Do Bar Associations Really Benefit Solos?
Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.
“The hierarchy of the State Bar is not at all concerned with solos.”
“The truth is that the [state bar] is just not relevant to the majority of …lawyers.”
“Solos have been left out.”
“The ABA doesn’t do anything for solo and small firm lawyers.”
“Solos have a tight operating budget and I haven’t seen the ABA as a huge value for the money.”
These quotes come from statements in online articles and discussion forums, as well as comments made to me. Attorneys complain about bar dues and their perception that bar associations pander to big law firms, providing very little value to solos. When I delve into the subject with them, however, they often come away surprised at the extent of resources available that they were unaware of.
This post is not a defense of bar associations. I see lots of room for improvement. It’s not an indictment of lawyers, either. They are swamped with trying to manage information overload, rapidly evolving technology and increasing client demands.
This post will show you a smattering of the benefits available to solos in hopes that it will spur you to do your own investigation. Since I’m in Texas, you’ll see a lot of Texas references. If your own bar association doesn’t provide similar resources, show them these examples and make specific requests to your bar representatives.
Legal Research Tools
Most state bar associations provide some kind of free access for their members to legal research tools for statutes, codes and case law. Casemaker has arrangements with 26 bar associations. Fastcase provides free statutes, case law and forms online for members of 20 bar associations. LoisLaw is available free to bar members in some states, such as New York. Pennsylvania provides free access to InCite by LexisNexis.
Members of the State Bar of Texas can also subscribe for a fee to an Online Library which provides access to articles from prior TexasBarCLE courses. It is available for free to College of the State Bar of Texas members.
Starting a Practice
Often bar associations have resources and guidance on starting a practice. The Texas Young Lawyers Association created Office in a Flash with tips and sample forms on a flash drive or online, as well as the video “Hanging Out Your Shingle: Things to Consider Before Starting Your Own Practice”. The Massachusetts Bar has a Start-Up Kit that contains checklists and advice.
Determining Where to Practice
Some state bars publish demographic information that can help you determine where your services may be in highest demand, reasonable fees to charge for your services, and what income ranges you might expect
Demographic and Economic Trends for Texas Attorneys – See the attorney population density, median hourly rates and median attorney income by county, practice area, age, etc., as well as other demographic information. The ABA Market Research Department provides information and links about various legal demographics and resources, and California has some demographics and a member survey report.
Marketing Your Services
Here are some examples of how bar associations help lawyers learn how to market their services:
Massachusetts: LOMAP’s free Super Marketing Conference free (May 26, 2011)
Texas: Tools for Winning New Clients
New York: Marketing/Client Development resources
Pennsylvania: Law Firm Marketing & Business Development
Connecting with Other Lawyers
A high percentage of lawyers still get most of their business through referrals from other lawyers. We all benefit from consulting with colleagues about thorny issues or just to avoid “reinventing the wheel.” Bar associations provide ample opportunities for building relationships with and learning from other lawyers through meetings, CLE seminars, committees and events. Some bar associations also provide online opportunities for connection. Here are a few:
TexasBarCircle is a social media platform similar to LinkedIn, for Texas Bar members only. Lawyers create discussion groups based on geographic location, practice focus, law schools, outside interests, etc. They seek advice, look for other lawyers to refer matters to, announce office space for lease and discuss timely topics.
The Pennsylvania Bar has an online Solo and Small Firm Practice Section listserv. SoloSezTM is the ABA’s GP, Solo and Small Firm Division’s extremely active listserv with around 3,000 members discussing legal issues, technology, practice management and many other law-related topics useful to solos. California has a Lawyer to Lawyer Network for members of the Solo and Small Firm Section.
Dealing with Difficulties
Most state bar associations have a confidential Lawyer Assistance Program for helping lawyers deal with problems of stress, burnout, substance abuse, depression and mental illness. Here are links to a few examples:
Resolving fee Disputes
Many state bar associations provide a service for assisting attorneys and clients in resolving fee disputes. By way of example here are links to information about some state programs.
Somewhere in the ABA Blawg list you will find opinions on just about any question you may have relating to the practice of law. Here are a few other kinds of resources:
Ten Minute Mentor – free brief video tutorials by practicing lawyers in Texas
Texas Survival Guide for Young Lawyers
Massachusetts General Practice, Solo & Small Firm section offers practice help, including documents and forms, for its members
New York: Solo/Small Firm Resource Center
General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division of the ABA provides numerous tips and resources.
ABA Solo & Small Firm Technology Center gives timely and topical advice on legal technology.
Law Practice Management
The ABA Law Practice magazine and Law Practice Today online are full of useful articles about law practice management and technology. Massachusetts provides free or very inexpensive consultation on law office management issues, by appointment through its Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP). They also have some free training programs, such as the upcoming Limited Assistance Representation Training Program on May 28, 2011.
You already pay the dues. Make some phone calls or get online, and get your money’s worth!
Adapted from a post by the author originally published in Solo Practice University™ Blog on 4/21/11. © 2010 Debra L. Bruce.