My primary practice areas are criminal defense and DUI defense and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to practice both areas since the beginning. I was clerking for a law firm and working on those types of cases while in law school, so when I passed the bar, I already knew I’d found my passion in defense.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
Everything is more internet focused now. Firm websites and social media are more important than ever in marketing and in distributing information to current and future clients. It’s not enough to have a good looking website with some relevant keywords in it anymore. Now, because Google likes helpful and original information, I am writing content for the website that is so detailed it could be a book on everything you want to know once you’ve been arrested.
Online reviews have also become so much more prominent, and clients love them. People are busy and have limited time off, so the fact that they can research lawyers online before meeting them, saves the clients a lot of time. My initial meetings with clients used to be much more of an interview about my firm, my cases and me. Now that is mostly unnecessary for clients who have read all about me and what my former clients have said about my services.
In addition, social media and other websites that didn’t even exist a few years ago are playing a bigger role than ever in both marketing and providing information for clients. I see these internet trends only ramping up in the next few years as more and more people realize what’s available online, and are changing the way they search for lawyers.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Find a buddy. When you’re young, you are all in the same boat. Everyone is new, the bar associations can be hard to navigate, the practice seems overwhelming, and you want to get involved in something but may not want to do it alone. I think you forget, or don’t realize, that the other young lawyers are feeling the exact same way as you do. Everyone is nervous, unsure, and needs a sounding board to talk over the ups and downs of the first years. Also, no one wants to walk into a room where they don’t know anyone. So I suggest finding another young lawyer and making a deal: you tell me what events you want to go to, and I’ll tell you what events I’d like to go to, and we’ll go together. This way you both are getting out there, getting involved, meeting new people, and you don’t have to do it while sipping your wine in the corner alone.
What’s one technological device, application or tool you could not function without?
My internet based office phone. I use a VOIP system with Vonage for Business. It is such a game changer for me as a solo practitioner. I have a handset at my office and my house, and an app for it on my Ipad, all which allow me to call from my work phone. The capabilities of it are incredible. I can choose where I want my calls to ring to with multiple options. For instance, I can have the handset ring for 20 seconds and at the same time ring my cell phone for 20 seconds, and then if there’s no answer, it will connect to my answering service. If I wanted voicemail to pick up, I can customize when I want a different greeting to play. There are so many options and it allows me to be so flexible whether I’m in the office, with a client, or on vacation. I have been on the beach in Mexico returning calls on my “work phone” and the clients think I’m in my office in the Loop. The flexibility is great so I don’t miss calls and can easily return them, but best of all, I don’t have to give out my cell phone number to clients!
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
Lately I have been taking notice of something that really surprises me regarding civility. I find that as lawyers, we get asked a lot of questions daily from both lawyers and nonlawyers alike. Whether it’s needing a referral, an opinion, advice, help on strategy or a substantive matter, there are a lot of questions. And I find that lawyers are genuinely happy to help out with answers. This is very apparent on the listservs I am a member of where people are constantly responding to their peers with helpful information. However, lately I’ve noticed that there are those who don’t say “thank you” after people take the time to reply (and this is outside the listserv example where I realize they may have sent a private thank you note). It sounds like common sense 101 to remind someone to say thank you, but I see it all the time where people get their questions answered and they don’t take the 1-minute to reply with their thanks. We’re all busy, but I think someone who takes the time to respond back and recognize the time it took the other person to help them out, is going to fare better than those who don’t. It makes a difference to me in terms of who I want to work with in the future.
What do you do for fun?
My husband and I have a 2-year-old Golden Retriever named Nola who we spend most of our free time with because she’s just such a joy. Through her, we’ve made great friends in the neighborhood who also have dogs, and there are lots of walks to Soldier Field, play dates in the park, and even dog birthday parties! I also really love to read, but in the past few years, work was getting in the way and I was only reading for pleasure when I’d travel. Recently I finally got back into it after reading an amazing book called A Little Life and now whenever I can, I love to read for an hour or so before I go to bed.
Sarah Toney is the managing attorney at The Toney Law Firm LLC, located in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with her on LinkedIn.