Jeffrey Pratt is an attorney representing clients in civil litigation, trials, real estate and real property matters, construction defects,...
Kim Swierenga is a financial elder abuse attorney who specializes in unsuitable annuity and life insurance sales; including trust...
Alara T. Chilton is a criminal defense and consumer rights attorney. She began her career as a prosecutor at...
Deborah Wolfe has been licensed to practice law in California since 1981, and in Arizona since 1982. She frequently...
Eric Ganci is an attorney specializing in DUI defense. He is the only San Diego attorney trained in DUI...
Julie Wolff is a dependency attorney and child welfare law specialist who practices in family law. She received her...
Adriana Linares is a law practice consultant and legal technology coach. After several years at two of Florida’s largest...
Solo lawyers face a demanding but rewarding profession. In this episode of New Solo, host Adriana Linares talks to a panel of solo attorneys about their diverse career experiences. They discuss the many challenges of being a solo lawyer and offer practical guidance to solos on a variety of topics including: mentorship, choosing (or not choosing) office space, building independence, developing fee agreements, technology, self-care, and much more.
Jeffrey Pratt is an attorney specializing in business and real estate litigation.
Kim Swierenga is a financial elder abuse attorney and consumer protection attorney.
Alara T. Chilton is a criminal defense and consumer rights attorney.
Deborah Wolfe is an attorney specializing in plaintiff legal malpractice law.
Eric Ganci is a DUI defense attorney with a lawyer-scientist designation.
Julie Wolff is a dependency attorney and child welfare law specialist.
SDCBA Solo Lawyer Panel Part 1
Laurence Colletti: Hello Legal Talk Network listeners. This is Executive Producer Laurence Colletti. Before we get started with this Part 1 of two episodes, we want to thank our sponsors.
CourtFiling.net, eFile court documents with ease in California, Illinois, Indiana and Texas. If you file in Los Angeles Superior Court, you know that eFiling has recently become mandatory and CourtFiling.net is there to help. To learn more, visit CourtFiling.net to take advantage of a free 30-day trial.
Answer 1; Answer 1 is a leading virtual receptionist and answering services provider for lawyers. You can learn more by giving them a call at 800 Answer 1 or online at answer1.com.
And long time sponsor Clio. Clio’s cloud-based practice management software makes it easy to manage your law firm from intake to invoice. Try it for free at clio.com.
And LAWCLERK, LAWCLERK is where attorneys hire freelance lawyers. There are no sign up or monthly fees, only pay the flat fee price you set, increase your profits, not your overhead. Learn more at www.lawclerk.legal and make sure to enter the code New Solo 300 for a $300 rebate after your first project.
And now, onto the show.
Intro: So you are an attorney and you have decided to go out on your own, now what? You need a plan and you are not alone. Join expert host Adriana Linares and her distinguished guests on New Solo. Tune into the lively conversation as they share insights and information about how to successfully run your law firm, here on Legal Talk Network.
Adriana Linares: Hi and welcome to another episode of New Solo on Legal Talk Network. I am Adriana Linares, your host. I am a Legal Technology Trainer and Consultant. If you’re a regular listener, then you know that that’s what I do out there in the world but what you may not know, is that I’m also the Member Technology Officer at the San Diego County Bar. I get to visit San Diego about once a month and help members with technology and practice management questions.
So, today, we’re going to do a special episode of New Solo where we’ve got a panel of solo and small firm practitioners and members of the Bar, coming to talk about the success and maybe the trials that they’ve gone through in building their practices, and now let’s cut to our interview already in progress.
Jeffrey Pratt: I’ve only been a lawyer 25 years, so you’ve been working with lawyers about as long as I have been one. I am a solo practitioner. I’ve been a solo since 2003, so what, 15 years. Before that, I worked for a couple of firms. Oh, my name. I’m Jeff Pratt, Jeffrey Pratt, and my office is in Bankers Hill on Juniper Street and is there anything else I should be saying at this point?
Adriana Linares: What are your areas of practice?
Jeffrey Pratt: Oh, my areas of practice, I primarily do real estate and business-related litigation.
