Longtime friend of Legal Talk Network Carolyn Elefant – author, mentor, blogger, and solo practitioner – joins host Adriana Linares with a huge update to her hit book “Solo by Choice.”
Get a one-stop-shop overview for any new solo practitioner. The pandemic, social media, online content, and business generation trends are shaking the legal practice bedrock.
The online conferencing and virtual offices of the pandemic are challenging the need for a formal office. Billing practices and options are shifting. Virtual assistants and freelancers are the norm. Clients are looking to new sources for attorneys.
Of course, you still need paying clients. Hear ideas on how to fully commit to your practice, find your niche, and build business from day one. Plus, business practice requirements, customer relationship programs, insurance, licensing, cybersecurity, and legal tech software. There’s no better time for new solo practitioners to ask for what they want – and get it. What’s ahead for the legal profession?
Got questions or ideas? Don’t forget to hit us up at [email protected]
- Guest, lawyer and author Carolyn Elefant shares tips for the modern era from her newly revised book, “Solo By Choice.”
- All you need to know about starting a solo or small practices, from software to cybersecurity.
- What’s new for the legal profession in a post-pandemic world?
Veteran attorney Jennifer Smith Thomas answers questions from new attorney Jennifer Townsend about the challenges of working with her father in a small, family-owned firm.
Question 4: “How do I get my dad to be open to change when his favorite phrase is ‘We do it that way because that’s the way we’ve always done it’”
Special thanks to our sponsors, Lawclerk, Alert Communications, Abby Connect, and Clio.
Intro: So if I was starting today as a New Solo, I would do something – the entrepreneurial aspect would be – we’re going to have to change the way they’re practicing – by becoming a leader – analyzing one after another – to help young lawyers – starting a new small firm – what it means to be fulfilled – make it easy to work with your clients – bringing authenticity – new approach, new tools, new mindset, New Solo – and it’s making that leap.
Adriana Linares: This is Adriana Linares. I am the host of the New Solo podcast. So, we’ve got another great episode ahead of us today. I have a great guest on, Carolyn Elefant who I’ve known for many, many years. Caroline, let’s not even talk about how long we’ve known each other. But go ahead and introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice.
Carolyn Elefant: Sure. Hi, Adriana, thanks for having me on the show after all this time. So, my name is Carolyn Elefant. I’m an attorney here in the DC area. And by day, I have a national law practice that focuses on renewable energy and fighting climate change and pipelines. And then on the side, I write the blog myshingle.com, which is the longest running blog on sole and small firm practice. It’s turning 20 in December. And I’m also the author of the book ‘Solo By Choice’.
Adriana Linares: You have been a fierce advocate of being a solo, helping attorneys be successful solos for — I just feel like that’s what you have always done aside from the fact that you’re running a busy practice as well. Tell me why have you found that that’s a calling that you have in the ways that you have put that out there? I know the answers but our listeners might not. So, tell us a little bit about why you love being a solo and also helping attorneys be successful solos and how you get that done.
Carolyn Elefant: So, I think in terms of the mission statement, the reason that I started my blog, my shingle was really because I just felt there was a void. I felt that at that time, the focus was really largely on big firms and there really wasn’t a lot of information about what solo and small firms were doing. And there really weren’t even that many courses on providing information on how to start a firm. So, that was the original impetus. But the reason that I advocate for solos and smalls has changed overtime, when I became a parent, I realized that running my own practice would give me more flexibility and allow me to spend time with my kids and also continue to grow a business. And so, that was the reason there.
But most recently, I feel like as time has passed and I’ve seen kind of the fruits of my labors, the people how have started firms, and I look at the firms that they’ve started and they’re all so different and they have different missions. And some of them fight for underserved communities, and some of these firms have created spaces that are very family friendly, and some of them have really given back to their communities. And I really see that this ownership, being able to own your firm and your career can be something that can change your life in the law and also change the legal profession itself.
We see so much innovation that comes out of solo and small firms, and so much diversity. When you look at the number of law firm owners who are women or lawyers of color, the large majority are ones who own their own law firms. And so, that’s always been an issue for the legal profession is diversity. And so, now I see ownership as a way to transform the whole profession and also the course of your career.
Adriana Linares: I love it. You are such a good human and for all those reasons and then some. When you say, “All these firms that I’ve watched launched and grow,” I don’t know if you can come up with this real quick but for my listeners, can you think of two or three things that you see as common denominators to success including your own in launching and having a small firm, and then maybe a couple of pitfalls or, “Oh, if I’d only known this, it would’ve been a little bit easier”? Are there any common denominators that you see in your years of helping other attorneys?
