« on: September 29, 2011, 07:07:26 PM »
I have been thinkin about this a lot and someone mentioned it on another thread. I Felt it deserved its own thread. My thoughts on this. I think it is possible to start your own practice right out of law school. Many people say wait until you practice for a couple of years but I have friends who are in large firms and corp in house counsel that do all bunnies work and are learning nothing. I think it is just as possible to go solo right out of law school as it is after 2 years in a large firm. the only problem is getting clients but every solo has that problem to start with. The easiest way to get experience is get on the 18-b panel for family law and crim law. If you bill out at 100 bucks an hour (which is really cheap) and you bill out 15 hours a week and you supplement with 18-b work at 60 an hour I think you def could make a go of it especially if you worked out of your home for the first couple of months until you build a small client base.I am interested in others peoples thoughts on this matter. please add to the discussion
Wow. Its been a long time since I was on this board. Just started poking around and found this question, which I actually see a lot of on law related boards. Before I answer the question, let me give you a little bit of background on me, because it is important:
I am currently in my third year of solo practice, which I established straight out of law school. I was a non-trad student, who had nearly 10 years experience in social services. My work experienced included child support, children and youth dependency, and juvenile criminal court/probation areas, so I was well versed on a few areas of law already. I live and practice in a rural Pa. county, but also lived and have clients in some surrounding urban areas. I established my own practice out of necessity due to the fact that I could not land a job anywhere (I put in over 200 applications), I had two children to provide for, and had been laid off from the job I had during law school. Prior to practicing, I was involved in local politics, which gave me good name ID right out of the gate and had a respectable network of attorney friends.
I worked out of my home and conducted client consults in restaurants and client homes. I did not limit myself to my county only as I made myself available to travel all around the state. I was able to get myself on the criminal conflict counsel and dependency court lists right away. I signed up for the state bar association referral service and some local bar association referral services, too. And of course, I relied on referrals from family and friends.
I undercut the competition in the area by initially charging $90/hr, then $100/hr after one year, and now $120/hr. I also tried to flat fee a lot of stuff to ensure that I got paid, which sometimes meant that I undersold myself. My lawyer friends and political connects sent me their shitwork and shitclients frequently. Between the shitclients, the court appointments, and the referral services, I was able to stay afloat early and continue to grow the business.
Looking back, I didn't know squat in those first few months. Even with the my previous experience, which gave me a solid background, I still needed a lot of help from a few mentors, who guided me in the practice of law and the running of a business. I was usually on the phone with one them daily. Without them, I probably would have been sued for malpractice multiple times. In addition, I spent numerous hours researching the law, the rules of procedure, etc. That said, my first few court appearances were complete disasters. For example, my first ever appearance was for a simple guilty plea that I was covering for a colleague. Even though I had attended plea sessions a few times to prime myself, when I got to the point where I had to verbally change my clients plea from not guilty to guilty and acknowledge that he signed the appropriate document to that effect, I froze and didn't know what to say. The judge finally barked at me, "just say change the plea", which I did verbatim. *embarassed*
During these three years, I have gained invaluable courtroom experience that many associated at firms do not have. I have had three criminal trials (one split verdict and two acquittals), four custody trials (all wins), and will be litigating my first civil trial next month (jury selection is tomorrow), in addition to all the pleadings, motions, contempt hearings, guilty pleas, conciliations, and conferences.
In the first year, I made 30K. In year 2, I cleared 52K. This year, I am on target to make over 70K. Three months ago, I finally moved out of my dining room and into a respectable office space that I share with a small law firm. I have finally invested in advertising and am starting to reap the dividends.
All that said, I am the exception to the rule. I had a lot of connections. I had a lot of help from other attorneys. My local bar is pretty small and very close knit. They didn't see me as a threat. The same cannot be said in other urban, more competitive regions. My wife and I have huge families and they stumped for me non-stop. I had a lot of prior experience that gave me some basis in the practice of law. And most importantly, I am a naturally gifted litigator (or so I have been told).
Bottom line is that you can start a solo practice straight out of school, but the conditions have to be near-perfect and you have to be a special person. If I lived in an urban area that was saturated with lawyers, it would have never worked. If I didn't have the personal connections with mentor attorneys, I would have never made it. If I wasn't involved in politics, it would have never worked. If I didn't have a large family feeding me clients, I would not have survived. Finally, if I didn't have some ready made talent, I would have sunk. So, be cautious.
PS. Don't buy a solo starting kit from that shingle-hanging chick that frequents this and other boards. She is a hack and has no idea what it takes to open a practice. Talk to other solos BEFORE making a decision.