Adriana Linares: Okay, great.
Kim Swierenga: I’m Kim Swierenga with Swierenga Law & Mediation and I’ve just celebrated my first anniversary as a sole practitioner, and so as in a partnership with a mentor who has taught me well. And so I am here based in San Diego but my practice is statewide. So a lot of my cases are all throughout San Jose, Sacramento, LA Land if I must, and it’s nice to be in our own backyard here in San Diego.
I can be reached at elderfraudfighter.com. My practice is all financial elder abuse. So anybody 65-plus, who’s been taken advantage of or financially exploited, I’d like to talk to.
Adriana Linares: And Kim, you were one of my very first customers so to speak when I joined the San Diego County Bar. As the Member Technology Officer, I think you were literally the first person that texted or emailed me and said, hey, I’m starting my new practice, but you’ve been in practice for a while and you came in and we talked about some tips and tricks and suggestions for helping you run your practice.
So, maybe as we go through the conversation if you pull up some of that stuff, I think it would be really helpful.
Kim Swierenga: Sure.
Adriana Linares: From back here to here.
Kim Swierenga: I can tell you right obligate, it’s worth meeting with her, she’s going to teach you something you didn’t know and it’s going to have an immediate impact in your practice.
Adriana Linares: Oh, thanks Kim, I appreciate that. Hi Alara.
Alara T. Chilton: Hi, my name is Alara Chilton and I practice in the areas of Criminal Defense and Consumer Rights Litigation. Right now I’m at 25% criminal, the remainder civil. I like to focus on cases in which there’s a consumer that’s been a victim of fraud, identity theft, debt collection abuse and those cases are very pleasurable because in most cases, I won’t charge the client, I am able to do that because of statutory fees.
And so I find it very rewarding and some people look at the practice as something of like small claims because the amount of damages themselves are not big. And I’m not going to try to sell you on the idea that Superior Court or federal judges love my cases as a result, but I love my cases and I educate the court on those cases. So I feel very blessed to do the work that I do.
Adriana Linares: You smell like a very happy solo. I love that.
Alara T. Chilton: Oh, thank you. And since it’s shameless self-promotion, I am the immediate past-president for I think two days left of the Latino Bar Association, and I serve on the Legal Ethics Committee with Deborah Wolfe, who’s also on our panel right now.
Adriana Linares: Excellent. Hi Deborah.
Deborah Wolfe: Hi, my name is Deborah Wolfe of Wolfe Legal Group and my primary practice is plaintiff’s legal malpractice law. I’ve been a lawyer approximately 37 years and practicing in San Diego the whole time. I’ve done a variety of different things. I started out on my own because in 1981, nobody was hiring women at least not unless you were a valedictorian, which I was not.
So, I started out my own firm, I started in a Gaslamp, when there was no Gaslamp, there was no Horton Plaza. The only building there was the Keating Building, which is now The Keating Hotel and I was walking through some very questionable neighborhoods to get to work and to also get to the courthouse and file things, and I started out doing a little bit of everything, door law, whatever walks in the door and discovered pretty early on that I really enjoyed helping people, mostly consumers and I did a lot of personal injury, I did child molestation cases, I did some family law, decided nobody wins, so I didn’t want to take that on, and did some criminal defense one that we didn’t have a public defender. I had a contract with — it was like an alternative public defender.
Adriana Linares: Wow.
Deborah Wolfe: It was, yeah, this lawyer named Wally Milford 07:02 had a contract with the county as the public defender, so whenever they would have a conflict, they had lawyers that would have a contract. So we would get five cases a week and I split them with another attorney so I would get about five every other week.
We’d have to go down to the jail and wait for them to be assigned to us, they were all like class one and two misdemeanors and it paid pretty well. It was we got $50 a case and if we went to trial, they would pay us a $125 a day.
Adriana Linares: Wow. Where would you spend it all?
Deborah Wolfe: Hey yeah, really. We were still using carbon paper and that’s electric IBM typewriter was at the top of the line when I started out. So, I did have a couple of experiences where I was with firms. I don’t know if it’s I don’t play well with others or it’s the nature of my practice where I just kind of naturally I’m on my own, even in the firms.
