Law School Discussion

I could really use some help, guidance, etc...Thanks!

I could really use some help, guidance, etc...Thanks!
« on: May 17, 2012, 12:51:19 PM »
I could use some guidance in two areas, please.

First, a little about me. I'm a 45 year old undergraduate who has worked in a family carpet cleaning business for the past 20+ years, with no insurance, living week to week on about $32k year (yeah, I've always been a working class stiff). I always wanted to practice law whether it was arguing a civil case, a criminal case, or even help small business owners collect on their accounts receivables, so I took the plunge back into college about 3 years ago. I am currently on track to graduate next year with a high grade point average (3.7+) with a double major in Political Science & Philosophy, and am averaging about 160 on practice LSATS. By the time I'm done with the undergraduate and law degrees, even at a local state school (large metro), I'll be about $100k in debt. However, I fully intend to hang a shingle and start doing collections work for small mom & pop companies across the state who service the multi-family housing (apartment) market for property investment and management firms, as unsecured creditors. I know our small company generates an easy $15k annually for our current attorney and we're small potatoes in a market saturated with small potatoes who need the collections assistance.

Second, I'm confident I'll get admitted to law school but want to maximize my ability to be able to do a few things immediately upon graduation/passing the Bar exam.
1 - Be competent to serve as prosecutor or public defender if the debt load proves too much and I need to serve 10 years in public interest to get out from under it.
2 - Be competent to hang a shingle for small business assistance (organization, contracts, collections)
3 - Be competent to hang a shingle for criminal defense (DUI, for example)
4 - Be competent to hang a shingle for civil litigation (insurance bad faith, for example)

Which brings me to where I need the help.

A - I need a reality check to know if what I'm looking to do is really worth it from a financial standpoint considering the current legal market and economy.

B - Looking at the course offering, I've tentatively selected the courses and semesters that *I THINK* will best serve my end goal of solo practice, and would like advice, comments, and criticisms of what I've selected. I list them below.

Thank you very much for any assistance and guidance.

Bob Huddleston

Year 1 Fall
Civil Procedure I
Property I
Torts I
Legal Methods I
Criminal Law

Year 1 Spring
Civil Procedure II
Property II
Torts II
Legal Methods II
Constitutional Law

Year 2 Fall
Business Organizations I
Criminal Procedure I
Civil Procedure III
Trial Advocacy

Year 2 Spring
Debtor Creditor
Criminal Procedure II
Secured Transactions
Professional Responsibility

Year 3 Fall
Criminal Justice Extern.
Civil Rights
Legal Argument & Appellate Practice
Litigation Drafting
Administrative Law

Year 3 Spring
Insurance Law
Contract Drafting
General Sessions Litigation Clinic
State Civil Procedure Seminar.
Federal Courts

Re: I could really use some help, guidance, etc...Thanks!
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2012, 03:13:51 PM »
If you are willing to put in the time and have a mature viewpoint and don't turn away any legitimate business, you can easily gross well in excess of $100K your first year as a solo practiioner and net much of that if you keep your overhead down and have no employees.  Your background and maturity are in your favor and if you have definite business plan in mind while attending law school, you can start to already stockpile practice info in advance.  Figire you can shave overhead by getting into some sort of shared office scheme and do much of the work virtually.  Make the most of your free Lexis or WestLaw access as a student etc.  While your law school cohort is bemoaning the lack of jobs, you can be making money by doing what most law school grads think is beneath their dignity: collections, disability, child support, workers comp, misdameanor criminal defense, nickel and dime slip and fall cases etc.

Re: I could really use some help, guidance, etc...Thanks!
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2012, 04:14:29 PM »
You're already on the right path, Bob. You have a solid, workable plan in place before starting law school. That's a huge advantage. You will be amazed by how many of your classmates have no plan whatsoever, or are utterly unrealistic about their post-law school options. Your maturity and experience will likely be an asset when it comes to internships and job interviews. In my experience, law students with extensive employment histories tend to out perform their younger counterparts in real world settings.

A couple of points to consider:

1) Consider scholarships over rankings. Since you plan on solo practice, it might make more sense to graduate from law school owing as little as possible. Lack of heavy debt payments will give you considerable flexibility after law school. I don't know where you live, but a 3.7/160 is probably sufficient to obtain a sizeable (or full) scholarship to a tier 4 law school.

