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Don’t Sell To Clients That Don’t Need a Lawyer (New Solo Week – Day Three)

An important part of marketing is picking the right market. You don’t want to sell ice to Eskimos. You don’t want to sell heating units to people living on the equator. You don’t want to sell water to people living in the rain forest. You should sell something people want and/or need.

One of the great advantages you bring to the market is that you have a credential – a law license – that is required if someone is to sell most of the services you might offer. Most people can’t sell legal services and you can. That’s a critical advantage over everyone else in the marketplace. It’s important for you to fully leverage every advantage you’ve earned.

Do two things – (1) sell a service that requires a law license, and (2) sell a service that is perceived as requiring a lawyer. Don’t build a practice around helping with a legal problem that most clients believe doesn’t require an attorney.

I keep running into attorneys trying to build a practice in a market where they aren’t fully leveraging their licenses. For example, child support enforcement is an area where most of the work is done by non-lawyers. Government caseworkers and IV-D agents handle most of these cases. The opposing party is usually pro se. The involvement of non-lawyers and self-represented parties drives down the fees. Don’t go there.

Stay away from areas of the law that are largely handled without attorneys or with the help of non-lawyers. Every state is a bit different. Avoid things like unemployment benefits appeals, social security disability cases and, even, mediation. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make a living handling these cases, I know some very successful lawyers handling social security cases and doing mediation. I am, however, suggesting that these are probably the toughest markets for growing a sustainable practice for someone new to a practice. More and more non-lawyers will step in to these roles and the anti-lawyer bias will provide momentum for these people. Lack of perceived need, low fees, lots of competition and a built-in bias – it’s a lot like selling ice to Eskimos.

We can go round and round about whether these clients would be better off with a lawyer over going pro se or hiring a non-lawyer. I’m not going to disagree with you about the need for lawyers. But, realistically, you don’t want to count on one of these markets as your source of income. If you’re new to practice you need to find a practice area that really requires a law license and put yours to work on behalf of your clients.

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  • Kimberly Graham

    As someone building a mediation practice in a state where non-lawyers can mediate, I find this topic a great one. There is a new(ish) book out there, haven’t read it but a friend told me about it. It’s called “Do You!” Meaning, be you, not someone else. Harness who you are, your innate strengths and talents and use them. Meditation is “me.” I feel an energy and flow with mediation that I don’t feel anywhere else. It’s also amazing to watch clients reach settlement and see their wheels spinning as they realize the Tupperware isn’t worth the money to fight over it. Mediation is only required in 2 counties here (don’t ask) but even so, more and more people are interested in it and requesting it. Many folks here don’t realize you can reach settlement that way and that you don’t have to go to court to get divorced, so there is a lot of educating to do. I plan to do it.

    I do feel that flow in the courtroom as well and I’m a successful litigator, but truly don’t believe litigation should be the first choice for the majority of families in divorce. It starts the process off on an adversarial footing and especially when children are involved, that is usually a bad thing.

    • Lee Rosen

      Makes sense. It’s tough if being you doesn’t match up with earning the income required to meet your needs. I wish we had more help figuring out how to “be you” before we spent $150,000 on law school.


      • Kimberly Graham

        Amen, Lee. Seriously.

  • Dana K. West

    Heck, I wish law school taught us how to get out there and practice law, not just pass the Bar exam. I figure for $50,000- $150,000 we should actually get taught how to make a living, don’t you? Especially with how many new attorneys are coming out of law school and opening up their own practices, it seems like it would be a good thing to have already acquired some knowledge and skill necessary to do so. Maybe students wouldn’t take a Marketing for Lawyers, or Marketing for Solo Practitioners class, over other options, but I think some might. Especially at a school like mine, where we attended in the evening, didn’t have the benefit of summer internships, and were more likely to be transitioning from non-legal positions into full-time practice (most commonly, into solo or small firm practice). The closest my school got to this was offering a class on making a business plan.

    Lee, have you thought about teaching a course at one of the local law schools? Although your knowledge stems from experience in a family law firm, I think it can be generally applied to ANY law firm. Just a thought/suggestion.


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Lee Rosen

Lee Rosen has practiced family law for more than twenty years. With four offices, Rosen Law Firm serves Raleigh, Charlotte, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Rosen served as the Law Practice Management Editor of the ABA Family Advocate for more than a decade and received the ABA James Keane Award for excellence in eLawyering. He served as Chair of the Law Practice Management Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, is a frequent speaker and is often sought out by the media as a source of family law insight and commentary.