Adriana Linares: Born to be a solo.
Deborah Wolfe: Even in the firms. And I don’t know if I do this kind of work because I was like never a member of the All Boys Club because they wouldn’t let me in. So, too bad now, I’m coming after you after you screw up.
So, yeah, I’ve learned a lot about practicing on my own. I’m the best boss I ever had even though I’m kind of crabby sometimes as Eric found out a little bit earlier today.
Alara T. Chilton: Debbie, you’ve got to figure out a way to fit in your biggest fan and how he would announce your successes throughout your practice.
Adriana Linares: Eric, tell us about you.
Eric Ganci: I do all DUI defense. I’m my own firm, Eric Ganci by the way, pleasure to be here. And I’ve been practicing for about ten years, doing all DUI defense.
Adriana Linares: Excellent. Thank you. Hi Julie.
Julie Wolff: I’m Julie Wolff, my name is spelled a little different than Deborah Wolfe. I am a Child Welfare Law Specialist and I also have an LLM in Dispute Resolution. I do primarily child welfare law, which is juvenile dependency, helping parents where the county claims their children are abused and neglected. I help them get into services so they can reunify with their children.
I also help relatives, grandparents, aunts and uncles when they want to get custody of a child that has been taken by child welfare. I’ve also started doing some family law. I’ve been on my own for about two years now and I’d like to get a little bit more into a dispute resolution.
Adriana Linares: Awesome. Deborah you mentioned that you’ve been a solo almost all 37 years of your practice, that’s amazing. Congratulations. I wanted to just start by asking what made you decide to go solo and I thought Kim would be maybe a good person to lead with because you just went solo a year ago but were you with a firm before, like how did you decide to do that or why.
Deborah Wolfe: Why did I decide to go solo? Well, it started while I was in law school that I met with a handful of mentors and said, I’m declining job offers, is this foolish? I want to have my own practice.
And the handful of folks that I was inquiring from said, you have a plan, just work it and we will help you, and that’s exactly what happened, and so I was blessed to be partnered with Frank Fox for about five years, I guess, and he was able to share his wisdom and practice and that’s how I was able to specialize what the financial abuse was from him. And so, it was time for — he’s I’m going to guess 68-69 years old now, different phase of life of course and I had an opportunity to hang my own shingle as they say, and so all the stars have lined up, it’s working. It was a long-term plan. I just had that nice little marriage if you will for that initial start.
Adriana Linares: Let me ask you a quick follow-up question because I find that when I talked to young lawyers or new solos, the idea of getting a mentor is — everyone says, get a mentor, get a mentor but I find that most attorneys don’t actually get mentors but you’ve mentioned twice that they were really important to you and helping you decide to do that and probably in your continued success today. So, what would you say if a law student came to you and said, should I get a mentor? And then what do you expect from him, and what do you want from a mentor?
Deborah Wolfe: It’d be foolhardy not to have multiple mentors. People are willing to give back, I can’t think of a single person that’s turned me down when I asked for mentorship, and it might very well just be somebody willing to give back, they are at that stage of life, it might be that they were in court in front of the judge that you will next to be in front of, and so, they’re willing to guide you that way.
So, I think part of it, is knowing how mentors can help and that doesn’t necessarily mean a gray hair teaching a young buck. What the lay of the land is? It could very well be, I teach a 76-year-old mentor technology, and it goes both ways. So, absolutely, get mentors and then keep that communication line open.
Adriana Linares: What do you expect from a mentor, like, when we say — like, what do you look for in a good mentor?
Deborah Wolfe: I don’t know how better to say other than find somebody who has integrity, to find somebody who is well-respected, find somebody with whom you communicate well, and somebody that you ping off of, if that makes any sense; it’s an energy thing. And so, it will be someone who will accept phone calls and you won’t be gate kept. I have a standing Saturday coffee with one of mine and it’s going to be somebody who talks you through not just law practice but the other parts of life too.
