Growing ranks of solo practitioners underscore the need for resources
Recent surveys suggest more and more freshly minted lawyers are bypassing the temptation to work at a law firm straight out of law school and are instead hanging out their shingles as solo practitioners. A recent survey of the Minnesota Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co. (MLM), which provides malpractice insurance along with risk management services, found that more than 19 percent of solo practitioners polled have five or fewer years of practice experience, with 9 percent having two years or fewer.
The seeming surge in solos highlights the fact that going it alone isn’t easy for any lawyer, let alone an inexperienced one. Handling billing, office administration and client development can be overwhelming. For that reason MLM and the Minnesota State Bar Association are working together and separately to provide support and resources for the swelling ranks of solos.
MLM recently debuted Roadmap to Start a Law Practice, a series of web-based modules designed to show young lawyers some of the nuts and bolts of starting and growing a practice. Many of the modules are focused on avoiding malpractice problems, but a number of others zero in on general topics, such as essential practice components and key areas to consider when establishing a practice. The site also contains downloadable law practice management booklets; workbooks for business financials and budgets; and various forms, templates and checklists.
Jayne Harris, MLM’s vice president of business development, said the group compiled the resources in response to mounting evidence that while the number of young solos was growing, many of those baby lawyers weren’t armed with the skills and resources needed to establish a successful practice.
“The profile of a solo firm had really changed in last few years,” Harris said. “The Carnegie Report and other studies show that there are key competencies that new lawyers tend to lack, such as procedural law, organizing and management of legal work — all things that tie into the things we’re really concerned about from a practice perspective.”
She pointed to 2010 findings from the Association for Legal Career Professionals that pointed out that 5.9 percent of new law school graduates are pursuing solo practice. But while setting up shop, they’re dealing with huge debt and probably don’t have spare money to spend on CLE courses.
“They still need resources,” Harris said. “By developing tools and resources in tandem with bar associations and other groups, together we can provide some cost-effective solutions and put them at reduced risk of malpractice.”
The MLM modules are free for MLM members and were scheduled to go live at the end of March. Free access to the site will also be offered to Minnesota State Bar Association members via its PracticeLaw Web portal.
Angie Hoppe, an MLM claims attorney, said the goal is to create a platform that is responsive to the needs of new solo practitioners. “It’s great to have all this information put together, but we don’t want it to be just a flat, static resource,” she said. “We want it to grow.”
One way Hoppe has been working toward that goal has been by dropping in on a relatively new resource MSBA is offering its members: monthly meetings and online discussion groups aimed at solos trying to establish their practices. PracticePack (www.practicelaw.org/432) is focused on lawyers going straight from law school to solo or small firm practice, discussing the process of moving on after graduating and the trials of job searching.
Started in late 2010, PracticePack usually meets the third Tuesday of the month from about 8 to 10 a.m. Andrea Hable, MSBA’s attorney editor and proprietor of her own practice, said attendance at the meetings is usually between five and 15 young lawyers.
“It was an acknowledgment by the bar association that there are a lot of new lawyers out there who need some support,” she said. “It started with the hope that we could offer new solos some tech assistance and help them get some discounted services, but the biggest benefit has been the camaraderie of getting together monthly.”
Hable said the meetings, which are free for MSBA members, are informal, and carry no CLE credit. While there’s often a speaker or a main topic, there’s usually time at the end for practice-related questions.
“There are numerous issues discussed,” she said. “How do ethics rules apply to real practical things we deal with? How does solicitation rule apply if I’m at a networking event? How do I deal with client? How do I set fees? How do I define the scope of my recommendation? Where do I find a mentor?
“Young solos tend to have many of the same concerns,” Hable said, “so we try to address those.”
Minnesota CLE is another legal resource that is starting new initiatives to help solo lawyers. Its board of directors recently approved funding for programming aimed at new attorneys, especially solos. One of those programs, a seven-part series called Foundations of Practice, is scheduled to begin April 5. More information here.
Contact Dan Heilman at firstname.lastname@example.org.