How I Practice-Joanne Fanizza

Joanne Fanizza
Joanne Fanizza
Law Offices of Joanne Fanizza, P.A.
Bay Shore, NY & Fort Lauderdale, FL

1. What are your areas of practice?

I practice in the areas of estate planning and administration, elder law, real estate, and some litigation, both in New York and Florida. Sometimes I take cases outside of these areas, particularly in areas in which I have held special expertise over the past 30 years, such as defamation and media law, Constitutional Law, and business and commercial law.

2. Describe a typical day for you?
I am not sure there is a "typical day" in law practice. I could be in court somewhere in downstate New York some days; I could be appearing by telephone for a Florida court case on others. If not, then once I get settled into the office I spend time catching up on correspondence of all types (emails, voicemail messages, telephone messages, texts occasionally). Then it's on to paperwork for client matters: drafting estate plans, real estate deeds and related documents, letters to clients or counsel or other parties associated with cases. At some point during the week or month, I've got to pay bills, do payroll, bill clients. It can be varied. When I'm in the Fort Lauderdale office, I'm seeing clients, going to court, handling communications and trying to enjoy time with my colleagues down there.

3. Where do you practice? Do you have a stand-alone office or home office?
I have two offices: the primary office is in Bay Shore, on Main Street, right in the heart of this wonderful little South Shore city; and the secondary office is in Fort Lauderdale, not far from the beach and Intracoastal, another great area. Both are in office buildings.

4. What is the most rewarding thing about having your own practice?
The freedom to set my schedule, make my own decisions, take the cases I prefer and handle my clients my way. I have a great group of colleagues in both states I can consult with to bounce issues around, and I hope and believe they call on me when they need the same.

5. What are some of the challenges about having your own practice?
Obviously, cash flow is always a consideration when you're a solo, including collections. Over time I have developed a couple of effective ways to ensure my collections are very high, but there have been times when fees are not paid and you have to accept that as part of the cost of doing business. It rarely pays to sue a client for uncollected fees. Also, as a solo you have to do it all, including the administrative work, buying the office equipment, etc., when often all you want to do is just practice law.

6. What are your must-have tech tools/apps?
A great computer with great software and a large screen, a good scanner and copy machine, plus enough office telephone lines and a smartphone. If you can't be reached, you won't get the new clients. (I do not publicly list my cellphone number and sparingly give it out because I have yet to meet a client who does not abuse the privilege, unfortunately, by calling or texting at bizarre hours.) Unlike many attorneys, I prefer WordPerfect software. I think it has much better options for legal word processing.  I also have Word on the system because so many others use it and you need to be able to interface with it.  I use Timeslips for my small practice legal billing, which is very user friendly, and now with legal research being mostly online, the software for that becomes less important than computer speed. I also like QuickBooks for my financials; it is very user friendly.

7. How do you market your practice? How do you find new clients?
I market my practice in a variety of ways, as should all lawyers. I have a website, and I have signed up for all the platforms that are free (Google, Avvo, Lawyers.com, Justia, Facebook, etc.). I participate in our NYSBA Section communities, which I find to be outstanding sources of information and referrals. I try to be active in local bar associations, for pro bono work and for referrals and guest speaking engagements. Word of mouth is very important; happy clients will send their friends and family your way, and come back themselves. I will advertise locally, too.

8. When and where do you interact with other attorneys?
When and where don't I?  *smile*  For IRL contacts, I find the courthouses to be great places to run into and catch up with colleagues, the local bar associations are valuable places to interact, and our fantastic NYSBA CLEs are another great way. For e-contacts, I find our communities to be wonderful ways to stay in touch and communicate with colleagues.  

9. How do you stay informed with legal news/developments?
I start with all of the above I mentioned regarding interactions. Being a member of a variety of bar associations is crucial to any lawyer's success. The state and local bar associations provide up-to-date information on all things legal, and they are invaluable resources. I am a member of the American Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, The Florida Bar, Nassau and Suffolk County Bar Associations, Broward County (FL) Bar Association, plus committees of all of them pertaining to my areas of practice.That's a lot of information coming at me! And it helps to read newspapers every day. (That's the former newspaper reporter in me speaking.)

10. If a fellow attorney decided they wanted to start their own practice, what is the one thing they should know?

Be adequately capitalized to carry you through the inception years and, associated with that, be patient about turning a profit (which means paying yourself a decent salary), which could take from five to ten years. Patience patience patience!  It takes time to build a law practice.