Law School Discussion

Forget BigLaw. What about going small firm private practice after graduation?


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Say we have a student who has absolutely no desire to work for the big law firm. Instead, he wants to start his own small law firm. He understands he'll probably have to gain some experience in the beginning, so he's ok with working at a small private practice firm for a few years.

Now, a T14 degree is a T14 degree, of course.

But in his case, is he better off sticking with a T4 versus a T3 or a T2?

How much does the school name on his degree matter for him?


Re: How much does the school matter in small private practice?
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2008, 05:04:58 PM »
Probably the best school in the area in which you want to practice, making considerations for cost/debt.


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Re: How much does the school matter in small private practice?
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2008, 05:51:32 PM »
In theory this theoretical person would want to take a couple things into consideration.  First of all, as a practical matter - debt.  If he's in deep debt, it'll be tough to pay off with the relatively low salary he'll receive at a smaller firm, and tough to take out a business loan to start his own practice in the future. 

But at the same time, a higher quality degree is going to help him out more in many different ways. His classmates are more likely to have connections throughout the market, as will his alumni network.  Further, the quality of his degree can, to some extent, help in rainmaking.  When he's looking at a client face-to-face, and the client sees his diploma, he will want the client to realize he knows what he's doing.

You know, in theory.


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Re: How much does the school matter in small private practice?
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2008, 07:15:38 PM »
Low debt from a regionally respected and recognized school is the best path in this situation.

Full scholarship from the local T50 school would likely be preferable to a full priced non-HYS T14.


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Re: Going solo or small private practice after graduation
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2008, 12:08:53 AM »
Some great information I found from Indiana Law's career section...

Solo Law Practice
Solo practice offers the possibility of flexibility and independence. Some of the advantages are the ability to be one's own boss; to set one's own working hours; and freedom from hierarchical structures which many feel interfere with legal practice. Solo practice has disadvantages as well: the inability to rely on other attorneys to help with a heavy caseload; the restriction on free time when business is good or frustrated boredom when business is bad; and the lack of a support system such as is present in the hierarchical structure of a law firm. Many solo practitioners could easily be partners in prestigious firms but choose to practice law where they are the sole decision-makers. Solo practice attracts people who are self-starters, self-motivated, self-disciplined, and enjoy controlling their future.

Solo practice is often difficult to enter directly from law school. There are large start-up expenses and the need for enough clients to pay the bills until the practice can really get established and earn a reputation in the community. Since referrals from other lawyers are extremely important in most solo practices, most lawyers who go this route wait until they have some experience as an associate before venturing out on their own. This strategy gives the attorney the basic legal skills and familiarity with the business elements of law practice that are necessary in any practice, as well as the initial contacts necessary to survive. Some solo practitioners band together in what are called "space sharing arrangements". In these situations, a group of solo practitioners will jointly take office space and share the costs of libraries, support staff, computer, word processing and photocopying equipment. Many find that this type of arrangement is very cost effective and combines some of the benefits of working in a small firm with the independence of being a solo practitioner. For the recent graduate considering a solo practice, affiliation with lawyers in a space sharing arrangement would be the most highly recommended route to go.

The Small Firm
Small firms, generally defined as a firm of less than ten people, vary from large city to rural or suburban area and from general to specialized areas of practice. Most small firms engage in the general practice of law, but some firms, particularly in metropolitan areas, specialize in a particular practice area (some of these firms are formed by the defection of a segment, or even an entire specialty department from a larger established firm). These break-off firms who specialize in one or two areas are known as "boutiques".

The small-firm attorney may find him/herself specializing in a particular area after the first few years of practice, but may not be strictly limited to that area. A general practitioner must remain flexible and willing to learn. In comparison to a large firm, a smaller firm will have the greater number of individual and small business clients. Thus, the attorney in a smaller firm will have the opportunity to deal with more "human" problems, and to deal more with everyday issues. Additionally, the small firm will typically be involved with the client in all phases of his or her business or personal dealings and will often be asked for advice even in areas outside the firm's expertise. In most smaller law firms, the ability to generate business or, at the very least, the potential to develop that ability is extremely important to the firm.

