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2012: The Year of The Solo Practitioner and Small Firm

Hey there. I’m Matthew and I’m the latest addition to the Sociable Lawyer family. Although I’m new to Sociable Lawyer, I’m not new to the world of blogging. Some of you may have heard of my other site, Turntable Kitchen, where I work with my foodie wife to pair new music with food to introduce foodies to music and music fans to healthy recipes.

I’m also a California-licensed attorney, and over the course of my career I’ve interned with solo practitioners, worked as an associate at a large, international law firm, and worked in the trenches with a small, boutique-style firm. At most of those firms my colleagues have often referred to me as the “tech guy” of the firm. And, with that in mind, over the course of the next few months I’ll be contributing regularly to this site providing you tips and tricks for how to use social media and new technology to better market yourself, network with other professionals and make your practice more efficient.

But first I’m going start by telling you something you already know. Specifically, the world is a very different place from the world we lived in ten years ago. Technology has changed in important ways. Our phones are powerful mini-computers with Internet access. We can use iPads while riding in public transit, sitting in the hallway at the Courthouse and while waiting for a flight at the airport. Every day new apps, software and websites are born that can be harnessed to make our lives more efficient.

Social media has changed even more dramatically. As many as 800 million people (and many companies) have profiles on Facebook, a website that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. YouTube is the third most visited website on the Internet, and it also didn’t exist 10 years ago. Companies across the globe are scrambling to find ways to connect with potential customers via 140 character messages on Twitter, a site which didn’t exist even 5 years ago. And personal blogs and websites have become regular, daily destinations for many Internet users.

These new technologies, social media, and the resultant changes in clients’ expectations are changing the face of the legal industry (like all other industries). As a result of these changes, I believe that now is the perfect time for an attorney to venture off into solo practice or to make a significant difference in a small firm. In case you have any question about whether I truly believe that, I should add that last month I put in notice at the firm I was working with in order to hang my own shingle. I started 2012 as a solo practitioner by choice. I couldn’t be more excited.

So why is now the best time to be a solo practitioner or small firm? Although it has been said many times in many ways, it is worth repeating: the legal industry is one of the slowest industries to evolve to adapt to new technology. During an interview at a law firm in San Francisco (a city almost synonymous with high tech) I was asked if I knew how to use email. That was just over a year ago. The interviewer, probably noticing the bemused expression on my face, explained that they had recently hired a middle-aged attorney with an impressive resume who they only later discovered didn’t know how to use email. Apparently at his old firm the attorney would dictate emails to his assistant who would send them for him. Presumably the cost of this inefficiency was passed on to the client who had to pay for both the attorney to dictate the letter and the assistant to type and send each email from this guy.

Of course, that is admittedly an extreme example. Still, many law firms don’t have a true Twitter or Facebook presence. In fact, far from embracing these powerful tools, my own experience as well as that of many of my friends in the legal industry would suggest that associates at many firms are not even permitted to access Twitter or visit Facebook while they are at work. Not only do I find such policies to be offensive to an attorney’s professionalism, but they demonstrate a lack of understanding as to how these tools can be used to generate new business and promote the firm’s brand name. It is my opinion that not only should the partners be promoting the practice via social media, but that an enlightened firm understands that the firm’s associates can play an important role in promoting the firm’s reputation.

Although I can speculate as to the many reasons why this is true, some (but not all) large firms tend to be behind the curve when it comes to understanding the potential for new tools available to lawyers. My goal in the months to come will be to share with you my ideas for ways that attorneys should be utilizing everyday tools that we take for granted like email and shared calendars to improve their practice; to suggest ways that attorneys can invoke new applications like Yammer and Evernote to simplify office collaboration; and how attorneys can implement Facebook, Twitter and WordPress to better market themselves. By embracing some (or all) of these tools, you can improve your practice, discover new business, and network with other cutting-edge attorneys like yourself.


  1. Marjorie Garcia says:

    Great work Matthew. Looking forward to your next blog!

  2. Daniel Gold says:

    Matthew – awesome post and great to see you’re on Rocket Lawyer. Kasey told me today. I posted great feedback on Google+ and Twitter, but thought I’d add my 2 cents here as well.

    I really think that this is an outstanding post I can almost guarantee that you are right. Here’s why: as an attorney myself and a consultant to the largest law firms in the southeast US, I have seen tremendous trends in the technology and electronic discovery space for the last 6 years.

    One of the biggest trends is the slow adoption of the legal vertical as a whole to new technologies such as social media and tools like Evernote. While you cite to an amusing example of an attorney who dictated e-mails to his assistant, it’s very true. It happens more than most think! It happened at my practice, too!! The larger an organization – law firm or general business – the slower they are willing to change. Why? Risk. It’s a big fear factor. And rightfully so.

    So why are solo and small law practitioners poised to rise to new levels in 2012? Because they can. Because they’re agile and can take risks that allow them to differentiate themselves in big ways. This allows them to market themselves in bolder ways and trim billable hours while getting more done by showcasing how they use social media like Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, and tools like Evernote to collaborate with their clients. All of which are in effort to education, consult, and collaborate in bigger, bolder ways than ever before.

    I predict many awesome things are to come this year and we are on the forefront of some awesome innovations! Nice job again, Matthew, and I’m looking forward to your future posts.


  3. Welcome to solo practice. As a recent solo attorney, I found your article really helpful! thanks