For Denny Esford, practicing law is his second career. Before applying to law school, he was a manufacturing engineer for over 17 years. But when the economy entered a major recession in the late 1990s, he decided it was time for a change. He entered law school in 1999 and graduated while the recession was still in full force.
Hanging a shingle
At first, he worked as a contract attorney, but after handling a project for a solo practitioner, he was inspired to hang his own shingle.”I got out of law school in the midst of a recession and law firms were the last bastion of oversupply and under demand. Entry level jobs disappeared so I started working as a contract attorney,” he explains. “One day a couple years in a small solo hired me to assist him with a trade secrets case and I started to work for him part-time. Soon, we merged with a mid-sized insurance defense firm and then they went through a downsizing. At that point I figured if I’m going to work 70 hours a week I’d rather make all the money for myself. So at 55 years old, I decided to take a chance and even though I didn’t have a book of business, I opened up my own firm on in May 2013.”
Earning a living and giving back
The rest, as they say, is history. Denny launched his law firm, Windy City Trial Group, with a focus on business litigation, including business torts, breach of contract matters, trademark and copyright issues, among other things. It was the perfect fit.
But what makes his practice even more meaningful is that as it grows, he’s able to devote some of his resources to pro bono work. “One thing I’ve really enjoyed in last few years since I’ve had my own firm is taking a case where someone’s getting shafted by the system. For example in a recent case, my client owed $4,000 in back rent but the landlord wasn’t addressing broken pipes, etc. My clients couldn’t find a lawyer since there’s no money to be made in that type of case and were hard pressed to pay for one, in any event,” he says. “So I walk into court and told the lawyers who were trying to steamroll my client that I’m filing a counterclaim. I was able to achieve justice. My pro bono hours are the most fun because you achieve immediate gratification for clients who are in the right but don’t have the resources to litigate their case.”
Technology sets his firm apart
According to Denny, technology allows his firm to stay competitive. “What sets my firm apart is that I use technology to drive down costs. And the more efficient I can be personally the less time I have to spend doing administrative tasks and the more I can focus on billable work. This makes it possible to keep my rate more competitive so I can target small businesses.”
He continues, “Technology also helps because a lot of my clients aren’t local. I represent them under diversity jurisdiction in federal court in Chicago. As small business owners they aren’t big enough to have a lawyer with large firm on retainer in every city. But with technology I’m able to provide them with high quality representation. That’s where MyCase comes in.”
The MyCase difference
The main technology that Esford relies on? MyCase. “I looked at law practice management software for 2 years and couldn’t find anything as good as MyCase. It’s so user-friendly and the unlimited online storage is worth the price of admission in and of itself,” he explains. “And the customer service is awesome. MyCase listens to its customers and make changes based on feedback, such as adding folders a few months ago. Lawyers are creatures of habit and we like folders and MyCase heard our feedback and added folders and made the product even more user-friendly.”
According to Denny, MyCase saves his firm time and money: “To invoice 5 clients it used to take me 1 to 1.5 hours each, but now I can invoice all 5 clients in less than an hour. MyCase also makes it easy for me hire a part-time assistant who can securely access files remotely using MyCase instead of having to pay for office space for him. So it’s allowed him to work remotely and have complete access to everything he needs without having to email back and forth. And I can limit what he has access to.”
His clients love MyCase, too. “I can limit what the client sees which is important when you’re working on a motion and you don’t want the client looking at the draft until it’s in final. Importantly, we communicate securely through MyCase,” he says. “It’s also the second calendar system for me—all of our deadlines and court dates and reminders are in MyCase. Most insurance carriers require a second calendar/docketing system, so MyCase is primary and my laptop is my backup.”
MyCase Websites – an added benefit
Another huge benefit for Denny’s firm is MyCase Websites. “I used to pay $150/month for my law firm’s website. When I discovered MyCase I learned not only were their websites professional, they were affordable, too, at just $50 per month,” he says. “MyCase took my old website and redesigned it and built the login to MyCase right into my firm’s website. When the clients use it, it looks and feels as if it’s another page of my website. It’s a great investment!”
When I asked Denny if he had any advice for other solos he repled: “Don’t overspend. You need a workable office space that’s efficient and isn’t overly expensive. But spend money on good business cards, a website, and letterhead. That way you present a professional appearance to the marketplace. Also, use technology as a selling point. I leverage the idea that I can ramp up to take a big case because I have trial resources and contract attorneys on call and they’re there if I need them. But once I’m done with that big case I can ramp down. Technology puts you in a competitive position with larger firms since you don’t have overhead costs built in your model. Software like MyCase gives you a strategic advantage.”