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Go Non-Solo Right Out of Law School

Another question from our readers ...

Hello Greatest American Lawyer,

I have been vigorously reading your posts since I found your website a couple days ago. I have a question for you that I hope you can publish an answer to (I don’t know if you take requests, but I thought I would ask and see if I get a response).

I am just about finished with my first year of law school. I am very entrepreneurial, having owned three companies during my college and pre-college years. After law school, I would really like to start my own practice, but I don’t know how wise it would be to hang my “shingle” right out of law school. What advice would you give a law student about starting a small practice right out of school?


Dear Reader:

You can go solo right out of school. It more possible now than ever in history. With a little low cost technology, you can make it happen in three easy steps:

1. start a blog now! if you start publishing content now, you can do six figures in income your first year out guaranteed. pick a topic and start publishing. you will be page one of the rankings in your niche area by the time you get your bar number. i did about 100k my first year in business from prospective clients who read my blog (not this one but my commercial blog site). walla. your first problem solved. You now have clients right our of the gate.

2. brand yourself as something and start proving it. i quickly became 'the high tech' lawyer in my neighborhood. where do you think the technology companies go when they have a legal problem. adopt skype, basecamp extranet tools, digital diction, nirto pdf,, you will be tech stud.

3. be different. adopt a progressive client friendly business model. deliver service and don't be greedy. never take more value than you delivered. if you don't accomplish your client's goals, waive fees eve if it wasn't your fault. provide cost certainty to your clients. try "a max budget flat rate or hourly rate, whichever is less" billing structure. you will underbid a few projects. but soon your experience in bidding projects will put you on solid ground. if you are missing your mark, make the projects smaller. tell your client, we will do a basic documents analysis, chronology review and some basic research. do no more than $2,000 worth of work and then report your recommendation to your client. many times, it will make sense for the client to spend the next $2,000, and again, and again.

don't buy the big firm hype. it is pink kool-aid. go non-solo. be an independent practitioner. plan ahead and leverage technology. you can do it. the time is now. the only thing to fear is ... jump jump jump


Grant Griffiths

Blog, blog, blog. If you pick a niche area to blog about, GAL is exactly right, you will become top on the page rankings in yoru niche area quick and you will make money from your blog. There are those that are more than willing to discuss blogging with you. I am sure GAL would and I would be happy to also.

Patrick J. Lamb

I am not a fan of big firms by any means, though they do have a place. But as a leader and former manager of a "small firm" (by Chicago standards--30 lawyers), I have to disagree with GAL. I do so most respectfully, because I am such a huge fan. But in 24 years of practicing law, I have yet to see a first year lawyer who knew anything relevant about what clients needed to know. I believe lawyers coming out of law school need to serve an apprenticeship of sorts. Certainly working with a capably solo would be a great idea, as would working with a firm for a couple of years. This is a profession where experience counts for a lot.

Greatest American Lawyer

pat is correct of course that experience is one of the key differentiating factors in the practice of law. pat is also correct that you will not have as much experience as you need right out of the gate.

the second half of differentiation, however, is knowledge. every attorney needs to do the legal task they are facing that first time. I carried a case load that almost equaled the 5 other associates at my first job at a law firm because I knew that the practice of law is… well …. practiced. I craved as many first time experiences as I could handle. And the partners at my firm (which was the largest specialty law firm of its kind in north america) were way to busy to contribute. I was a virtually a solo in a large firm. I loved it!

the thing that is changing so quickly right now is the ability to do on-line research to see, for instance, how a foreclosure action works. within 45 minutes, you can have solid understanding of the procedure in your state through any number of web sites. this last year, i have done legal projects for which i had no experience. but with a little poking around, i was able to see the process, find the case law and deliver results to my clients. i was no different than a first year graduate on those projects.

which takes us back to Pat's main point. YOU NEED EXPERIENCE. I agree whole heartedly. where pat and i may disagree is the best way to get experience. too many traditional law firms provide too little experience to the law students in their first few years out of school. Unlike my experience which was trial by fire, some medium and big firms don’t have enough meaningful work to keep even the mid-level associates happy. experience is not gained by drafting research memos. I clerked at a large philedelphia firm with a branch office in detroit while I was in law school. Theypaid near the top compensation for clerks and new associates in the city at the time. But the fourth year associates grew cold to the big money. Eventually their discontent was driven by their inability to run cases, take meaningful depositions, and argue the big motions (let alone first chair trials). Their 4rth friends who made less at smaller firms KNEW how to practice law and take cases to trial because they did it every day.

a few of my friends who could not get jobs out of law school and effectively had no choice but to go it alone hit the ground running. they got big time experience quickly. and some of them are far more successful than those who went to big firms. They run their own firms now and make more money.

pat is correct that going it alone right out of school is tough business and aligning with someone WITH experience is pretty important. and i overstated my case for giving it a try (purposely perhaps in face of the negative stigma for doing so).

it does bother me that only the graduates who had the worst grades went solo when I graduated in 1990. i do believe that possibility of making it happen right out of school and being successful increases every day. and perhaps the model won’t be going solo but simply being an independent practitioner and aligning yourself with other independent parishioners for support (ie pat's apprentice comment).

I think that a model for independent practice will develop which provides the resources and support to bright law school graduates as an alternative to traditional firm practice. … in a way, our virtual worker model is close to making that goal attainable. We do have virtual attorneys working as paralegals. We do have a law school graduate working as a clerk while he waits his bar results. why not full fledged virtual associates? They can tap into our work load, get all the support they need to start and eventually grow into their own practice…. I think I’ll post an advertisement for a virtual associate and see if I can get talented attorneys to apply……

thanks for the comment pat. your comemnt about 'apprenticeship' and creating a vehicle for that to occur really got me thinking. an interesting topic indeed…

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