2) Do as many internships/clerkships as you possibly can. These are golden opportunities to gain experience and network. It's actually pretty tough to go solo straight out of law school (although  I have friends who have done it). You'll figure out quickly that law school and the actual practice of law are two very different things. You will do yourself a huge favor by learning as much as you can from internships.

3) You mentioned DA/Public Defender as a possibility. Great jobs, but they're far more competitive than they used to be. My local PD's office received 300 applications for 8 positions recently. Of the 8 who were hired, 3 were former/current interns. This goes back to point #2.

Good Luck!

Re: I could really use some help, guidance, etc...Thanks!
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2012, 07:37:23 PM »
Thanks for the replies.  You are both very encouraging.  I happened across a blog about an hour ago being done by someone who I really empathize with (regardless of the age difference) and has hung out their shingle.  My eyes actually got a little wet while reading it.

I'm pretty sure I'll be up and running much faster than this person with the contacts I already have, but *WOW* -

I already consider myself lucky that I've got a LOT of friends and family who are behind me 100%, and I'm going to need that support network for the long haul.


  • ****
  • 1041
    • View Profile
Re: I could really use some help, guidance, etc...Thanks!
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2012, 10:44:53 AM »
Wait, that guy from the link you posted only bills at $60/hr?  I can see the urge to be a bargain but that's ridiculous in any market.

I've worked for a small firm for a year, I worked in banking for a long time and I'm a business grad.  I've learned a few things about law firms: They waste a ton of money, the balance in the bank account is the sum total of their financial analysis, and they do not utilize their staff, equipment, or legal software.

I am virtually certain that through free products such as, google voice, the Bar-provided research system, and semi-virtual offices, a one-man law firm can be run without staff for approximately 2,200 per month (this includes malpractice insurance).  At a bargain rate of $140/hr, you would need to collect on 16 hours a month, at the most.  If your collection rate is 85%, you need to bill 19 hours a month to meet your overhead.  Then the rest is take home or investment.

I live in a town with around 150,000 residents. There are several places where I can rent as mall office with access to a shared receptionist for under $800 a month.   Malpractice insurance is optional and it's pretty cheap for new attorneys because the types of cases you handle aren't as valuable even though you are more prone to mistakes, theoretically.   

Staff is only necessary when you reach a point where you are too busy billing to perform staff functions.   Some new attorneys get good paralegals and then bill their time.  This is a highly unpopular practice among clients in my town.
I've decided generally to focus on a 2-5-2 strategy.   2 hours a day marketing, 5 hours a day studying and working, and 2 hours a day doing staff functions.   If I can bill 5 hours a day, I estimate that I can gross around $180,000 a year.   I'm planning on taking home under $40,000 my first year, but I honestly think I can take home over $70,000 my second year without working all that much.  At that point I'll have to make a decision about how much of a firm I want to manage and what money I want to make in the future. 

As far as classes are concerned, I don't know how much they matter.   My school had some practical classes, but I didn't find the application all that helpful.  Your classes look good.  I think it's also a good idea to take an alternative dispute resolution course.
As the other posters have said (good posts), it's good to take internships and clerkships.  I know one guy who managed to get 25 of his 90 credits on the job.  He had several clerkships in several different areas.   If you can clerk for a judge, you can meet the other clerks and staff at the court and get a good feel for how to actually get things filed and done.   If you clerk for a firm, you can talk with all the paralegals and learn about how to get things drafted and filed.  You'll also hone your research and writing skills.

My impression so far about law is that client management and fact discovery are the name of the game.   If you dominate these areas, you will get referrals.   You can be the best in-court lawyer in the world, but if you fail at client management or fact discovery, your client will hate you and they will tell everyone they hate you.   I really don't see any reason why a whole year or at least a semester in law school isn't dedicated to client management and discovery.

Re: I could really use some help, guidance, etc...Thanks!
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2012, 11:45:34 AM »
I have no idea what the market rate is, or what it will bear in Podunk, USA.  He's in a county with a population of about 20k and in a city with less than 1k population; far northeast Iowa; Calmar.

I've done some number crunching for here in Memphis, and I'm not too far off from where your numbers are...about 10% difference, but I also threw in some projections for appointed work as a guardian ad litem.  I'm a volunteer court appointed special advocate, so I'm getting to know all the people at CASA, CPS, DCS, and the juvenile courts, which can't hurt any.  Combine that with my contacts in the disaster restoration industry (more than a few storm-chasers), and the vast number of unrepresented unsecured creditors providing service to the multi-family housing market, and I should be good to go...once I learn the actual processes, that is. 

Thanks for the reply.