Adriana Linares: Awesome. Hey everyone, it’s Adrianna. Isn’t this a great conversation so far? I am just sneaking in here so we can take a quick break to hear a couple of messages from our sponsors.
Laurence Colletti: This episode of New Solo is brought to you by CourtFiling.net, your solution for electronic filing in California, Illinois, Indiana and Texas. CourtFiling.net provides a better eFiling experience so you could spend more time helping clients. Because they know that sometimes work happens after hours, CourtFiling.net offers 24×7 phone, email and chat support. Visit them at CourtFiling.net to receive 30 days of unlimited free electronic filings, and see how you too can e-file court documents with ease.
Adriana Linares: Is your firm experiencing missed calls, empty voicemail boxes and potential clients you will never hear from again? Enter Answer 1 Virtual Receptionist. They are more than just an answering service. Answer 1 is available 24×7. They can even schedule appointments, respond to emails and agree with Clio, and much more. Answer 1 helps make sure your clients have the experience they deserve. Give them a call at 1-800 Answer1 or visit them at answer1.com/podcast for a special offer.
And we’re back, let’s keep listening to this great conversation with a bunch of members of the San Diego County Bar Association, and I hope you enjoy it.
Jeff, you’ve been in practice 23 years and 15 years ago you decided to go solo. What inspired you to do that?
Jeffrey Pratt: It was unintentional.
Adriana Linares: The accidental solo?
Jeffrey Pratt: Yeah, I guess, it accidentally became a solo. For me I have authority issues. I try, I actually tried very hard to work well with others to play well in the sandbox, and I found that in a group setting I just — I don’t work well with others after a while. I need to be on my own, I need to be my own boss and it created a situation where I needed to go out on my own.
If I’d like to comment though, if I may, I fully agree about the mentor aspect. I don’t know, I had the benefit of working for — I started out working for a solo practitioner who at the time was doing construction defect litigation, and back in that timeframe my employer, she was a solo, she hired me, I was her first employee and I came in doing discovery on these multiparty construction defect cases.
For instance, we were representing, when I came into the firm we had three different cases with approximately 60 plaintiffs, individual homeowner plaintiffs in each case where we were suing the developer in each housing development along with all the subcontractors, which is a bit of a change from what or done a bit differently than how it was done later. So, she needed to hire somebody.
I learned a lot working for but what I found out is that it’s essential in this. We aren’t like doctors. Okay, in a sense the doctors go through and I don’t pretend to be a doctor or to know anything about it except that, doctors go through medical school, they go through a residency, they go through a set professional training period that we don’t get as lawyers and I find — I personally think it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to go to law school and to step out and become a lawyer a solo practitioner out of law school or with a short amount of experience.
Some people can do that and all the more power to them. I never could. I needed at least five years worth of training. What I found even in that five-year period was that the training is not enough. I mean, the mentorship very much helps and I’ve had several over the last few years and I’ve enjoyed working with him and I’ve enjoyed imparting what knowledge I can but what I find is that there’s no way they can grasp what I know in terms of litigation or how to deal with, how to prepare — simple things, like preparing and responding to requests for admissions, or preparing and responding to other types of discovery or grafting a complicated complaint.
There’s no way they can learn that. You can’t learn that in certain areas of practice I think in even a five-year period. My preferences work for somebody else for a while before you become a solo.
Deborah Wolfe: Yeah, it would have been nice to be able to work for somebody else. I actually was a clerk, a clerk for a couple of different firms and I learned about law practice from that, but I echo what you’re saying in that the first five years I was absolutely terrified. I didn’t know what I was doing, because first of all you go out of law school —
Adriana Linares: On a head-nodding.
Deborah Wolfe: Absolutely, no idea how to practice law. Most of your professors have never practiced law, so it’s not something they can really teach you, not that what you’re learning in law school isn’t important it is, it’s important you learn how to think like a lawyer, how to do research and stuff, but then they send you out the door and say, okay, you’re done and you have absolutely no idea what to do, and if you don’t have a job, as I said in the early 1980s when I started practicing. There weren’t a lot of jobs first of all and there weren’t jobs for women.
