The General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section's 2nd Annual
Symposium, on May 10 from noon to 5:30 p.m., with a reception to
follow, will be held at Lombardo's in Randolph, to address a range
of issues to assist solo practitioners and small-firm members on
how to move forward in today's legal climate. To register, see
insert or visit www.MassBar.org.
Christina O'Neill spoke with the GPSSF Vice Chair and conference
Program Chair Scott Goldberg about this year's conference.
Q: What are the primary topics on the minds of the
small-firm and solo practitioners who will be attending this
A: From what we hear from our members, cash flow is the foremost
concern and critical element to success. Other issues include
staying within your knowledgeable area and not practicing in areas
you know nothing about. It appears that the day of the general
practice for a solo practitioner is done. The law - and the
practice of law - has become much more complex. Networking is one
of the ways a lot of these issues can be addressed.
A significant factor that affects cash flow for solo practitioners
and small firms is the cut in court funding. If you can't get a
trial date, then you'll have difficulty getting cases resolved.
There are sessions without judges, without clerks and without
jurors. The MBA is addressing this problem on a larger scale, but I
think it affects the solo practitioner and small firm even more
than a large firm. In addition to supporting court funding, we can
-- and should -- network to share ideas and refer cases.
Q: What else?
A: Another way to address the delay in closing cases is through
the growing trend of alternative dispute resolution-mediation and
arbitration. So, we will have a section on ADR, but we will be
presenting it from a different perspective, from a judge's
perspective. We will include presentations from a currently sitting
judge who willingly assists in settlement negotiations, and from
two former judges, now in the private businesses of mediation and
arbitration who have seen cases from the bench, not just as an
The session will provide guidance on how to address settlement and
negotiation for a case that's in suit, and in private mediation and
private arbitration. The idea is that it fits within the concerns
of a small-firm and solo practitioner, who is going to have to be
skilled at ADR, because if you're waiting for your cases go to
trial, you may not be able to wait financially. Large firms don't
have cash flow issues like that.
It becomes essential to move cases appropriately, to close cases.
One of those important ways is ADR, and the courts are advocating
its use. Private ADR has grown tremendously in the past couple of
years. That can be expensive too.
Q: How will the format differ from last year's session, which we
understand was fully attended?
A: Last year, we held the section's first symposium and there was
a lot of interest in what we were presenting. While it was a huge
success - standing room only - we also learned a great deal about
the issues on our members' minds, and tried to create this year's
symposium to address issues that are at the forefront for solo
practitioners and small-firm members.
This symposium has several different themes, such as looking at
how practices can be run now, in the present and into the future.
And there are, for example, considerations that exist now that
didn't exist a year ago or exist in a different context, with
Q: Such as what?
A: We will have a section on running our law practice from outside
the office. Speakers will address technological advances such as
mobile e-mail, the iPad and tablets, and smartphones, and include a
specific presentation on cloud computing that can be advantageous
for a solo practice or a small-firm member. Out of the office time
is no longer downtime. Every small practice has to keep an eye on
cost, more so than a midsize firm. How can we reduce costs and
offer better client service at the same time? We think
technological advances will help us do that.
And always a present consideration, through all we discuss, is how
to do it ethically.
Q: What are the ethical concerns?
A: For example, these considerations include what an attorney may
ethically include in cloud computing; how does one store it
confidentially; and what is better off not in cloud computing? We
may not have all the answers to this because it's all new, but our
speakers will address the issues and foster a sharing of ideas. Our
goal is that when members move forward, productivity and ethical
concerns to their clients move forward, too.
Another session will address different types of business models
from the view of a small-firm or solo practitioner, which may shape
the future of a practice's structure. The trend has been for large
firms to be breaking down into small firms, and small firms
breaking down into solo practices. The practice of law is no longer
limited to a certain number of partners and associates, or solo
practitioners. Space sharing and outsourcing will influence what a
future firm might look like.
