Supporting Solos and Small Firms – Carey R. Dunne

 Carey Dunne

President’s Column, March 2014

One of the fastest-growing segments of the New York City Bar Association’s membership is solo and small-firm practitioners. This fact tracks one of the findings in our report on “New Lawyers in a Changing Profession,” which is that the number of new lawyers practicing in very small firms or as solo practitioners has doubled since 2007.

For some, we know, this is not by choice but by economic necessity, as many of the larger firms are downsizing. This is where organizations like the City Bar can step in to provide the training for new lawyers that large firms have traditionally provided. The City Bar New Lawyer Institute is being set up to provide such training.

At the same time, many lawyers are solo or in small firms by choice, and it’s a choice every bit as valid as working in a large firm. As long as there have been lawyers, lawyers have hung out shingles.

The City Bar’s Small Law Firm Center is in the shingle business, so to speak. In fact, its latest resource for solos and small operations is a “virtual shingle.” Through the Virtual Law Firm Program, City Bar members can get a midtown Manhattan address, with mail drop, use of conference rooms in our landmark building, and more.

Serving the needs of solo and small-firm practitioners, who do not have the infrastructure of the larger law firms and institutional employers, is a key function of the Association. On the business and professional development front, the City Bar’s Small Law Firm Committee oversees monthly luncheons and networking groups that help solo and small-firm practitioners develop their skills, market their practices, and generate referrals, and the Committee and Small Law Firm Center present other programming with a similar focus. For example, this spring we are presenting a three-part series that will provide hands-on assistance in setting up a blog, an e-newsletter and a social media presence. Participants will be able to bring their laptops and leave with a finished product. Throughout the year, there are dozens more law practice management programs, and each November a Small Law Firm Symposium, a full day of workshops on how to start and effectively run one’s own law firm, with extensive networking opportunities and an exhibit hall of vendors that cater to the needs of solo and small firm owners. For lawyers in firms with fewer than 10 lawyers, there are additional discounts, over and above the discounts City Bar members already receive, on over 150 CLE programs each year.

City Bar members have access to an abundance of other benefits of special interest to solos and small-firm lawyers. These include free access to our renowned library, which contains the largest collection of U.S. and New York State appellate court briefs anywhere. Also available free are Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis databases and, for firms of fewer than 25 lawyers, HeinOnline, which includes extensive collections of law reviews, government documents and historic legal materials.  Free legal research, free conference rooms and the Virtual Law Firm program provide quite a cost-effective start-up model for newly born solo and small firm practices.

Perhaps the greatest resource our Small Law Firm Center offers is human: Alla Roytberg, the Center’s Director. City Bar members are entitled to a free practice management/brainstorming session with Alla, and additional consultations can be scheduled for a discounted fee of $50 per session. As someone who has run her own practice for years, Alla advises from experience.

Another great resource that can be hard to find for solos and small-firm lawyers wrapped up in their practices is other lawyers. In particular, every lawyer should have the opportunity to find a mentor. The Small Law Firm Center, in conjunction with the City Bar’s Legal Referral Service, whose panels consist mostly of seasoned solo and small firm practitioners, offers a form of mentoring matchmaking service. There are various scenarios available, from advice on practice-related questions for a reduced fee, to co-counseling on cases with shared workloads and fees. A new “Mentoring Circles” program, which brings solo and small firm practitioners in different practice areas together to network and brainstorm monthly in a small group setting, has been very popular with members who see it as an opportunity to network, share knowledge, exchange referrals and manage caseloads. Look for announcements of additional spots opening up in the mentoring circles this summer.

Last but certainly not least, solo and small firm practitioners, like all City Bar members, can benefit from participation in the Association’s 150 committees and seek pro bono opportunities through the City Bar Justice Center and the Vance Center for International Justice.

For more information about all of these programs, plus additional benefits and deals for solos and small-firm lawyers, please visit our Small Law Firm Center.