Carolyn Elefant: So, I think what the common denominators, one of the things is that whether you start your firm by choice or involuntarily, which some people start their firm as you have to be all in. Even if it wasn’t your first choice, you’ve at least got to give it your best shot. I find that the people who never wanted to go solo and always feel that it’s a second choice are less likely to succeed than ones who say, “Maybe this wasn’t my first choice, but let me see where this can lead me.”
So, that ability to be open minded and to embrace what solo practice can bring you. The second thing is focus. People who are very focused on networking, on promoting their firm and talking about it all the time to the point where you almost as listeners think that you’re seek of hearing it, but then you think of all the different people who have never heard that message. That kind of consistency is just one of the most important aspects of success. And I guess with the people who tend not to succeed, there’s two different criteria. I think first when you start out with too much planning, when you suffer from analysis paralysis, when you spend months and months trying to pick the perfect practice management tool, the perfect website. The perfect —
Adriana Linares: Domain name.
Carolyn Elefant: Yes, domain name and the logo. You could be like two years in and you still haven’t gotten your start and you’ve spent a lot of money. And you realize that when you start, it’s still going to take time to get clients for them to pay you. And so, you’ve gotten rid of that mistakes. So, that can make a start something that’s very shaky is just spending too much time focusing on things other than what you really need to be doing, which is just finding clients who are going to pay you. That’s the one thing you should be thinking about as soon as you get out of the gate, clients and money.
Adriana Linares: You said they’ll hear these things as good for them to hear it consistently or this might be the first time they are hearing this. I want to touch on one thing that in my world has been the common denominator for specifically getting clients that pay you. You tell me if this is true and then any advice that you might want to share on this. I feel like every successful solo or small firm attorney that we’ve had on the show has said one thing over and over and over again, “Networking and word of mouth is how I get my clients.” And I feel like a lot of times when I have younger attorneys calling me looking for consulting and help, they almost don’t believe it. They hear it over and over again, but they don’t believe it, so they’re going to try all these other things, “I’m going to have this amazing website. I’m going to spend money on Click to Pay. I’m going to get on Facebook. I’m going to use TikTok.” What do you think about networking and word of mouth as being a major resource, if not, your best for developing clients?
Carolyn Elefant: So, I did a couple of informal surveys in Facebook groups where you would think that because people are on Facebook that they might say social media or SEO or something like that, time and again, it’s personal networking. And it shocks me because as you know, I’m not averse to social media, to the web. I’ve been using it for years and years, and it’s definitely an important tool and it’s definitely something you can’t ignore in your practice. And I think when your practice gets bigger, if you have a lot of money to invest in it, the web and SEO can be very helpful. But the personal networking and getting to know people, it just works all the time and it’s not expensive and it’s easy to do. And I see and it works for people who are younger and who are older.
Sometimes, when you’re younger, it can take time to build the network; but at the same time, if you’re out there and you meet the right people and there’s an opportunity, you’ll be the first person to hear about it. And then you know that the cases of course that are coming to you are coming with somebody’s recommendation already, and so you really don’t have to make the sell. But there are a number of law firms I can think of who get business almost entirely from just a personal referral network And especially, one group that comes to mind almost immediately are firms that serve parents, either family law firms or state planning firms. The mom network and the mom recommendation network is like —
Adriana Linares: It’s powerful.
Carolyn Elefant: Absolutely. And you can build a firm just off of that without even having an internet presence. I know it sounds crazy. And when I say that, it doesn’t mean that you should ignore everything else, but I do agree with that. And like I said, the questions, the informal surveys I’ve done tend to confirm that too.
Adriana Linares: Awesome. I love when I get things right and my guess agree with me without being prepped. But I just feel like that’s a consent that I hear all the time. Real quick, let’s just expand on that a little bit, which is like the mom network. I feel you’re so right, the mom network, the dad network, bowling league network, the whatever it is. And I also feel that thank God today, we can talk about not being in a pandemic in trying to develop work.
So, let’s talk about what we knew before and what we can look forward to in the future. When younger attorneys or an attorney who’s gone out on his own, so we call this show New Solo and I like that, because often times I have a big firm refugee or someone who’s retiring from a big firm and they just want to be, “How do you get started?” So, New Solo does now always equal young attorney. So, what advise do you have for people about that specifically where networking doesn’t always mean go to every bar events that your local bar association puts on, that’s a good one, but what other creative ways do you have of giving that advice?
Carolyn Elefant: So, one of the things that I like is to take the initiative and create a networking event that you yourself would enjoy or that you yourself can afford. I know that when I was early into my career, I couldn’t really afford to take that on lawyers especially in my industry, we’d go to these expense account lunches and I just couldn’t afford to do that every week. So, I would have these breakfasts or lunches in my office where I’d just order sandwiches. It was like I could feed 10 people for the price of one expense account lunch and just bring people together to talk about their business and to exchange ideas, and I would always get at least like two or three referrals after that just by being in somebody’s face.