I had an interview with the city attorney, I won’t name his name right now, and he wondered why it had gone to four different schools. I finished school in seven years but I had gone to a bunch of different schools because I had been married and my husband had been a corporate kind of guy that was being bounced around from different jobs, and so I told this guy that and I said, well, I’m divorced now. He goes, you’re divorced? You must be very unstable. So, I said, well, actually I’m more stable now than I was when I was married to this joker, but anyway. So, I knew a lot of people.
The other thing I did know from people that were getting jobs when I first started out was that they weren’t getting real hands-on experience. They were doing a lot of drafting, especially women, that was great for you to go, just write me a brief and I learned how to do that stuff, but I really wanted to meet people, I went into law so I could help people. I wanted to help people. I wanted to help people that were like me and my parents and people that didn’t necessarily have a lot of money.
And, the other thing when you go out on your own, it’s really — it’s frightening, it’s scary, you got to have mentors, thank God for Harvey Levine, he was one of my professors in law school at USD and he would always take my call, and I had a lot of other people that I met through joining the Bar Association, the consumer attorneys which at that time was San Diego Trial Lawyers Association, Lawyers Club, and networking and meeting people that way that I felt comfortable about asking questions. So, I tried not to spend too much time of any one person and I would go around and I was just scared to death every time I go into court.
The other thing that you don’t know how to do when you get out of law school is run a business, which is a completely different skill-set, and some people just never get a hold of that, and for me, it took a lot of time.
My dad was a commissioned salesperson, so he never really had a job like that where he would get a paycheck, and so, that part didn’t really scare me, but it was like, where am I going to get my business? What am I going to do? How am I going to figure this out? And, I got a lot of overflow work from other attorneys, it was called at the time shoe leather. I would go meet people. I would knock on doors, say, hey, I’m available to do some work, can I help you with anything?
I had this little game that I played. I put like 10 of my business cards in my pocket every day and I would go from my creepy office in the Gaslamp to — if I was going to court or I’d go to lunch I tried to go to lunch at a different place every day and I would just strike up a conversation with somebody and I’d always work in, hey, I just started practicing law. I’m available, if you know anybody that needs a lawyer. So my goal was to pass out all of my cards every day, and eventually I started getting calls.
Adriana Linares: That’s a great tip.
Deborah Wolfe: And meeting people is the best way to get business, and then people would come in and I’d say, well, I have this kind of a problem. I go, I have absolutely no idea how to do that, but I’m not going to charge you a lot of money. I will learn. I’m really eager and enthusiastic and I’m a hard worker and I will do the best I can, and most of those people couldn’t have afforded anybody else anyway. So, that’s kind of how I did it.
Adriana Linares: I think the other side of that camp is to specialize, door law is what I heard you say, where anything that walks through the door is what you take, and I think Eric might have something to say about this. He is just DUI and as far — as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been just DUI.
Eric Ganci: Yeah, it’s a scary thing so if you’re doing like the broad spectrum of all the laws it’s exciting in the sense that you are always learning something new, but there’s just so much new stuff to learn. But the other part too is that maybe like 10 to 20 — 10 to 15 years ago like this role has become very much like a specialization type of world where like the medical field they want people that like specialize in this type of surgery and it’s really become that way with the legal field too that unless you are getting out of law school with like a ton of cash, which I definitely didn’t have when I started out my firm right out of law school, that you need to be able to like market yourself and when someone meets you and you say, hey, I’m a lawyer, and especially for meeting other lawyers, like yeah, I’m a lawyer, they are like, yeah, it’s great, everyone is a lawyer here.
But then if you can say like, hey, I’m a lawyer — and like for me it was like, hey — like what Deborah did like, I had business cards and it just said like DUI lawyer and it’s like, hey, I’m a lawyer, what do you do? I do DUI defense. Just DUI defense? My god. How do you do? I just do just DUI defense and I would talk to them about like science stuff that I was doing and then it just became like there wasn’t a lot of people that were doing that kind of stuff and then you just become like the DUI-like person or like the real estate person, like Jeffrey was talking about.
