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Reality Check 3: Worrying Will Kill You - Take Action Instead

Susan Cartier Liebel

When you start a practice you take on a whole new set of worries; but don't be afraid of the hustle - its time to embrace it.

I have to admit it. I'm a worrier. I worry about my family, my mother, my husband and son. I worry about the economy, people and animals, the future of our politically divided country, the food supply and climate change. I worry about income and inflation and retirement and health. I worry. I worry about many things, some within my control and some not. 

Ironically, worry has proven to be quite the motivator for me when combined with an insatiable curiosity about people and life. I don't think I'm particularly unique when it comes to worrying. Most people I know say they don't worry at all (liars) or they say they worry all the time. But at the end of the day most of us have some level of worry which keeps us up at night. (And the irony is most people over 65 say their biggest regret is spending too much of their lives worrying!) 

The difference is, when you go solo you willingly or unwittingly take on a whole other set of worries not often experienced by those who receive a paycheck from an employer every Friday or twice a month. Unlike an employee, you have to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from, insurance, rent, technology, employees or independent contractors, marketing, billing, etc. And it doesn't matter if you just received a big pay day which will cover your expenses and a nice vacation over the next month or two. You will always worry about the next check and the next check and the check after that. This is the tough part. This is the part you never learn in law school or even at the law firm where you may have been previously employed. 

The reality of being a self-employed attorney is you are living the life of a commissioned sales person. A commissioned sales person is only as good as her next sale. You are only as good as your next paying client. 

This reality, that you are only as good as your next paying client, is what does in many a good attorney who goes out on their own. They never seem to be able to rest on their laurels, at least not for very long. Once the euphoria of a big retainer or settlement or verdict wears off, the worry about where the next client or next several clients will come from takes over. Imagine doing this for a significant part of your career? The highs and then the lows and accompanying angst over and over, again? Yet somehow it does work because the world is filled with healthy, commissioned sales people and self-employed attorneys living good lives and providing for their families and their futures. 

If you know this is the BIG worry, create a plan to address it. 

When I first started my practice right out of law school with two others we had one golden rule - split our work week into 80% legal work and 20% marketing for new clients. Of course, when you first start out you are most likely marketing 80% of the time and working 20% of the time. This gradually switches over to the percentages I describe in the 'golden rule'. The most important point in all of this is that you can never NOT market. Here are some mind blowing legal marketing statistics for you to digest: NOTE: This includes pre-pandemic and pandemic numbers. Source: 46 Legal Marketing Statistics You Must Read: 2021/2022 Data Analysis & Market Share

  • Since 2012, the growth of demand for law firm services has been stagnant and continued to be flat in 2019. (Georgetown Law, 2020) 
  • However, in 2021, experts predict that the market is set to recover and reach a market size of $767.1 billion after the COVID-19 pandemic. (BRC, 2020)
  • Meanwhile, online legal services in the United States have also grown with a market size of $9 billion as of 2020. (IBISWorld, 2020) 
  • The average revenue growth across the legal market in 2019 was 5.4%. (Georgetown Law, 2020) 
  • The industry had an average of 123 hrs in terms of billable hours in 2019. (Georgetown Law, 2020) 
  • The average daily work demand per lawyer was six hours in 2019. (Georgetown Law, 2020) 
  • Moreover, 46% of lawyers spend less than 10 hours in meetings with clients or representing clients in court while 22% spend a minimum of 20 hours. (Martindale, 2020) 
  • Aside from dealing with difficult clients (22%) and long hours (18%), lawyers say that the most challenging aspect of their job is generating new clients (17%). (Martindale, 2020) 
  • Productivity in the industry fell back to negative growth at -2% in 2019, reversing performance in 2018. (Georgetown Law, 2020) 
  • 4.4 % – The increase in standard legal services rates in 2019. (Georgetown Law, 2020)
  • Overall, only 24% of firms surveyed use video as part of their marketing. (ABA, 2020) 
  • 27% of firms with 10-49 lawyers use video marketing. (ABA, 2020)
  • 23% of firms with 2-9 lawyers use video marketing. (ABA, 2020)
  • 6% of solo practices reported using video for their marketing. (ABA, 2020)
  • External marketing consultants are also used: 23% (100+ lawyers); 19% (10-49 lawyers); 21% (2-9 lawyers); 5% (solo practitioners). (ABA, 2020)
  • 39% of firms said they will put more emphasis on their marketing, 33% will do it next year, 7% will decrease marketing efforts, and 21% do not know. (ABA, 2020) 
  • 97% of large firms (100+ lawyers) report having an internal marketing staff, while only 33% of small firms (10-49 lawyers) report having an internal staff to handle marketing. (ABA, 2020) 
  • 87% of law firms said that their firm has a website. (ABA, 2020)
  • Solo practitioners lag behind with only 59% saying that they have a website. (ABA, 2020) 
  • 68% of respondents said that their website is mobile-friendly. (ABA, 2020)
  • Only 40% said that their website uses SSL security. (ABA, 2020)
  • 70% of law firms have landed new cases through their website (Law Technology Today, 2019)
  • 40% of small law firms do not have websites (ABA, 2019)
  • 35% of small firms that have websites have not updated them in the last three years (Atastic)
  • Across all firm sizes in 2020, the specific marketing channels most often used are event sponsorship (48%), LinkedIn (42%), Email (41%), Facebook (33%), and print media (21%). (ABA, 2020) 

There is a stark reality out there - If you are afraid to market, don’t go into solo practice. And these stats show solos lag behind on every measurable marker. 

You must always be working on filling the pipeline with new business so you suffer less angst after your moments of euphoria. This is the hustle. That's the only way to describe it. You have to always be hustling and this scares many lawyers who contemplate solo practice. This hustle is also what triggers anxiety and, in some, depression. The reality that you are always having to maintain a certain momentum is disconcerting if you don't know this when you tell yourself you're going to go solo. But here's the kicker; most solos who figure this out early on say they would rather take the angst and keep working on their marketing than ever go back to being an employee. They prefer the roller coaster to the carousel. 

What I am here to tell you is that you need to gear yourself up for this reality. You need to accept it going in. You need to know that the lawyers who tell you it's all word of mouth (WOM) are only telling you half the truth. WOM practices are real. They aren't unicorns. But this significant achievement happens much further along in the professional life of a successful lawyer. These WOM practices are the brass ring. Having a practice driven 85-100% by referrals means you have arrived. It's not the beginning or even the middle of the journey. It is the ultimate dream destination. 

Get your technological house in order. You do this right, you will be free to practice on your own terms and untethered from a physical space. Get your billing or value pricing down to a science. Back in the Jurassic era lawyers had to spend one or two days a week or month dedicated to getting invoices out and waiting and hoping for a check in the mail by the time the rent was due. Know how

to bill effectively with real time payment software and maintain a steady flow of money and you will keep the lifeblood of your practice flowing. This is critical to less worry. 

So, what are you doing today to market your practice? How much time each week do you dedicate to networking? How many times each month have you scheduled to reach out to colleagues to 'lunch and learn'? Is your website up-to-date? LinkedIn page refreshed? Are you on important social media platforms where your clients gather, to follow thought leaders, engage, and get noticed or are you clicking 'likes' on Facebook while posting another cat meme? It’s all in your hands. Do you want to offload your worry by taking positive actions or wear it like a wet blanket dragging you down? It’s up to you.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Susan Cartier Liebel is a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, Founder & CEO of Solo Practice University®, the only online educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students who want to create and build their solo/small firm practices.

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