So, just like getting people together to go to a ball game or check out the farmer’s market on the weekend or whatever is compatible with what you enjoy, either what you personally enjoy doing or something related to your practice. Honestly, even organizing some sort of pro bono event like an event where you gather food and furniture for the Ukrainian refugees or Afghan refugees, people want to be able to participate in that. And it’s a great way to get to know other people and do something good at the same time, and everybody leaves and they feel good, and then you stick in their minds.
Adriana Linares: That’s a great idea.
Carolyn Elefant: Yeah. And one thing with the internet and these social media groups is it makes it so easy to organize those things. You don’t have to like give out paper flyers or whatever we did back in the olden days.
Adriana Linares: So, speaking of the olden days, let’s just talk a little bit about social media and modern times. In the olden days of course, networking meant things like going to bar events, hobnobbing at church, hobnobbing at your clubs, at your kid’s soccer games and then along comes social media. When you and I were talking before the show got started, I think I asked you how are you doing on social media, what are you doing. And you said back to our point, “I have been getting clients through word of mouth and referrals forever,” so maybe you hadn’t kept up too much with how to use modern social media. And you said, “Yeah, I’m taking some courses.” I love hearing that someone as tech savvy, as experienced and as successful as you still wants to continue learning how best to use technologies. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Maybe spread some inspiration to never stop learning.
Carolyn Elefant: Yeah. It’s just when you read the papers, you read about these TikTok influencers, people who are influencers on Instagram and different websites, and it sounds really intriguing. And still a lot of the people in the industries that I serve aren’t engaged in that, but it just sounds fascinating to see how they’re communicating their message. So, I’m taking a course. I guess there are some younger attorneys who really have used Instagram very effectively to build large followings. And one of the questions I always have is following doesn’t necessarily equal clients. One class I’m taking is dealing with how to convert a following into clients. But I feel like it’s important to understand what clients are looking at, what kind of impression they’re getting from attorneys by looking at these sites, and also just figuring out if there’s a way to take that information and use it in my practice.
Because at some point, both my practice and also my blog, myshingle, I’m not going to be doing them forever, I’d like to see them survive in some other format. And so, I feel like by learning about these new formats of communicating with people and interacting with people, it gives at least my blog an opportunity to transition to a new generation of readers and users, and to find other clients in that area. Because everything changes really fast, it’s hard to stay on top of things. And what’s also really interesting is just to see how people are taking — there’re so many innovative ways that people are using these new mediums and that’s just fascinating to me. That just gets the mind rolling and I think it just keeps things more interesting.
Adriana Linares: I totally agree. And we’re going to take a quick break, listen to some messages from some sponsors. When we come back, I’m going to ask you about content and how you plan to use it, because your blog must have tons of evergreen content.
Your head has tons of evergreen content. And we’re going to talk about the third edition of ‘Solo By Choice’. We’ll be right back.
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Adriana Linares: Okay and we’re back. I am Adriana Linares, of course your host with New Solo, and I’ve Carolyn Elefant with me today. She has been — well, Carolyn, like I say, I never like to talk about how long we’ve been around, but we’ve been around for a minute. We must have met 20 years ago at an ABA law practice division or a GP solo meeting. We go way back, and your book goes way back, so let’s talk about your book. Because we left off talking about content, you are a prolific content creator whether it’s your blog, news articles, post. And you write for a couple of other good publications as well, right?
Carolyn Elefant: Yeah. I had been writing most recently for Above the Law. And while I don’t write anything for them regularly, there’s I guess a quasi syndication that usually pick up my articles each week.
Adriana Linares: That’s great. And this idea of figuring out creative ways to use modern ways of communications, probably one of the hardest things that lawyers can come up with is the content, “What am I going to put out there?” You must be able to go back through your post, your articles, your courses, everything and you must have so much great content. And I have a feeling a lot of it is encompassed inside of the third edition of your book called ‘Solo By Choice’. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the history of it and then let’s talk a little bit about the book itself?
Carolyn Elefant: So, the first edition of ‘Solo By Choice’ came out I think in end of 2008, beginning of 2009. And essentially, it did draw on the content from my blog, but there was a lot of new content too. Because at my blog, I don’t go into a lot of the nitty-gritty how-to on starting a firm and there’s a lot of inspirational material too whereas the book is more of a combination, it has a more detailed approach. So, when I started in 2008, the market was strong and the book really had to make a very strong case for solo practice, because people were getting jobs at law firms. And then right after it came out, the market crashed. And so, the second edition in 2011 or 2012 focused a little bit more on social media, which was then at its height and also starting a firm right out of law school, because that’s what many people were looking at.
