« on: August 18, 2011, 03:49:11 AM »
Given the alternative prospects for many graduates of today's schools, I don't think a solo practice is an unreasonable aspiration.
This is an excellent observation, and there is more than a dash of reality there.
That said, I still shudder every time I hear of any fresh graduate putting up a shingle. This is based perhaps mostly in my recollection of just how useless I was upon graduation (and for quite some time thereafter), but frankly I am hard pressed to think of more than a handful of fresh lawyers I have ever met who I would view as even marginally capable of operating unsupervised without committing wholesale malpractice.
For this simple reason, and this reason alone, I generally oppose hanging shingles after graduation. In fact, I would favor some type of post-doc internship requirement, MD-style, for bar admittance, but that is perhaps a different subject.
But, as you pointed out, this may be the only viable option open to many folks in today's situation, and you make do with what you can. But for those who seek to open up shop right out of school, I would offer a suggestion/observation or two:
- Chances are that you are far more incompetent than you think you are. One of the features of incompetence is that it is often self-masking: The incompetence keeps the incompetent from realizing his own incompetence.
- So take a good hard at yourself and try to honestly evaluate what you do and do not understand. Read and study - a lot.
- Try to limit your practice to relatively simple matters, and try to get repetition whenever possible, so that you may build expertise quickly (a tall order I know for a new solo, who will take any work available, but still). Recognize your rookieness and try to mitigate the damage. Marketing also becomes a lot easier if you can tout a particular skill or experience rather than general awesomeness.
- Get supervised. Just because you are solo doesn't mean you are without resources. "Consult" with other lawyers you know - relatives, friends, the guy in the next office suite, whatever (all within the bounds of the rules of ethics, of course). Just find someone whose brains you can pick. Heck, pay someone to shoulder-surf once in a while if you have to. It is not uncommon in some professions to supervision requirements (which the bar mysteriously does not have) to simply hire more senior practitioners to supervise. That could work for you too.
- Get involved in the local bar association. The localler the better. These groups are populated almost entirely with small firms and solos, and can be an invaluable source of information, education, supervision, client referrals, assistance, and perhaps even a job. Good bar associations are the small firm support group.
- Beyond just the bar association, network. A lot. Firm lawyers have a huge networking advantage, as they can tag along with other lawyers in the firm, and benefit from those pre-existing networks. Not so for the solo - you have to do it all yourself, and it is easy to put it off without a senior partner bugging you to go to the mixer. But most law practices are ultimately a relationship game, so you should build as many relationships as you can.
(Ok, more than two)