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Author Topic: Starting your own solo practice after law school  (Read 5821 times)

Morten Lund

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Re: Starting your own solo practice after law school
« Reply #20 on: August 31, 2011, 12:19:42 AM »

Have you heard about that proposal by two profs in an upcoming law review article that law schools establish affiliated law firms to provide opportunities for students to work in a sort of supervise residency model? (South Carolina Law Review but currently available for reading here)

Alternatively, I would think a future solo-practitioner could try to find a kind/amenable solo practitioner to be a mentor --though this may be much harder to achieve than it sounds --I've never tried.

I had not heard of that proposal, but I am not surprised.  I know that I am not the first (or second, or third...) to suggest that a medical model would serve our profession well.  It makes a lot of sense - to me, at least.  I am sure the opponents could muster some good arguments as well.

bigs5068

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Re: Starting your own solo practice after law school
« Reply #21 on: August 31, 2011, 11:33:08 AM »
I don't know why that hasn't been done already. If it were then the outrageous costs of law school would be justified. They would have to do more than make you buy a book with your own money that you read then have a professor take two hours and thirty minutes out of their week. Hopefully it happens, but I can't see how the school would benefit from setting it up. The profession, students, and clients would be better served, but not the school. Unfortunately, higher education in every profession (except Medical School, because they have that model)  is concerned primarily with making money.

StrictlyLiable

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Re: Starting your own solo practice after law school
« Reply #22 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.

Good Luck.

Thane Messinger

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Re: Starting your own solo practice after law school
« Reply #23 on: September 29, 2011, 09:44:02 PM »
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.

Good Luck.


Thank you, Strictly.  If Robert's Rules are in order, I'll second the motion. 

To be honest, I'm coming around on this a bit, in part because the job market is so dismal for new graduates.  But to re-emphasize the above points, it's hard to overstate just how blank a slate the new solo will have.  Agree with yourself to work twice as hard and confer as often as you can get away with and network like crazy and live on peanuts for a year or three, and . . . maybe.

Paradoxically, this can be just as valuable for new associates to read, as it's common to hear complaints from those quarters as to just how underappreciated, etc., etc., they are. 

Again, excellent post.

Thane.

FalconJimmy

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Re: Starting your own solo practice after law school
« Reply #24 on: September 30, 2011, 07:49:10 AM »
Agree with yourself to work twice as hard and confer as often as you can get away with and network like crazy and live on peanuts for a year or three, and . . . maybe.

Again, I look at this from the entrepreneurial perspective, not the law perspective.  Obviously, you can't ignore the legal aspects of this decision, but you can't ignore the entrepreneurial aspects, either.

I think you're 100% on the mark, Thane.  However, the "work twice as hard" part?  Twice as hard as whom?  Probably not twice as hard as new biglaw associates.

StrictlyLiable made a great post.  He's doing it exactly as I would envision a person doing it as a new solo practitioner.  When I meet with entrepreneurs, I run into two extremes:  the guys who are totally sure that they succeeded because they're awesome and things could not have turned out any other way, and those who think, "wow, I didn't know ****.  I am soooo lucky that things worked out."

Personally, I don't think either viewpoint is correct.  The arrogant guys, more often than not, don't seem to hang around for the long haul.  The ones who DO hang around for the long haul?  They seem to have a disproportionate number of guys who were just born rich.  They've talked themselves into believing that they're rich because they're awesome.  The guys who thought they were lucky?  They seem to be the kind who don't take their success for granted.  They "run scared" and because of their constant vigilance, they tend to do well in the long run. 

The irony here is that the guys who think of themselves as lucky were usually actually hard-working.  The guys who thought they were just awesome?  Much of the time, they were just lucky.

Nobody wants an attorney who is a cowboy who can't be bothered with the details.  I have to laugh because one of my professors is a JD/MBA and talks now and then about the contrast between attorneys and businesspeople.  He marvels that the basic mindset of most businesspeople is, "Okay, close enough.  We have a deal.  Let's go get a beer."  The attorney side of him is dumfounded, thinking, "Whoa!  Close enough?  We're nowhere near having this thing iced down."

I could be 100% wrong, but it seems to me that to be a successful solo, you need to be equal parts businessperson and professional.  Part of being a businessperson is knowing when you're "close enough" to pull the trigger. 

What happened when Liable booted it in front of the judge?  It was hugely embarassing.  If he did it the next 2 times he saw that judge, the judge would think he was an idiot.  However, in the grand scheme of things, that judge, after 5 or 6 years, will probably be thinking, "Boy, I remember when that guy was so green he couldn't even talk.  He's come a long way since then."

The professional will look at that and think, "What an abysmal professional failure.  Got tongue-tied right in front of a judge."  The businessperson?  Would say, "Well, I learned my lesson.  That will never happen again.  But look!  I got paid.  $150 an hour for 4 hours at the courthouse today.  SCORE!"

I'm not diminishing the value of studying under somebody who can really teach you the ropes.  Not at all.  However, between hanging out a shingle and selling flat screen TVs at Best Buy?  I'd advise somebody to set up an office in their apartment, take court appointments, basically do it the way Liable did and see what you can do.


Morten Lund

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Re: Starting your own solo practice after law school
« Reply #25 on: September 30, 2011, 12:08:17 PM »
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.

Good Luck.


Thank you, Strictly.  If Robert's Rules are in order, I'll second the motion. 

Indeed.  That was one of the finest posts I have read here, and the perfect entry in this particular thread.

Thane Messinger

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Re: Starting your own solo practice after law school
« Reply #26 on: October 01, 2011, 04:08:23 AM »
Agree with yourself to work twice as hard and confer as often as you can get away with and network like crazy and live on peanuts for a year or three, and . . . maybe.

I think you're 100% on the mark, Thane.  However, the "work twice as hard" part?  Twice as hard as whom?  Probably not twice as hard as new biglaw associates.

Some excellent points, Falcon, as usual.  To add to those and address the above point, for exactly the reasons you state, the solo should work twice as hard on each case as does the opponent.  Since most solos will have precious few cases, initially, part of the key is to mimic the sort of network and weight behind more experienced and more supported opponents.

You're quite right as to the business side, but for many this becomes a professional deadweight.  Once you figure you can "get away" with mediocre performance, and perhpas even get paid, why bother?  The problem is that much of law practice is cumulative:  good results, over time, lead to better results.  Once one has a poor reputation, conversely, the repeat business starts to drop away.  Or, more correctly, the hapless attorney looks around and wonders where the clients are.  Chances are, the clients were there . . . but not anymore.  So rather than seeing "sudden" success, the poor practitioner seems to stumble and scrounge.  At best, they're one or two or a handful of clients away from that.  This is the life of many solos.

Also, the initial challenges are often not between a wet-behind-the-ears newbie and a biglaw superstar.  Chances are, the opponent will be a modestly experienced attorney from a smallish firm, or perhaps solo, or perhaps an overworked one from the DA's office. 

To the point of early mistakes, even curt judges will usually cut junior solo some slack.  Or, to a lesser degree, junior biglaw.  As long as the clients are not obviously in peril (usually), one's courtroom appearance, while embarrassing, is pretty much like first year.  The challenge is, first, not to be insufficiently prepared so as to completely flub the law, and, second, to actually learn from one's mistakes.  Both are part of the "work twice as hard" part. 

"Insufficiently prepared," by the way, means anything less than a mastery of the facts and relevant law.  Just like first year.   Only this time, it counts.

Go get em.

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