The combination of the economy, technology and overabundance of lawyers has changed the legal sector. Years ago, “hanging your shingle” and becoming a sole practitioner or a partner in a small firm lawyer was a fall back for many if other, more lucrative options didn’t pan out. Today, out of necessity, many lawyers are becoming [...]
The combination of the economy, technology and overabundance of lawyers has changed the legal sector. Years ago, “hanging your shingle” and becoming a sole practitioner or a partner in a small firm lawyer was a fall back for many if other, more lucrative options didn’t pan out. Today, out of necessity, many lawyers are becoming sole practitioners. Larger firms are “less large” than they used to be and aren’t absorbing as many new lawyers as they did in the recent past. For some, even positions in small firms are nonexistent. Even lawyers with established practices are finding the current environment challenging. Much of the reason is that there are more lawyers in the New York Metro area than a population of clients and potential clients to support them. An attorney I spoke with recently is closing her practice because she found herself competing with nearby firms who were offering the same services at rates she couldn’t afford to match. Lawyers who don’t adapt to the changing times are destined to fail.
Many fields are going through the same changes as law. I recently spoke to a doctor about this. He observed that we will be seeing an increase in the number of nurse practitioners who will replace doctors doing the actual exams while doctors in far off locations will analyze the results of the exam and provide a course of treatment. As a legal technology consultant, I have found myself competing with colleagues who can assist firms remotely while living in less expensive areas of the country. While lawyers are still partially protected by state licensing requirements, corporate, municipal and private clients are putting financial pressures on firms to offer services at lower costs.
So, what can lawyers who see the writing on the wall do to survive and thrive? The easy answer would be to move to a part of the country where there isn’t as much competition. For many, with family and other ties to their communities, this isn’t an option. More realistically, there are many things lawyers can do to adapt to the changing times. Consider your practice areas. Are there a lot of other lawyers in your area who provide similar services? Competing on price is not a good model for long term success.
Don’t just think about local attorneys in your analysis. The impact of outsourcing has been slower to take hold in law because of licensing restrictions that require practitioners to be admitted to the practice of law in particular jurisdictions. Many legal services can now be provided by online services such as LegalZoom. Increasing use of remote access, even within a state, will allow lawyers in areas with lower overhead, to compete with firms in the urban centers.
Successful lawyers will consider these challenges and find ways to adapt their practices. Virtually every aspect of running a firm should be evaluated to find ways to be more competitive and able to provide needed legal services in an affordable manner. Think about how you get the word out to potential clients. As late as the 1980’s, hanging a sign outside your office, sending out announcements, running an ad in the yellow pages combined with word of mouth and doing excellent work was what it took to be a successful lawyer. Today, you need to master social media and be an active participant in getting the word out to potential clients without crossing the line of offering legal advice that could be interpreted as being someone’s representative. You need to worry about bad reviews of your services that can sabotage your efforts. If you are not online now, you need to begin putting your toes in the water. If your town, bar association or other groups that may be good sources for clients have an online community, consider joining it and participating. Offering good advice lets potential clients learn about you and your skills.
In future posts, we’ll explore other tactics you can use to improve your firm’s ability to attract and retain clients.
- Email/ domain name
- Legal Technology
- Billing – rates/ retainers/ regular contact with clients / frequency/ email bills/ staying on top of A/R
- Marketing – newsletter/ blog/ facebook page/ twitter
Some may shift their practice areas or find ways to distinguish their services to provide better results for their clients.