So, this draft, it took very long time to get to the third edition, but I felt like so much had changed. And as I was doing the revisions, the pandemic happened. And so, it was kind of the sands were shifting as I writing it, but I felt that it was important to at least — I don’t have any definitive answers, I don’t think any of us do coming out of the pandemic, but I think it was important to get people to start thinking about it, because I really cringe when people are talking about, “I can’t wait until we go back to the good old days or the way things were before, because it’s not that way.” So, a lot of the conversation in the book just about something as simple or basic as where do you open up your firm. Is it even a default to have an office anymore? Companies talking remote first employees who don’t want to work on sites.
So, a lot of the topics in the book that were once presumptive or at least merited a discussion have now been flipped. But it does talk about some of those issues and also just the deregulation of law, and what solos and smalls can look for in the future.
Adriana Linares: You got five main sections in the book. Part one is should I start, part two is planning a practice, part three is implement and execute, part four is running the firm office and then part five is looking ahead. Why don’t we just take one good strong point from each section, maybe what you’re asked the most about or your favorite part about that section? So, let’s pretend I’m a new solo and my question is, “Carolyn, should I even start? Should I go solo?” what do you tell people?
Carolyn Elefant: So, my favorite part of that chapter is actually new material and it talks about 11 fears that people have about starting a firm like isn’t it too much of a risk? And the answer is everything in today’s world is risky now. I look at people who started businesses that depended on in-person communications and then you had COVID and they had to pivot very quickly. Or I don’t have a lot of experience, how am I going to know what to do? And the answer is there’s a lot of resources and when you’re doing things for yourself, you tend to figure them out. So, I think it addresses — I think there’s 11 or 12 fears that is based on the common questions I get that people are concerned about.
Adriana Linares: I think the main fear that I see again common denominator constantly is where will my clients come from. I have to say my regular listeners hear me saying this all the time. Somehow, they come. And it really is just about launching and getting out there, word of mouth, networking and everything else. So, that’s a really good answer. Get over those fears. And I always say too, you are not the first attorney to start a solo practice. But you said it too there are so many good resources out there from Carolyn’s blog and book, and all her content to ABA and the law practice and Lawyerist and Above the Law and Lawyer at Work. There’re so many good resources. And I think too, once you start digging and diving in, you’re going to keep hearing the same things over and over again. I feel like if there’s one thing we are good at out here in the law practice world, it’s consistency and the messages that everyone seems to share.
Okay, real quick on part two, which is planning a practice. You’ve got many roads lead to solo as a sub chapter for law school to solo, choosing your practice area, business model and a mission and mindset. What is the overall arching theme of this part and tips and suggestions that you can pull a big picture out of there?
Carolyn Elefant: And so, one of the things that it does talk about is the many paths, because people start firms in different ways. And even though again the themes are the same, some of the specifics are different. If you’re starting a firm out of law school, you’re going to have different concerns. One of your main concerns is going to be, “How do I get practical experience or figure out what I need to do as a practical matter?” whereas if you’re somebody who’s been working at a firm for a long time, you’re going to want to be thinking about, “How do I translate my big firm skills to represent smaller clients?” or, “How do I present myself in a way that I can still handle mid size companies or compete with my former employer?”
So, it talks about that, but then it also talks about again some of the big picture issues that you want to think about when you start your firm. Because if you don’t have some kind of vision in mind or some kind of reason that you’re starting other than making more money and I guess even making more money could be a big picture vision that’ll capture your focus, so it just talks about trying to figure out what your mission is, which your clients you’re going to serve. And the in-point of that is to get people to start thinking even from the very outset as you’re planning, who you target clients are going to be, and that’s going to relate to what your mission and your vision is. And once you have that nailed down, it just makes a lot of your decision later on fall into place, because they’re informed by those decisions.
People spend a lot of time nailing down what their logo is going to look like or what their office is going to look like. Those decisions fall into place like if you know that you are going to be serving small technology startup companies, then that’s going to inform your decision about your office. Maybe you don’t need an office, because they just want virtual assistance. Maybe your focus is going to be on marketing on certain blogs or having a podcast that you know they’re going to listen to whereas if your target audience is maybe an elderly or less sophisticated population, a podcast might not be the way to go. So, once you know who you’re going to target, what your mission is, so many of those other administrivia type of decisions, just they fall into place, they’re much easier. So, I think you have to think about those things upfront.
Adriana Linares: This is the, “Should I make a business plan or not?” section of planning to open a practice. So, my question to you is do you think attorneys should create a formal business plan and have a mission and have a vision written down, and like a literal business plan?