So, I have enjoyed it and I will tell you that like the DUI realm is like such a — like a deep dark hole to get into, but like I wouldn’t be able to do other types of laws right now and it took me — I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I’m glad that I have spent just that 10 years because like when you’re doing like the science stuff within it, but then you’re doing like there’s administrative stuff for the DMV, which is hilarious most of the times, and then doing like trial work and so you got to learn like all this stuff and then learn how to do like trial stuff and then what Deborah was talking about, oh, by the way, you got to run a business, because like it’s lawyer for hire if you’re doing it the right way.
So, the specialization thing has really worked for me, but it’s also about looking down the road to see where things are going to go in the future because like for my business model people in general are better about not drinking and driving or not being — not using drugs and driving, and so — and plus driverless cars, in Uber and like all that kind of stuff, so you got to be a good lawyer but you got to think about the business model too, and like I know the DUI is like it’s — I estimate like 5 to 10 years before or like as a business model it’s just not going to be around anymore.
Adriana Linares: You will have to pivot.
Alara T. Chilton: There’s so much natural abuse, join us please.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Eric Ganci: Yeah.
Alara T. Chilton: More than enough work.
Adriana Linares: Hey, everyone, it’s Adriana again. We just got to cut in one more time for another break and a couple of messages from our sponsors.
Imagine what you could do with an extra eight hours per week? That’s how much time legal professionals save with Clio, the world’s leading practice management software. With intuitive time-tracking, billing and matter management, Clio streamlines everything you do to run your practice from intake to invoice. Try Clio for free and then get a 10% discount for your first six months when you sign-up with the code New Solo 10, and do that at clio.com.
LAWCLERK is where attorneys go to hire freelance lawyers, whether you need a first year to perform legal research or a seasoned attorney to assist with a complicated appellate brief, LAWCLERK has hundreds of freelance lawyers with every level of experience and expertise. There are no sign-up or monthly fees, only pay the flat fee price you set. Increase your profits, not your overhead. Learn more at lawclerk.legal.
Adriana Linares: And we are back. Let’s keep talking and listening to this great conversation at the San Diego County Bar Association.
Alara T. Chilton: I just wanted to speak to a couple of things that Deborah had raised, and remember, in this field there’s a lot of still sexism that’s present, and I wanted to talk to what the point that Deborah raised, and that is, when she first started out you said that you would charge people less, and I find that this is a common thing with women.
Men don’t have this problem, generally speaking, and I find it fascinating because I remember a while back there was someone who I knew who was more or less dabbling in criminal law. And he said, look, I’m going to charge ten grand for this, and I said, ten grand? I said that’s significantly higher than what most would charge, why are you going to charge ten? And he said, oh, because person X, and person X is very well-respected in criminal law, and I said, but you’re not person X, and gratefully, the friendship survive that type of honesty. But again, this is just something that I see time-and-time again with women and I think it’s something that I know myself took many years to overcome.
This whole notion of, look, I went to law school, I learned to trade, I learned a specific skill, and I’m going to charge for my time, and it’s proven to be very effective once I bought into the notion, hey, I’m worth this much, then other people bought into that notion as well.
And by no means am I the most expensive game in town, and in the consumer cases I’m free, literally, but to the client that is. But on those cases where I need to charge I got to believe that then I’m worth it and knock on wood it’s proven to be very effective.
Deborah Wolfe: I don’t have any problem with that.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, not at all.
Deborah Wolfe: You don’t have any problem at all with that.
Adriana Linares: Actually, Deborah, you sounded confident before you even had all this experience, so it just sounds like having that confidence is an important tip, like building confidence is an important tip to give solos or new solos that are trying, right? Go ahead, Julie. Oh I am sorry.
Julie Wolff: So, I guess for me in juvenile dependency working for the contracted firms, was really important. I know I probably couldn’t be where I am now without that experience because you’re in the courtroom every day, you’ve got 11 cases maybe 16 cases every morning, you’re able to do trials, you’re getting in evidence, you’re cross-examining someone about their alcohol abuse or are there THC levels declining, you’re really getting a lot of experience more so than as a private attorney just kind of like the public defender’s office.
