Knowledge and understanding are life’s faithful companions who will never prove untrue to you. For knowledge is your crown, and understanding your staff; and when they are with you, you can possess no greater treasures.
— Kahlil Gibran
Too many divorce and family law attorneys assume that Jay Foonberg’s How to Start and Build a Law Practice is only for sole practitioners. Nothing could be further from the truth. I fell in love with this resource manual 20 years ago when I was with a big divorce law firm, bought the updated versions over the years, especially when I decided to start my own divorce and family law firm, and have referred to it every year for some purpose throughout my divorce and family law cases. Not everyone needs to “start,” but everyone needs to “build.”
Foonberg’s 663-page resource manual is its fifth edition and has been an ABA bestseller for decades. Why? Because it focuses on the keys to success, delivers straightforward advice in golden nuggets (2-5 page chapters) to divorce law firms and family law firms, and provides forms, checklists and procedures that you can use in your divorce and family law cases upon a moment’s notice. Foonberg answers the questions you have today using everything he’s learned in nearly 50 years of practice and in decades of lecturing and writing on all matters of law practice management that divorce and family lawyers can apply
How to Start and Build a Law Practice is organized into 9 parts: 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. As you might expect, Foonberg covers a lot of ground: location, marketing, client relations, fees, billing and collections, accounts, files, management, ethics and standards, resources and the like.
Sprinkled throughout his resource manual, the author reveals some of “Foonberg’s Rules”:
On Technology If it works, it’s obsolete.
On “Cash Up Front” [I]t is better not doing the work and not getting paid, than doing the work and not getting paid.
On Listening [A]ny time you are talking more than 1/3rd of the time, you are talking too much and not listening enough.
On Family Clients come and clients go, family is forever. Time with family will enrich your quality of life and their quality of life.
Foonberg also offers us 10 rules on conducting meetings, 10 rules for avoiding disciplinary complaint and 10 commandments of good trust accounts, great for divorce and family lawyers
HOW TO START AND BUILD A LAW PRACTICE
I’ve always enjoyed Foonberg’s “The Client’s Curve of Gratitude,” a graphic depiction of the divorce and family law client’s emotional stage through any proceedings. The Curve demonstrates why we need to get our final bills for our divorce and family law services out as soon as possible at the conclusion of any matter, between point 8 and point 9:
8. Day of Settlement “He’s a fantastic lawyer. No other lawyer could have done what he did. I owe him my business, my career, everything.”
9. 10 Days Later “He’s a great lawyer and did a good job, but the law and the facts were on my side.”
Remarkably, Jay Foonberg does not profit from his classic reference on law practice management, applicable to all divorce and family law practices. The bestseller has earned over $2 million, and Foonberg has directed half of the profits into the Law Practice Management Section and half into a minority scholarship program. This generosity is outstanding. Similarly, Foonberg has been generous with his time, serving the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division and the Law Practice Management Section. He has been honored with the GP|Solo Division Donald Riklis Award for lifetime services to the solo and small firm lawyers of America.
Foonberg’s down-to-earth approach extends to calling us to a higher sense of self as professionals:
I repeat: There are only three professions—Law, Medicine, and the Clergy, and for each there is a feeling of being called to help people and to make a difference in the lives of people.
If you treat the profession of law as a profession, you will be a happy person and you will earn a good living over a long period of time. You will make a difference in the lives of people and in our society. At the end of the day you will feel good about what you are doing.
If you believe that law is just a business with the goal of making money, ultimately you will be unhappy, no matter how much money you make. You would be happier and make more money by giving up your law license and doing something else without public service obligations and without ethical restrictions. If you don’t feel a calling to help people and to make a difference, and are only interested in making money, you are in the wrong place.
Foonberg’s How to Start and Build a Law Practice is a treasure for our divorce and family law profession. He has translated his life’s lessons and wisdom into a language all divorce and family lawyers can all understand. This resource manual is your faithful companion and will never prove untrue to you in your divorce law firm. Take it with you, and keep it by your side as you traverse the roads of the divorce and family law profession. You can possess no greater treasure.
Jay G. Foonberg, How to Start and Build a Law Practice (5th ed., 2004, American Bar Association). $69.95.