Carolyn Elefant: I have mixed views on that. The problem with the business plan for attorneys is that you know what an attorney is going to do. This can become a six-month project. So, what I think is the best solution is to start with one of those business canvas models that you can find online where there’s little boxes for what your mission is, where your clients are going to come from, who your target is.
The other idea that I think really works very well is putting together a pitch deck instead of a business plan, because it gets you thinking strategically about how you’re going to sell your practice. And there’s like a lot of online you can find a lot of pitch decks for any kind of company, I mean not for law firms, but they ask —
Adriana Linares: Yeah, just convert it.
Carolyn Elefant: Right. And they ask the same questions or discuss the same questions like what is the market, what is the opportunity, where do we see our business coming from? And so, it’s a more low key way to get that same information down on paper. I think you do want to have something on paper, but I don’t think you need — I guess if you’re going to get tied up in a business plan for six months in that start, I would go with the shorter model, but you should have something on paper.
Adriana Linares: I like it. Part three I’m going to save for our last segment of the show, because it’s probably my favorite. And this is implement and execution where you’re talking about essential business requirements, setting up your new office, and technology options and some other good stuff in here. So let’s just skip that for now, because I want to dig in a little bit deeper on your advice on those topics, and we’ll see that for the last section of our show.This is not the last section of your book, that was 3.Part 4 is actually running the firm office where you talk about the client relationship, retainer agreements, billing and fees, really getting down to law firm operations.What are a couple of nuggets that you can pull out of this section to give us?
Carolyn Elefant: I think for something, obviously, your clients are your most important asset to your firm, and so investing in a client relationship because your clients are also a potential source of referrals.I think for something like fees, I think it’s really important to look at what all the options are and not necessarily to just go with the billable hour because it’s what you know or because it’s a default. And there are contrary to the anti-billable hour people, there are clients who really do still want the billable hours.So you want to be able to offer that to accommodate them, but I think there are a lot of different pricing models that are being used, and I think having some diversity in a pricing model can also kind of make it easier for it kind ofbalances out some of the cash flow issues, you know, ifyou have maybe subscription fees and regular hourly rates.So I think that people have to be open-minded about how they’re going to bill and be thinking about whatit is they’re selling and what kind of value they’redelivering to people and how to price that value.
Adriana Linares: I’m going to add two things to that, and that is I love your suggestions and having multiple options, and I feel like a lot of times attorneys lack that creativity and coming up with a different pricing structure based on different needs or situations, so I love encouraging that.And then the other thing is, I just said last week I did a webinar with Jared Correiaon Abovethe Law, and we talked about, of course, it always comes up, has the billable hour died?No, it hasn’t died because sometimes it still makes sense, but my point was a lot of clients are asking for the billable hour.So if you have that client, you’re prepared to give them an answer.And if you have a client that says, “I like flat rates, project fee billing, canwe come up with a plan for that?” You need to be prepared, because you certainly don’t want tosay, “Oh, well, I haven’t done it that way yet.Hold on, let me think about it.”You be my guinea pig, right? So I definitely love the idea whether you’re anew solo or an experienced solo, and you’re working on that to really spend some time coming up with a breadth of pricing structures.
The last part of your book is on looking ahead, and how do you see that the practice has changed,especially solo practice and the legal profession as a wholebecause of the pandemicor thanks to the pandemic, whichis the way I actually look at it. Thank you, pandemic.
Carolyn Elefant: The pandemic has definitely normalized remote meetings and it’s not only normalized remote meetings with clients, but it’s also made lawyers and clients both realize that those are just more convenient. And I think that now clients are accustomed to meeting with doctors online, lawyers online, allkinds of providers getting deliveries online.So very few people want to goback to how things were done.I think with courts, sadly, waiting for cases to bescheduled, waiting for your case to be called use tobe a profit center for some law firms.You would basically have to sit in courtand wait for a case to be called, and that’s been taken away and that’s had a financial impact on some law firms.So I think that law firms that wereheavily reliant on in-person meetings really needto come up with new ways of billingor capturing value that might have been lost now that something like thathas changed.So I think that those are two main focuses of that.
And I guess the third istoo, isjust sort of the great resignation or thegreat reconsideration, whatever you’re calling it.It has become challenging for many firms to find staff to work for them in a traditional way.And I think law firms may have to become more creative about hiring people, whether it’s relying moreon a freelance workforce or coming up with benefits that will be sufficient to attract staff long term when they have so many other options.