So part of our discussion will be about business models that
include space sharing and associations. We're going to have
presenters address both of those aspects. One of the developing
trends is to share resources and create networks, of which we will
have an entire session and networking reception. A solo
practitioner may have his or her own practice but does not have to
feel or practice all alone.
Q: How does one go about that?
A: We will focus on the different aspects of networking. How do
you do it as a solo practitioner, or as a small firm, and who in
the firm does it? There are differences and similarities.
Also, as an associate in a firm, how do you network within your
position as an associate? Different firms have differing emphasis
on the associate's role. Some put emphasis on bringing in cases,
some want to build a client base that makes them more valuable to
the firm. Some attorneys want to build a client base for the
future. So we will have representative speakers from these
different groups discuss networking from the perspective of a solo
practitioner to a small firm and as an associate.
And as is common, there are ethical considerations all along the
way, as well as practical and financial considerations.
Q: How are ethics influenced by policy
A: Certain policy changes affect ethical concerns. The new changes
to contingency fee agreements are a good example of how solo and
small firms differ from large firms, and are on the minds of our
members. There's no one way to do it. We're going to present
options on how to do it ethically.
Our speaker will offer guidance to solo practitioners and small
firms. We will also have a speaker address accepting cases,
declining cases, and what a small-firm or solo practitioner should
be considering in making the decision to do one or the other, as
well as withdrawing from a case. All lawyers, but especially small
firms and solo practitioners, have to be aware of ethical
considerations throughout their practices.
Q: Is it easier to decline a case than to withdraw from
A: Well, it's probably easier to decline a case than to withdraw
from it at a later time, but easiest isn't always - or even often -
best. Not only has the practice of law dramatically changed in the
25 years I've been practicing personal injury law, tort law itself
has dramatically changed.
Years ago, many lawyers practiced a little personal injury law and
got away with it. My personal belief is that you can't do that any
longer. The law is much more complicated and much more specific.
And to best represent your client, you need to be well-versed in
the subtleties in personal injury law, just as you would in another
area of law, such as probate law. Networking is a great way to
consult with other skilled attorneys.
And this affects client representation. A case can settle for the
same amount with two different lawyers and yet the client can have
a different net recovery solely as a byproduct of how much the
lawyer knows about the ins and outs of managing the case -
negotiating liens for example. We hope to share that information
and networking ideas so we can all do a better job for our
We will also look at ethical concerns into the future. One of our
speakers will address the ethics of social media. We could do a
whole day on that. If you are considering using social media, which
everyone will shortly, you need to keep ethical considerations in
mind from the beginning. It is intended to be the start of an
ongoing discussion as firms move forward.
Q: Isn't the structure of social media a direct challenge to
A: It certainly doesn't have to be. Social media can be used to
spread what you do and what you have to offer, but it's not
designed to discuss a specific client. For example, I may share
information through social media on the rights of injured police
officers, which is my concentration. That would be useful
information for all police officers before and after they get
injured, but I would not discuss the representation of any
particular officer. You need to know where the ethical line is, or
at least have the line in mind.
Q: Who is working with you and what are your expectations for the
A: I'm chairing the symposium and my co-chairs are Alan Klevan, a
skilled solo and small-firm suburban attorney, and Rodney Dowell,
who is, among other responsibilities, the director of the
Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP). The
three of us have brought our different perspectives together to
come up with a comprehensive schedule and dynamic speakers.
Following the presentation sessions, we will have a networking
reception. Last year, we held the event at the MBA offices. It was
standing room only. We wanted to do more this year, without being
space-confined. We will start with a working lunch and end with a
We hope and expect that attendees will get a lot of practical
information and a lot of good ideas - opportunities to get some of
their questions answered, and meet new people and expand their
networks, which in and of itself is invaluable. And of course, we
welcome any associate, solo practitioner or small firm to join the
GPSSF Section so they don't have to go it alone.
For more information about speakers and topics, or to register, go
to www.massbar.org/events/calendar. The cost is
$100 for MBA members and $150 for nonmembers.