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After getting his J.D. and hanging out his shingle, Hal Davis began marketing himself as “engaged in the general practice of law.” That was a mistake, the Plano, Texas, solo soon realized. “Everyone wants a specialist,” he says. “The key is to reflect yourself as a specialist in different areas to different markets. Lawyers should try not to talk about more than one thing in any marketing situation. When consumers become confused, they decide not to buy.” Davis says the experience he gained starting out, the mistakes and the right moves, will help other attorneys. So he’s publishing a 210-page paperback book, “Teach Me to Solo: The Nuts and Bolts of Law Practice.” It’s a step-by-step guide on how to set up an office and launch a legal career without associates or secretaries. The book covers everything from picking a practice area to equipping an office to planning for retirement. There are tips on finding clients, formatting letters, picking furniture, organizing files and scheduling appointments. It even delves into such details as which typeface is best for printed material. Law is a second career for Davis, who has a master’s degree in business administration and served as a consultant to banks on data processing, cost accounting and operating efficiency. He eventually became vice president of operations and data processing for a five-bank holding company. Then, he lost his job when the bottom fell out of the banking business in Texas in the 1980s and local institutions began merging. No one in banking was hiring, Davis says, and prospective employers in other industries were afraid he’d leave them for his former field when things turned around. So he returned to school, getting his degree in 1991 from Baylor University School of Law; he received his license in 1992. After getting laid off, Davis wanted to be self-employed, so he read to figure out how to get started as a solo. He credits two books with helping him set up his practice: “How to Go Directly Into the Solo Practice of Law Without Missing a Meal” by Gerald Singer (out of print); and “How to Start and Build a Law Practice” by Jay Foonberg, which gives advice on opening an office of any size. He also had help in the family from his father H. Sam Davis Jr. and brother Tom Davis; both are Texas lawyers and give suggestions and encouragement. WHAT TO DO Although he made some mistakes, Davis says, he did a lot of things right by following suggestions from the books and his family. Hints in “Teach Me to Solo” include the following: � Restrict your practice to two areas, which will identify you as filling a particular niche and make it easier to get referrals. � Don’t hire any staff, at least not at first. You can’t afford it. Technology makes it easier these days to practice law without a secretary. � Make sure clients or potential clients never get a busy signal when they call. Have at least two telephone lines and a pager with voice-mail. � Save money on computer equipment by buying technology six months behind the leading edge. Don’t overdo it, though, by buying clearance bin goods. � Open two checking accounts, one for operating expenses and the other to serve as a lawyer’s trust account. � Color-code your files and number them separately for your different practice areas. � Keep every file, document and letter you create on your computer’s hard drive. One day, you’ll want to find a document, and it will be much easier and faster to find it electronically than digging through paper archives. � Run anti-virus software frequently and back up your files often. � In general, do not offer free consultations. Your best clients value your time and are willing to pay. � Do not count on the business as a source of income for your personal bills for the first year. Davis practices law about three-fourths of the time, handling a lot of divorce cases and some bankruptcy and criminal-defense work. The rest of his time is spent writing and holding seminars. Davis has been a solo his entire legal career; in fact, he’s never had a secretary. “Teach Me to Solo” has a May release date, but is available online through amazon.com and Davis’ own Web site: http://www.anchovypress.com/. He says he will provide free electronic updates to the book, whether it’s purchased online or as a paperback. Keeping with the idea of different marketing strategies, Davis has two other Web sites. One is http://www.nutslaw.com/, which is targeted to people who are interested in his seminars. The other is http://www.planolaw.com/, which is about his law practice. Notes Davis, “After figuring it out [by myself] for nine years, I realized I’m now the mentor I wished I’d had.”

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