Adriana Linares: I like to thank the pandemic for allof those things, but really, I’m having very different conversations today than I was just threeand a half years ago with attorneys, and they’re creative, they’reproductive, they’re affordable, right?Like you say, freelancing or outsourcing your work, it’s just if you do the math,sometimes it makes much more sense, and I feel like so many more attorneys are open to those ideas. Thanks to the pandemic.So I think we’re on the same page on that one.
Let’s take a quick break and when we come back, I’m going toask Carolyn about Section 3 of her bookwhich was my favorite, and just general advice about technology and practice management and what she tells her readers, listeners and followers as well.We’ll be right back.
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Adriana Linares: All right, we havereached the fourth and final segment of our fourth seriesin the New Insights segment of New Solo. Jennifer Townsendwhat is your last question for Jennifer Thomas?
Jennifer Townsend: My last question is how do I get my dad tobe open to change when his favorite phrase is “we doit that way because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Jennifer Smith Thomas: My dad says the same thing and he also says “wehave a system” and I think systems in the way that we’ve always done it is a source of comfort that helps us know that nothing will fall through the cracks.Nothing will get missed because if the system does what the system is supposed to do, nothing gets missed.And there’s comfort there and there’s security there and, you knowwe’re doing a good job and we’re not going to let a ball drop. And so being respectful of that comfort level,however it comes, I thinkis incredibly important because we’re all comfort driven creatures and nobody wants to wake up in the middle ofthe night worrying if somebody calendered a depositionor, you know, provided directions to something.Laws change. Judgesprocedures change. Technology changes.Change is inevitable, and if there’s anybody that knows that, it’s probably our parents who have lived through more than wehave at this point and I think change is scary for a lot of people.So again, patience deference, optimizing their experience and makingsure that their comfort is still presenteven if you change some kind of process or system.
A good example of this would be thatfor 39 years, my dad has had printed directions or typewritten directionsprobably at the time, put in the front pocket of his binder. Wherever he goes, he has a binder, and inthe front pocket there are directions for every stop.And as we’ve moved into iPhones and iPads andall of these sort of technological innovations in our CalendarInvites and Outlook, our assistance, our paralegals arerequired to put the address into the Calendar Invite, so we just pull it up on our phone and we know exactly where we’re going.It pulls up in our car on our directions or Siri tells it to us, but my dad still wants those directions.He wants a hand, like a paper copy that hecan hold in his hand —
— which is really absurd because not only does he have an iPhone, he has aTeslawhich drives him anywhere he wants to go.His car drives itself, but that accommodation is comforting to him and it’s minimal to us.So we can continue to update the system as well, giving him little bits and pieces of the comfort that he likes to hold on to.
Adriana Linares: Another awesome answerJennifer Smith Thomas. I think the best advice you’ve given through all of this series is to have small successes,and I have found that’s true with almost any lawyer,and trying to modernize them is give them one thing that will help them one little morsel at a time, and before you know it, they’ve eaten the whole cake and they’re super happy.So thank you so much.I want to thank both Jennifer Smith Thomas and Jennifer Townsend for participating in this series of New Insights. You both have been absolutely wonderful.
Jennifer Smith Thomas, but before I forget, would you tell everyone how they can find friend or follow you if they want to follow-up with any questions or comments about your participation.
Jennifer Townsend: I am always open to more advice.I can be reached on LinkedIn, Jennifer Townsendin Birmingham, Alabama or on our website, townsend-lawfirm.com.
Jennifer Smith Thomas: I just wanted to tell Jennifer Townsend thatI appreciate her questions and her inquiry and desire to be innovative, especially with an old dog.I know that can be a challenge and I would also say that you’re in avery unique place where you get to work withyour parents and it’s a very special experience andso allow the moments of frustration to pass orimpatience to pass because you will definitely miss it.And I am grateful to work withmy dad at Rumberger, Kirk&Caldwell, soyou can find me at [email protected].I’m also on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, all ofthem except like IMDb or something like that.
Adriana Linares: Okay, I’m here with Carolyn Elefant, and wejust did a pretty quick like the Reader’sDigest of your book, Carolyn. Solo by Choice, but I wanted to save Section 3 becausefor me, of course, this is mostly whereI live in, which is implementing and executing.So I wanted to ask you again, when you’re talking to new solos or new attorneys,what are your essential business requirements and whatdo you tell them about technology?Do they need a practice management program?Do you have to have a CRM?What about document assembly?Just give me kind of your opinionon — let’s start with business requirements.
