Archive for the ‘Mechanics of Going Solo’ Category

Rent? Own? Or … Home?

Take a look at the article “Saying ‘Good Buy’ To Office Rentals” by Meg Tebo, from ABA Journal’s eReport – available here for some time without subscription. Mary Commander, a Norfolk VA solo, bought her office building back in 2003 when she realized she could own it for the same cost as her then-current rental. She arranged financing through the seller (thus avoiding the hassle of a conventional mortgage) and now brings her cat Bradley to work.

The benefits are obvious – pet visits being just one among many – but there are also downsides for solos, Tebo points out. Might I suggest the third option (or, as Chuck Newton would say, the “third wave” option)? Two words: Home. Office.

I get the best of all possible worlds. True, meeting clients requires some finesse and creativity, but I’ve turned that into a marketing advantage (“no stuffy lawyer’s office – I’ll meet you in a comfortable setting and we’ll have coffee while we chat”…). I truly have experienced no blowback from not having a separate office as a solo. In fact, most lawyers who hear of my set-up get this rather envious look in their eyes.

Are there downsides to a home office? Yes, but I prefer to think of them as “issues to be addressed” which drives home the point that it’s only an obstacle if you let it be – that is, if you don’t do anything about it!  More on making the home office angle work for you next post.

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Do You Have an Emergency Plan If You Get Sick?

All the press about Andrew Speaker, the Georgia solo who has drug-resistant tuberculosis and caused a ruckus after flying home from Europe on a commercial flight, has me thinking lately: what would happen to my clients if I became seriously ill?

Answer: {the sound of crickets chirping ….}

Clearly, I need a plan. So do you. Being inspired means having made sufficient plans for foreseeable emergencies that you no longer have to worry about such things, and can turn that energy into being creative with your practice and your skills. Having a backup solo nearby that you can depend on (and s/he, in turn, can depend on you) will not only help you sleep better at nights and protect your clients’ interests in the event the worst happens, it might also lower your malpractice premiums!

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The Real Value of a Business Plan

NB: Here’s the inaugural post in a new category for Inspired Solo – “Mechanics of Going Solo” in which posts will examine the ins and outs of actually “going solo” the Inspired Solo way.

Meg Tebo, writing for the ABA Journal’s May edition, discusses “The Write Way To Start A Firm” in which she examines the traditional business plan. Diana Laskaris, a consultant and solo in Chicago, offers two reasons to create the plan in writing – to provide a map for the solo, and to “prove the firm’s viability to lenders, landlords or other potential creditors.” Elsewhere in the article, Joe Kopietz, a small firm owner in Michigan, encourages the purchase and use of business planning software.

I disagree.

First of all – a business plan is a document. Nothing more, nothing less. It requires nothing more sophisticated than a working knowledge of a good word processing program. Word or Word Perfect will do just fine. There is truly no need to incur additional expense by purchasing specific software for this purpose, especially not for the budding solo.

Secondly, a business plan may serve those purposes Ms. Laskaris mentions, but that’s not the chief value of the plan. The business plan’s value lies in its evolution and in the process the solo undertakes to get to the “finished” document – “finished” because it’s never truly finished. It is a living breathing thing, that will change. It has to change, because you cannot possibly foresee every possible development or event over the next six months, year, or five years.

I recommend a different approach. Look on your business plan as a journal of sorts – a journal that’s certainly more formal than most journals, but essentially a documentation of your current thinking. Certainly, write down your goals, and outline your plan to get those goals accomplished. But then schedule time on a regular basis (I suggest monthly, but it can be done quarterly) to review that plan and update it to fit the current reality. Measure your progress, as well as the efficacy of those plans. What worked? What didn’t, and why? What can you do to tweak that result or this process or that procedure?

I suggest keeping three business plans, the first two being subsets of a larger document, the third, which is a master document tracking the evolution of your firm (much like a business diary). The first is for internal use only, and it’s the current iteration of the plan. The second would be the trimmed-down version of the first that you’re willing to show to outsiders (those “lenders, landlords and potential creditors”), and it will focus more on firm finances.

It’s not as much work as it sounds like, trust me.

Regardless of whether you agree with the traditional viewpoint, reflected by the commenters in Ms. Tebo’s article, or with my approach (or some third way, completely unique to you), I do agree with Ms. Laksaris and Mr. Kopietz that planning is crucial, and you have to engage in some process designed to focus your thinking about your practice’s future development. A business plan is a great way to do that focused thinking, regardless of how you approach it.

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