There are a wide variety of ways in which new associates are brought into the smaller firm. In some cases, an associate may start for an initial trial period. This may involve a small initial salary, with raises gained on merit, skill, personal potential, and/or firm resources. Some firms provide incentives for bringing business into the firm or a percentage of the collected total billings of the associate. Nationally, for the Class of 1994, graduates taking positions in small firms (2-10 attys) earned a median salary of $32,000 and a mean salary of $33,851. The above mentioned "boutique" firms will represent the people earning the higher end of the spectrum. It is important that students understand that small law firms are businesses. The concepts of "cash flow" and overhead are important ones for students interested in smaller firms to grasp. Most smaller firms prefer to keep their set monthly expenses (overhead) as low as possible because the flow of money coming into the firm may be sporadic, especially if the firm is a litigation firm specializing in cases that are taken on contingency. It is very important that students have an understanding of the type of business that a firm has, what percent is hourly and what percent of revenue is based on percentage of settlements in cases in order to evaluate the salary offer being made.

The job search for smaller law firms can be a frustrating experience since most smaller firms have trouble projecting their needs. There is no good time to contact them - the decision to hire could be made at any time in the year. Although firm requirement concerning academic performance vary, the academic record is often given secondary importance to the overall competency and personality of the applicant. In evaluating various firms, remember that personality is extremely important. In a small work setting, it is essential that all parties get along; personality conflicts are one of the key causes of dissatisfaction at a smaller firm.

While some firms do let the Career Services Office know of available job openings, very few conduct on-campus interviews. The applicant needs to plan on an organized, targeted, letter writing and contact-making campaign to gather the majority of his/her leads. Small law firms tend to be very disorganized in their hiring process. Since they generally only hire every few years, they do not have an organized structure for hiring like larger firms. Most smaller firms are interested in people with some experience - judicial clerkship, prior practice or summer clerking/clinical experience. One of the best doors into a smaller firm is through a summer or part-time job. These firms tend to look to "hometown" students or students with ties to the area to fill these positions. These positions frequently lead to permanent positions at graduation time.

Full link:

I think the Indiana article is right on target.  Solo/Small firms require truly entreprenurial personalities.  The run-of-the-mill person who just wants a job will not do well in this type of setting.

A couple things that should also be addressed:

(a) Health care benefits - Small firms generally don't offer great health benefits and you will likely pay a good portion of your premium.

(b) CLE & Bar Association fees - You may also be on your own for this in a small firm.

(c) Retirement plans - Really hit or miss.

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How old is the person?  If he is 22 years old, straight out of undergrad, he may not have enough exposure to the "real world" to determine exactly what he wants to do for the next 30 years.  From what I have read, going to a lower ranked school can severely limit your options after graduation.  Graduating from a low ranked school may leave only a few options for this individual and he may not like the options once he graduates.  I am not suggesting he will want BIGLAW after graduating, but he may want to do something else that may be more difficult to accomplish from a lower ranked school.

What is causing this person to look at T4 as opposed to T2 or T3.  If their LSAT score is the problem, I would suggest they study and retake the LSAT if they are not competitive for scholarships at even a T3.  I have a friend who has relegated herself to now claiming all she wants is a small firm job and is settling for a T3 or T4 school solely because of her LSAT score.  She has a 4.0 from a small university, but scored in the mid 150s.  If she retakes, the worst case for her is that she receives the same or better scholarship at a lower ranked school, but she could wind up with a good scholarship at a much better school.  She just does not want to prepare for the LSAT. 

If he thinks that he will receive scholarships from T4 schools, but not higher schools, you also need to consider the requirements to maintain scholarships at many of the lower ranked schools.  I have not looked into this personally, but there are several threads that I have read on LSD that indicate lower ranked schools are more prone to pass out scholarships to something like 50% of the class, but require top 30% to maintain the scholarship, meaning at least 20% of the people who received scholarships for their first year will not receive them in years two and three.  The numbers listed above are not precise, but the point has been made that they plan on a substantial number of their students losing their scholarships.

Are the T4 schools he is considering really that much cheaper than a T2 or T3? 

I do not see any benefit in aiming for the lowest ranked law schools.  If there are extenuating circumstances please let us know.



This article is wonderful! I'd love to hear more opinions / experiences from those on the Small law / entreprenurial tract, as opposed to going into Big law. Owning my own boutique law firm is what I aspire to do someday.