Carolyn Elefant: Business requirements are justthe malpractice insurance.You’ve got to be licensed somewhere insome jurisdictionsyou may have to register like have a business registration. For attorneys, I mean, because you pass the bar, you kindof you’re not subject to a lot of the same business requirements as a traditional business. So I think other types of cybersecurity, I mean malpractice insurance now encompasses things like cybersecurity, some sort of business insurance.If you have an office, different types of insurance are important to look at, especially cyber,a bank account and a trust account.And even if you are, like me, completely opposed to the idea of trust account and don’t really use a trust account,you really have got to set one up at the beginning on the off chance that you may use it because you don’t want to have to set it up when somebody is ready to cut you a $40,000 check.
Adriana Linares: You don’t want to be scrambling for that.What do you tell people when they are instates that don’t require professional liability insurance?Should I have it anyway?
Carolyn Elefant: Yeah, absolutely.It’s not as much as you think.When I started my firm, I went without itfor two years because I thought it was cost prohibitive and it was like $200 a month.I probably could have even gotten it forless if I started at the beginning.So, yeah, just for the peace of mind and not having to worry about somebody will defend you if you have bar grievance, yeah, I would just say go for it.
Adriana Linares: Good. Me too.I’m definitely on team get professional liability insurance.Now tell us a little bit about your suggestions for launching or improving yourpractice when it comes to technology.What are the must haves?
Carolyn Elefant: So that is a really really really hard question, and I think in some ways, you have to work — I think there’s a lot of different factors to look at.I mean, the first is just to look at your own personal preferences and your experience with technology.You’re the kind of person who uses every feature of your phone, because if you do, then you’ll want to get, itwill make sense to invest in a very robust practice management system because chances are you’re probably going to use all ofthose features right out of the gate.
If you’re somebody who just uses kind of what youneed, you might be able to get by with asimpler tool and maybe not even something specifically for the legal industry, but maybe something even that comes out oflike small business or something like that.I think for things like other things are very practice determined.We’re at a stage now where not only dowe have relatively easy document automation available but it’s very cost-effective, but in my practice, I don’tdo a lot of repetitive work.I don’t have the same form that I fill out over and over again and so even though I would like to always be on the cutting edge and embrace new technology, I’ve really been challenged to figure out away to use something like that.I guess just because people are using a certain technology, you have to ask whether it’s something that makes sense for your practice, and if you’re doing something that’s routine, same forms over and over again, I would say definitely invest in something like document automation. I guess the other thingI would say is just not to lock intoa system at the beginning.
A lot of these systems offer month to month freetrials. Take advantage of those things and also, it’s abuyer’s market now so really reach out to the practice management providers, get appointments with them, make them serve you because part of what you decide on is going to have to do with customer service. Factors like customer service,the longevity of the company, I mean those are things that areimportant also, but this is really a great time tobe starting a firm because there’s so many businesses thatare competing for your business and finally soles and smallscan have the same buying power that big firms have always had with Lexis and Westlaw, so Ithink that’s very cool and I just think that you have to be aware of that.It sounds crazy that as individual personsjust starting a firm that you can have that power, but I think you definitely do and the companies have been really responsive about that.
Adriana Linares: I feel like whether you’re starting right now or you’ve had a practice for a long time andare ready to modernize and make some changes, there is no better time to be a lawyer from a practice management in technology perspective.There are so many good options.They are also affordable even at the high end of a practice management program, which maybe,let’s say it’s $120 a month per user, it’s still so cheap compared to what it used to be. To start a small firm, 15 years ago was in the thousands of dollars just to get the power turned on.And today is just so easy and affordable.And you’re right, so many good choices.I always like to remind people that today,unlike in the past, moving from one practice management program to another is actually pretty easy.They build on common platforms that makeit easy to export and import data.So I love your advice of really making those sales people work for you.I mean, they’re going to pester you to death with phone calls and emails anyway, so you might as well just make them work for it, sit through a couple of demos, signup for a couple of free trials, and really make sure that what you choose to use is as close to perfect for you as possible, so that you don’t have to change your mind in two or three months.Now, Carolyn, you’re a Mac.
Carolyn Elefant: Yes.
Adriana Linares: So you practice law with a MAC and successfully, do you have as far as your practice goes, an assistant, an associate?Tell us a little bit about how your solo practice is built today.
Carolyn Elefant: So I started such a long time agothat I actually predated Rocket Matter and Clio, so I was using tools like Basecampor FreshBooks or tools like that, whichI really haven’t changed from since my practice is somewhat bespokethough.I’m looking to find a new CRM system, but I’ve had a virtual assistant for 15years and I’ve never met her in person.We’ve only spoken on the phone a handful oftimes, and back then it was so unusual.Her name is Tina, and my daughter had an imaginary friend named Tina, so when I talked about Tina, my daughter thought I was making fun of her.So she has been working for me probably like60 or 80 hours a month for that time.
Adriana Linares: That’s amazing.