You’re just being there every day and that’s really helped me, and when I went solo I decided still to take the child welfare specialist exam. People were like, why are you doing that? You’re going solo. But I think it was a good step just to show that you are specializing in something that you have a little extra.
Here in San Diego there are a lot of great family law attorneys that have their CFLS, and I haven’t taken that exam yet, I’m still too scared I guess. But I still tell the judges, look, I’m Child Welfare Law-certified and I put it on all my things and I think a couple of the judges do recognize something in that child welfare knowledge and especially since we do have some.
We have a diverse panel of judges here that I think appreciates the different backgrounds, and then what I wanted just to say about the mentors is, you can also have mentors that are your age that you just ask different things to and sometimes I have older attorneys that might call me about someone I went to law school with just to try to see a little bit more about them and if they’re going to be reasonable and negotiating just those little insights that could be important to trying to come to an agreement and get along with someone. So, I found that that’s really important too.
Kim Swierenga: Thinking along the lines of mentorship we have a group that we get together. I think there are 21, 22 of us lady lawyers and we have dinner, first Monday of the month, so that we can bounce ideas off one another, so that we recognize that we are solo, but we are not alone, and I think that’s the consumer attorney stance also is a lot of the plaintiffs’ Bar, a lot of the lawyers who do the suing are oftentimes small firms, one man, two-man, three-man shows, hue-man shows, woman-man.
And so, I think it’s important to remember as a solo not only do you have that mentorship so that you can grow in your practice so that you can survive as an individual.
Adriana Linares: That’s one of the questions I have for you all, because again, talking to the solos when I do one of the challenges they face or fears they have is where do I find the camaraderie that I would normally find in even a boutique, a small firm. So, it sounds like you find it with your group. Jeff, how do you do it?
Jeffrey Pratt: I think that’s one of the biggest challenges of being solo.
Adriana Linares: Sure.
Jeffrey Pratt: But, yeah, somebody had bounced ideas off of that frankly I had. It’s great to want to stand on your own two feet, it’s great to want to go out there and conquer the world on your own, and it’s a wonderful feeling when you can do it. But, the problem is, there’s a lot of information, there is a vast quantity of information that we have to deal with.
And I unfortunately don’t specialize, but I just find in business litigation, in particular, I recently have been working on a case, it involves franchise law, where I represent some former franchisees, I’m suing a particular franchisor for fraud-related claims as well as other persons involved in that transaction.
What I find is there’s a vast amount of information that I need to acquire in a short period of time and it’s very difficult. You can bring law clerks in and do a lot of the legal research, but to have someone to bounce ideas off of is extremely important. I go downstairs and bother some of the other solo practitioners in the house that I am in.
Adriana Linares: Excellent.
Jeffrey Pratt: We are in a historic house, otherwise I would bother other people by calling them up on the phone and open it up by saying, hi, I’m Jeff so-and-so, referred me to you, sorry to bother you, but I have a stupid question, do you have time to talk with me?
Adriana Linares: And they always say, yes, right?
Jeffrey Pratt: Oh, almost always, yes.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, sure. So you mentioned that so you have an office space with other lawyers in it, let’s talk a little bit about your space setup and if you get that sort of camaraderie and if you don’t, do you find it here at the Bar Association, where would you suggest new solos? How do you get this camaraderie when you don’t have it, and let’s talk a little bit about your office setups?
Jeffrey Pratt: I can talk a little bit. Having had office space and then something that is really important to keep in mind with running a business is that you need to think about like what the overhead is because it’s real easy to get like a big fancy office with like super-big disks and all that stuff, and then all of a sudden, now you have to make that amount of money, so that you can like keep having that stuff.
And then I have recently went to just doing basically like virtual office and like done paperless and like my desk is like a three by like foot-and-a-half space —
Adriana Linares: Is it in your backpack?
Jeffrey Pratt: Uh?
Adriana Linares: Is it in your backpack?
Jeffrey Pratt: It could fit in my backpack. I am not kidding, it could fit in my backpack.
