Chapter 18 - Avoiding the Most Common Mistake of Solos with Client Bases
How is it that so many solos out there have decent client bases but are still on the verge of broke, living paycheck to paycheck and wondering if law school was worth it? Perhaps they carry too much overhead. This was covered in the first few chapters. Too much overhead is a sure way to minimize a lawyer's pay and satisfaction. Read those chapters again if you have begun to question the lessons of them.
On another note, many of these lawyers just do not know how to pick clients. They are so eager to have clients that these attorneys act like sex-starved cats - not discriminating in the least.
Here is what happens when you take clients who cannot afford the going rate: You get multitudes of clients who cannot afford you. This might sound like a good initial problem to have, but it is a horrible problem. You do not believe this? Go look at all those struggling lawyers with lots of clients. They cannot get away from it. They have pigeon-holed themselves. These clients' cases last for months, and some can last for a couple of years or more. They go on… and on…. and on…. and the client cannot afford to pay you anywhere close to what you are worth. Maybe you are averaging about what your pizza delivery guy makes.
This is no way to go. But you signed them up. What are you going to do? You can withdraw, perhaps. But it is work to withdraw. Now, you are doing all the work to withdraw for… you guessed it... no money.
"On the flip-side, he's really not a bad guy, and he pays $100 or so when he can." Now, you have started your own corporate culture. It clamps its tentacles into your psyche. It emotionally drives you to keep making bad decisions. You are guaranteed a miserable life if you do not select your clients well from the starting gate. It is better to have no work than to take grossly sub-par work. Decent work will come along if you follow the advice in this book. Wait for it, be discriminating, and catch the clients who can pay you enough to make you happy cleaning up after their messes.
You will have to become comfortable with idle time - lots of it. If you missed this, here it is again: You will have to become comfortable with idle time - lots of it. But that is okay. When you really make $200+ an hour for a real hour, it is a good living at two hours a day. Have fun when you do not have work. Do not load up on miserable work that does not pay.
Do not let clients who paid well in the beginning suddenly stop paying. Keep the pressure on them. If they are tapped, try to wrap up their matter expeditiously and with minimal work (assuring the maintenance of good professional standards). If you are smack in the middle of the matter with tons of work to go and the client is irretrievably tapped, you have to get off the case. This should be either the client's fault or just bad luck. It should never be your fault. You should make it clear up-front that litigation is expensive and that your client needs to be financially capable of going the distance - whatever that might entail. At least this way, the client must admit that it was uncertain and the client took the risk anyway.
What about pro bono? Is this a good way to start a client base? How about we answer a question with another question? Have you ever handed out a piece of cheese to a dog? You are bound to get the same dog over and over, and if there are other dogs witnessing this gracious act of charity, they are sure to be there as quick as they can. The simple answer is, "no."
"But in law school, they taught us all about giving back to the community. They told us the giving comes back in spades." Frankly, it does feel good to do a nice deed here and there. This book does not aim to discourage this. But remember, you have $150,000 in student loans and are broke. Let the law professors do the pro bono work while you get on your feet and away from the brink of credit default. Sure, you can count on pro bono work for giving you the satisfaction of a true act of charity. But if you expect to build a practice that way, you need to start back at page 1 of this book.
Routinely, you will see, as you establish in practice and get out and meet other established attorneys, those attorneys who regularly do $20,000 worth of work on a case where they have been paid $3,000. And you wonder why they doubt whether law school was a good idea? Law school was fine… except it did not teach them the art of making money. Thinking is not making money. Foregoing money is not making money.
© 2015, Jeff M