In 1976, before many of the readers of this column were born, Jay Foonberg wrote what could realistically be called a groundbreaking book on what was then a new concept – law practice management in starting and building a law practice.
As with any item of value, both Foonberg and his book are still here and even better than ever. And whether you are an experienced or new practitioner, there is much to be learned from Foonberg because he has added a great deal to his books since 1976.
The first book I ever read when I came to the MSBA in 1993 was the first edition of the book, and I have used parts of all the subsequent editions. In fact, one of the first members I met was a solo who carried the book with her just as a reminder of how to run her practice effectively. This month I am going to review the fifth edition of the book, published in 2004. Much has changed since the first book was written, and Foonberg has kept up and addressed all of the issues.
We often skip reading the preface of a book; however, Foonberg has included the preface to all five of the editions here, and I recommend that you read them. It is interesting to see how dramatically the practice of law has changed and how critical it is to keep up with the changes to continue building a successful practice.
The book is divided into nine chapters: Getting Started; Getting Located; Getting Equipped; Getting Clients; Setting Fees; Managing the Law Office; Ethics and Professional Responsibility; Resources and Advice; and Quality of Life. Within each part, there are short topics not more than two or three pages; each topic addresses some question or issue within the particular chapter. All of the information is practical, useful and down to earth.
The first two chapters – which include some topics as “Should I Work on a Job to Get Experience?”, “Naming Your Law Firm”, “Solo Practice v. Partnership v. Shared Office” or “Where Should You Locate Your Law Office” – are specifically for new or almost-new practitioners, with an emphasis on new attorneys.
The other chapters offer great ideas, suggestions and advice for any solo or small firm practitioner, regardless of how many years he/she has been practicing. Even if you have read earlier versions of his books, many more topics have been added, including e-mail and the Internet, law firm mergers and dissolutions, opportunities created by an aging population, non-lawyer consultants, the globalization of legal practice and much more!
The third chapter, Getting Equipped, is less about what specific equipment to purchase than rather how you should approach the choice and use of technology to make certain that you have what you need and are using it most effectively. It will be very helpful for techies and experienced practitioners as well as new solos deciding exactly what they need to start.
In the earlier editions, there were 16 topics on Getting Clients, and all of those are in the fifth edition, but this chapter now contains a total of more than 30 topics. If you have seen his earlier work, it is worthwhile to see what has been added. Since Foonberg continues to teach two “Bridge the Gap” classes in California, his information is always being updated.
The two chapters Setting Fees and Managing the Law Office are must reads for new solos, but many experienced practitioners could certainly learn a new tip or technique to improve their efficiency and lower their stress level. New to the Managing the Office chapter is information about Closing and Disposing of Files and how to create procedures for this. The chapter also includes many forms and checklists, many of which can now be done with some of the mobile devices, but the concepts are still worth reviewing because devices are just tools. It is the procedure and follow-through that are important, not the specific device or technology.
I did not expect the fifth edition to be as useful for both new and experienced practitioners as it turned out to be (and I always like being pleasantly surprised). New practitioners should purchase it immediately and keep it close at hand, referring to it often. Experienced practitioners unfamiliar with the earlier editions will find this book to be extremely helpful and fresh. Those who are familiar with the other versions will find this edition great for reinforcing what you may already know and for finding “new” ways to be even more efficient; you will be impressed by how much updating has been done.
As an MSBA member, you will receive a 30 percent discount off the ABA price, but you must use the code MSBA4YOU when purchasing this (or any other ABA publication). A list of ABA books for solo and small firm practitioners can be found on the Solo Section website at www.msba.org/sec_comm/sections/solo/
. This book can also be downloaded for immediate use at www.abanet.org/abastore
. You can even purchase individual, downloadable chapters for 99 cents apiece. For more information on chapters, go to www.foonberglaw.com/prod/htsab_99_cent_chapters