Adriana Linares: I love that.
Jeffrey Pratt: But like the beauty of cloud computing and it’s also like a Tizen with cloud computing and also with being able to get information to clients like a lot easier and faster because you can just access it so much more, but if you choose to do it that way then you can do it that way.
And I’ll tell you, like with DUI defense or criminal defense or like many types of cases where you’re dealing more with like a personal relationship as opposed to like working with like a bit like corporation where they need to walk in and see like the big nice skyline or the big view of the city, but like usually like my clients don’t care about that, even like the really super-wealthy clients.
What they care about is do you shoot real straight with them, are you knowledgeable, can you like back up what you were talking about, and are you good at what you do? You are going to respond to them like all that kind of stuff, so that has been such a huge, like I did this about three years ago and I have just loved — just loved the simpling down of everything.
Adriana Linares: The freedom and the mobility.
Jeffrey Pratt: Yeah.
Deborah Wolfe: It’s not about how much you make, it’s about how much you keep and now you can —
Jeffrey Pratt: Yeah, very true.
Deborah Wolfe: — I mean, I have a virtual office downtown and I do come downtown about three or four days a week usually, but because I’m active in all these organizations, it’s also that’s where I find my camaraderie and meet a lot of other people that are similarly situated or even people that are not that I can mentor because of course, that’s where I get most of my businesses from other attorneys.
And when I go to these events, it’s more important even than passing out my card to get their card, I write down on it where I met them and I follow-up with an email or a call or something like that. And it’s about those kinds of relationships and being open to those kinds of relationships and making sure you find time for yourself, which I have now that I don’t have some big fancy office. I have a person, an attorney that I work with, Brian Worthington, who is of counsel to me, I’m of counsel to him. I don’t have a salary that I have to pay him. I do have an assistant because I couldn’t exist in my life without an assistant.
But I also figured out a way some years ago how to run a successful business by getting a business coach. A very good business coach I had. He got me sort of straightened out about how to be very specific about my business, setting up time to do things, putting it in action, putting it in my calendar, and I used his services, I talked to him weekly, it went on for maybe about a year and then I sometimes will go back to him for kind of like a refresher because I know, oh my God I have to talk to Roger, I better get my stuff together.
And so I would get together, but that’s how I learned about what was important, how to figure out what I needed to spend, and how much more free time you have if you’re not working to pay your overhead.
If you want to have a life, you need to figure out how to reduce your overhead, how to keep the money that you have and I’m with Eric.
My clients don’t care. I don’t represent big insurance companies, big corporations, my clients are people. If I can go to them, great. I don’t have to have a big office with big conference rooms to have depositions. Guess what? There’s wonderful court reporters in this town. Every single one of them has a ton of conference rooms and you know what —
Adriana Linares: The Bar does too.
Deborah Wolfe: — and when you have a deposition there, they give you lunch, they bake cookies in the afternoon, why would I go and try to set up my own stuff?
Adriana Linares: Hey everyone, it’s Adriana. I hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 of 2 of the special episode of New Solo on Legal Talk Network.
Make sure you head over to iTunes to subscribe and rate and leave us a review if you haven’t yet. It’s very much appreciated. Thank you so much, and remember, you are not alone, you are a New Solo.
Outro: Thanks for listening to New Solo with host Adriana Linares. Tune in again to learn more about how to successfully run your new practice, solo, here on Legal Talk Network.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
New Solo covers a diverse range of topics including transitioning from law firm to solo practice, law practice management, and more.
Kristin Rizzo describes her journey from a large law firm to solo practice to mediation.
Daniel Whitehouse guides lawyers in the process of choosing secure, ethically compliant cloud services.
Marco Brown shares how to change your mindset, stop chasing money, and get paid for the great work you do.
Amanda Moore, CPA, shares tips on how to manage your practice’s finances and your bookkeeper as well as keeping yourself off the IRS’ radar.
Liz McCausland shares some of the professional and personal services she uses to improve both her work life and her personal life.
David Leatherberry talks about how healthcare law led him to start his solo firm, his experience in the legal industry and his current...