Back to School: Solo Practice Tools (And Why Law Students Should Care)

In my fourth and final back to school post, I want to focus on a segment of university students that has a particular place in my heart: law students. Law school is three years of unrelenting work under a structured and regimented curriculum. Courses are designed to prepare future attorneys to think critically, analyze legal issues, and formulate rational and persuasive arguments, among other things. But there are some things that many law schools don’t teach: for example, solo practice tools that are essential to running an efficient law practice. Under-taught in law schools, this is a constantly evolving area, which makes staying current difficult.

But for young attorneys who enter the profession with plans of running their own law practice, there is a quick realization that the operational aspects of running a law practice are anything but straightforward. Efficiency is the name of the game for solo and small-firm practitioners. It’s essential that young attorneys come out of school with a firm understanding of the practical challenges – and existing solo practice tools available to help them.

After years as a solo Colorado defense practitioner, I’m doubling down on my commitment to the Colorado law community by sharing the tricks and tools that help me and Nicol Gersch Law, LLC succeed.  Admittedly, I’m at an advantage because I have an undergraduate business degree, including a major in accounting, and I’m also a licensed real estate broker… Both of these things give me a leg up in running my own business, but don’t take it to heart if you don’t have these things in your arsenal–just ask someone who does! I’m always happy to help mentor and teach younger attorneys and students!

Help with Scheduling & Calendar Management

Lawyers who have their appointment reminders spread across multiple Post-It notes, penciled into a paper calendar, or jotted throughout the pages of a journal are in trouble – or probably will be someday. You can’t miss client calls and meetings. You absolutely can’t miss court deadlines and hearings.

Commonsense advice suggests that you should have all of your appointments and deadlines in a single calendar system. Even better, have that system be digital so it can help you remember and anticipate conflicts. (If your current calendar can’t tell you that your felony assault trial is scheduled the same afternoon as your daughter’s dance recital … well … good luck with that.)

Better still, how about letting your clients proactively schedule consultations and appointments? My calendar, and more specifically my availability for initial client consultations, is synched to my firm’s contact form, so that prospective clients can conveniently work around their availability. And this happens to also be more convenient for me. But a huge caveat here: when you’re allowing others to populate your calendar, think strategically. Don’t open up the entire calendar and  remember to block off time for your other appointments and deadlines.  Your scheduling system should integrate with your existing online calendar (and if you maintain a personal calendar separate from your business calendar, integrate with that, too). Which brings me to …

Task & Team Management

… managing and coordinating all your client meetings, case deadlines, personal appointments, and family obligations. Being a solo practitioner requires you to be an expert in time management. I don’t know if I’ve reached “expert” status yet, but I’ve certainly discovered some solo practice tools that work for me and my firm.  After years of experimenting with various task and team management tools, I have happily settled on Trello. (Which is free.) You can organize tasks by topic, client, timeframe – whatever. You can assign deadlines (and then sync those with your calendar). And you can integrate online document storage tools, like Google Drive and Dropbox (which are free, unless you need bigger storage).

But that’s not all: Trello is also an amazing project and team management tool. I may be a “solo” practitioner, but I employ a team of paralegals, copyeditors, marketing consultants, and other freelance support staff. Coordinating work that has overlapping deadlines across multiple people and companies can be an incredible time suck. Having a platform that aligns the team around projects, tasks, deliverables, and deadlines creates game-changing internal efficiencies.

Client Intake Automation

While every case is unique – something that law students will hear throughout their education – the reality is that there are certain questions you need to ask and key pieces of information you need to collect before you can even talk to a potential client. Think about the data points you need for a conflict check. Consider the high-level case information (date, issue, status, etc.) that you need to inform a meaningful initial consultation.

Finally, don’t discount potential client preference. Most people these days would prefer to fill out an online form and have you contact them. Fortunately, honoring this preference will save you time! I have Type Form imbedded into my firm’s online scheduling process. With every appointment a potential client schedules, I get complete client intake information.  This lets me look up their case before our initial consultation, run a conflict check, and even start gathering some background information before I even have the first phone call.

Follow the latest trends in practice management

There’s not a challenge out there that I haven’t faced as a solo practitioner. It’s not an easy path for a law student to take – but there’s no doubt that it’s a rewarding path. Trust me on that! And the key to succeeding is keeping abreast of rapidly evolving practice management solutions.

I am fortunate enough to be in a position now to share the lessons I’ve learned over the years as a solo Colorado defense attorney. Whether you are a law student, a young attorney, or a seasoned practitioner looking to hang a single, you have to understand how to run an efficient and technology empowered solo practice.

I’ll be running a series this fall that explores innovations in practice management, including lessons learned, pros/cons of current software solutions, and what practitioners should be planning for as automation becomes more sophisticated. Check back here soon or follow me on Twitter to get notified of blog releases!