw can take a big bite out of a firm’s budget. It pays to carefully consider which materials you most need and plan your spending accordingly. Find out what you can access for free online or at your local law library and consider whether features and convenience make a particular product or service worth paying for. For example, case law and statutes are now widely available for free online, but without the robust search capacity of a paid research subscription.
To build your practice and connect better with clients, think beyond strictly legal research. Read books and blogs that help you understand the mindset of your clients. For example, divorce lawyers may benefit from understanding the emotional stages of divorce and the impact of custody decisions on children. Lawyers who represent entrepreneurs may serve their clients better if they understand business plans, financing options and the entrepreneurial mind.
Experienced staff members can greatly help with some of the practical aspects of maintaining a law practice. A legal assistant with a firm grasp of court rules and filing procedures, an office manager experienced with files and budgets, or a paralegal who is skilled at preparing routine documents can make your firm more efficient and greatly reduce the chance of blunders due to inexperience. Be humble and recognize that you can learn from these professionals who have far more experience even though they lack a law degree.