Challenges of Small Law Firms & Solo Practices | Part 3: Building a Community

JAN 11, 2023 | PRACTUS LLP

Challenges of Small Law Firms & Solo Practices | Part 3: Building a Community

Authored by Tracey Watson

We’ve covered marketing; we highlighted the logistical and admin side, and now it’s time for part 3 of this series on challenges of small law firms and solo practices –  the lonely aspect of practicing law. This side of managing a law firm is especially relevant if you left a larger law firm with a big staff to go out on your own. We’re discussing how to overcome the feeling of isolation, lack of camaraderie, and minimal support system. Don’t worry – this article isn’t just gloom and doom. It’ll cover strategies and ideas to get you feeling connected again.  

Humans are social creatures. It’s just a fact of life. Most people get their socialization in at work, but when you work for yourself and by yourself, it can get lonely quickly. This is even more true in the legal field when you can’t really talk about all your work due to confidentiality. Oftentimes, it feels like fellow attorneys are the only ones that actually get it, right? 

Most people are ecstatic when they finally get to say goodbye to office politics and launch their own solo or small firm. Trust us, we get it… that’s a huge reason why we do things at Practus so differently. The only problem is that feeling of excitement can start to dwindle when you realize you might actually miss the water cooler talk. Creating a social network, developing culture & community, and building a support system can help combat this decline without you going back to the bureaucracy trap. 

Creating a social legal network 

A legal network of your own that’s both professional and social opens the door to so many new people and opportunities. Here are some of the best ways to get started on creating your new network: 

1. Join specific state bar associations  

You may be in cost-savings mode when you first start your firm but these niche bar associations like the Tax Law Association or International Law Association provide networking AND socialization opportunities. Most groups have events and meetings where you can be involved as much or as little as you want. The best part about joining a niche association is that the attorneys in this group understand where you’re coming from, what types of clients you see, and the language in your field of law.  

2. Grow an online community 

We talked about social media in part 1 of this series, but the community aspect of social media may even be more valuable to you than potential leads when feeling isolated. LinkedIn and Facebook both have groups you can join that relate to your practice. For example, Girl Attorney – National is a great Facebook group for connecting with other women practicing law around the country. It’s common to see referral requests and open discussions about what it’s like as a woman in law within the group. You could meet someone online that ends up turning into a great professional and personal relationship. Embracing this side of technology helps you stay more connected while also growing your business.  

3. Attend and speak at legal conventions and conferences 

Speaking at a CLE

CLEs can seem like a burden rather than a benefit, especially when you’re busy running your own firm. That being said, they’re also an opportunity to meet people and travel! There are CLEs and conventions that take place in beautiful spots like Cuba, coastal towns, the US Virgin Islands, and even cruises.  

People travel from all over from all different fields of law to attend legal events like the National Bar Association Convention as an opportunity to learn and connect together. Conventions have several social hours and networking opportunities mixed in throughout the CLEs, making it a great option for getting to know new attorneys while meeting up with long lost colleagues. 

If you’re looking to develop this networking even further, speaking at these events establish yourself as a thought leader in your practice industry. This is a great opportunity for exposure that you wouldn’t get as being an attendee alone. People will remember your name as the go-to on your topic, ask you questions, and connect with you after the presentation.  

Developing culture and community  

attorneys Socialize

The ideas above help with socializing and growing your network, but there is still the challenge of building culture and community within your solo or small firm. It may feel pointless to invest in your firm’s culture when it’s just starting out, but trust us… it pays off in the long run.  

It’s never too early to decide what type of culture you want at your law firm. This helps set the tone for how you treat your clients, how you interact with each other internally, and what your future goals are for the firm. You can start off by simply determining the name of your firm. For example, the meaning of Practus comes from the combination of the words ‘practice’ and ‘us’, which reflects the idea of going beyond the traditional attorney/client relationship. It’s a purposeful reminder of our mission to support clients with long term perspectives, deeper and more meaningful solutions, and shared values.  

Creating a mission statement and values will help shape your legal business into the law firm you always envisioned. This brainstorming takes what only you can see in your brain and  memorializes it so that everyone at your firm are on the same page from the start. Of course, identifying your mission statement is just the first part – you’ll still need to put your words into action. It’s the action phase where you’ll start to see the camaraderie and connection come to life.  

One of our Practus values is “We believe in fostering a balanced environment where people live the lives they love, while loving the work they do.” We make these words come to life by hosting firm events where we can connect on a more personal level. Our optional monthly Thirsty Thursday virtual happy hours are just one example of how we offer a balanced environment where we get to know each other and laugh together while taking a break from practicing law.  

Any opportunity to relax together for a few minutes helps build that camaraderie and balanced culture that make a firm an enjoyable place to work. You can find more ideas on building this firm dynamic on our Culture & Community page. camaraderie 

Building a support system 

Building a support system is one of the hardest challenges of solo and small law firms, especially when you’re starting out. There is so much to do at first and so few people to do it that it can seem like there’s no support at all.  

This is where building a network can really help. Attending conferences and association events is a great way to  meet attorneys you trust so you can refer work out or propose joint engagements for complex issues. But, your support system isn’t fully built out with just a referral network. You’ll still need internal support where you can get help quickly when you need it.  

You can build an internal support system by: 

  • Leveraging freelance and contract partnerships (particularly beneficial the smaller you are) 
  • Offering compensation structures that incentivize internal referrals 
  • Hosting regular pulse checks to understand current workloads of firm members (this helps prevent burnout and gives you an idea of where to expand/reallocate work) 
  • Encouraging open discussions about work and support needs 
  • Creating a culture where people want to help each other because they care about each other 

At Practus, we host social and educational events to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and support system at our firm. These events allow attorneys to learn about each other’s practice areas, share personal and professional stories, and feel connected at a virtual law firm. All of this accumulates to actually caring about each other, leading to a naturally evolving support system. It’s easy to become disconnected and fragmented when you don’t work in the same office, and we work hard to avoid that common pitfall. 

practus Small law firm culture - CLE (snack and learn)

The legal community can feel big and small all  at the same time. It’s a field where people tend to have one degree of separation at most, but it’s also a field where you can find yourself working in a silo.. Taking steps towards building your network, establishing culture, and developing a support system will not only alleviate the lonely side of law, it’ll also help grow your firm into a legal business that people want to join. It takes work, but it’s worth it!  

If you’re looking for a way to join an established law firm culture and community, consider joining Practus! Reach out to our VP of Recruiting, Stephanie Recupero, to learn more. 

The Authors
Tracey Watson
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Practus, LLP provides this information as a service to clients and others for educational purposes only. It should not be construed or relied on as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking advice from professional advisers.

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