Carolyn Elefant: Yeah.I’m not sure what will happen if she goes. And there are many more options for virtual assistance now.I mean, there are actually attorneys who have started virtual assistant companies who have trained assistants from other countries to do work.So Tina is in the U.S., but she does sortof light paralegal work for getting documents into final form.She makes travel plans for me.She takes administers my blog.During the time she’s worked for me, she’s learned more about like WordPress and website development so shecan make changes to my website, things like that.
And then over the years, I’ve had associates working with me.I usually have summer associates becauseI like working with law students, so I’ve usually had a team of them working with me, sometimes remote. Before the pandemic, I had a workspace in WeWork, and I had office space for the students, but they just like kind of working in the common area.I guess it was like beingin the cafeteria or something.And I just work with them with files like online files and I use Box and we use other kinds of collaborative tools.So I can bring people ondepending on what my needs are.And usually if I get busy, like if I havea big Trial or a lot of depositions, I’ll usually bring in freelance attorneys to cover those things.
Adriana Linares: How do you find the law students for the summer andthe freelance attorneys that help you when you need them?
Carolyn Elefant: I have been more challenged with law students then Ifeel that I should because I actually pay them.I mean, I don’t pay them big firm salaries, but I pay them a decent wage.I’m near GW Law School, which has anenergy and environmental law program, so I usually try to go to those schools.I’ve had some friends whohave students working full time.They just go directly to the law school placement office, which usually works. And then freelance attorneys come from a variety of places.Sometimes I’ll just ask colleagues because there maybe, for example, an energy law attorney who’son maternity leave or who has taken time off and wants to get back in.I’ve used Law Clerk Legal and hire an Esquire.I’ve used those platforms also for less specialized work. There’re usually for Motions to Compel or things like that, just because it’s hard to find somebody on those platforms with expertise.So sometimes you get lucky.I don’t mean non-legal expertise,but it’s more general sites, so they have people who are familiar with family law or immigration or something, but not necessarily likean energy regulatory thing, but for something like Motionsto Compel or just kind of broad research, they’re very good and very fast.
Adriana Linares: Where can people buy this book?
Carolyn Elefant: So the book is available on Amazon orthere’s a page on my blog, MyShingle.We’re undergoing a facelift now, so it should look different next month, and the book willbe much easier to find at the site.
Adriana Linares: Very cool. Do you still offer a course online too?Tell me about the courses you’ve developed in the past.
Carolyn Elefant: So I have a free class on Udemy on starting a firm that has had almost10,000 people who sign up for it over the years.So right now, I’ve been developing a more modern version of that with little demos and things on starting apractice, but I haven’t fully put that together yet.
Adriana Linares: But the one on Udemy is available?
Carolyn Elefant: Yes, that’s available and that’s free.And then I have other PowerPoints at my site thatare free, and then I do have a program onretainer agreements and other contracts that law firms use whichis kind of a short course and then a whole bunch of different forms and templates that you can just kind of plug and play in your practice.
Adriana Linares: We can find all of that on myshingle.com.
Carolyn Elefant: That’s right.
Adriana Linares: I hope everyone gets out there and gets this book.It sounds great.Of course, I have a copy of it and I’m going to read through it just to refresh myself of good ideas that I can also pass on. Carolyn, I really appreciate your time today.Do you want to just remind everyone where they can find friend or follow you if they want to learn more about you or pick up on these great resources that you have?
Carolyn Elefant: Sure.So the best place to find me ismyshingle.com and that will have links tomy Twitter account, Facebook group, Instagram, TikTok.So the Instagram and TikTok are still relatively new, but you can spend a long timeat my blog going through old content.
Adriana Linares: What happens in the Facebook group?
Carolyn Elefant: The Facebook group is yeah, I guess I sometimes provide just different resources on starting a firm or a coupleof things that aren’t available freely at the blog.
Adriana Linares: Awesome. Well, goodI hope you get some new members and followers from this.Thanks so much for your time, Carolyn.I totally appreciate it.
Carolyn Elefant: Yes.Thank you for doing the show and for having me on.
Adriana Linares: Well, everyone, it’s time to move on towhatever you’re going to do next after listening to today’s episode of New Solo.If you’ve got ideas for topics in the future,if you have any more questions on Microsoft orany other technology or practice management programs or anything when it comes to law practice, rememberyou can always reach out to meat New Solo at legaltalknetwork.com.
I’d love to hear from you as we continueto move forward with the show, new ideas and topics that you might have in mind, things Ihaven’t covered that you want to hear about. And if you have some time, please give us a five-star rating on Apple Podcast.I know Legal Talk Network andI would really appreciate that.Hope you all have a wonderful day andwe’ll see you next time on New Solo.