Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

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gwuorbust
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Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby gwuorbust » Sat May 21, 2011 5:45 pm

We often hear noise about graduates considering "going solo." Either because they think they lack other options, don't want to work in shitlaw for someone else, or think it is the most profitable route.

I think the main issue with "going solo" is that most law students don't have a plan. And that largely comes down to having a specialization. Now take this example. In 7 years he went from starting his own practice focused on serving the Latino community..and he now employs like 20 lawyers and as many support staff. Now I don't know about you, but I think I would much rather prefer to own a law firm employing ~40 seven years from graduation then I would being a BigLaw castoff.

Obviously I understand that everyone who goes into their own practice will not be successful. But I do not think it is as impossible as it is made out to be.

Gideon Strumpet
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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 5:53 pm

gwuorbust wrote:I understand that everyone who goes into their own practice will not be successful. But I do not think it is as impossible as it is made out to be.

What you do not understand is that almost everyone who goes into their own practice will not be successful. The odds against any new small business succeeding are terrible, and new JDs will face these same lousy odds, except worse, since a solo practice is one of the hardest types of small businesses to start. They also face the added hazard of screwing something up and losing their license, which is easy to do when you don't know anything and don't have any experience. The "biggest problem with most law students" is that they lack the resources, talent, skills, personality, knowledge, ambition, and work ethic needed to build a successful small business. If they had all those things, they wouldn't have gone to law school.

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ResolutePear
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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby ResolutePear » Sat May 21, 2011 6:06 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote: If they had all those things, they wouldn't have gone to law school.


Except if they, you know, wanted to practice law.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby ac1987 » Sat May 21, 2011 6:18 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote:The "biggest problem with most law students" is that they lack the resources, talent, skills, personality, knowledge, ambition, and work ethic needed to build a successful small business.


Even with these things, you still need a product people are willing to pay for that they won't buy somewhere else, which is why a lot of people with these attributes will still fail at opening a small business.

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Lawquacious
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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Lawquacious » Sat May 21, 2011 6:23 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote:
gwuorbust wrote:I understand that everyone who goes into their own practice will not be successful. But I do not think it is as impossible as it is made out to be.

What you do not understand is that almost everyone who goes into their own practice will not be successful. The odds against any new small business succeeding are terrible, and new JDs will face these same lousy odds, except worse, since a solo practice is one of the hardest types of small businesses to start. They also face the added hazard of screwing something up and losing their license, which is easy to do when you don't know anything and don't have any experience. The "biggest problem with most law students" is that they lack the resources, talent, skills, personality, knowledge, ambition, and work ethic needed to build a successful small business. If they had all those things, they wouldn't have gone to law school.



It sounds like you are addressing someone going solo right after law school (which I think the OP was also doing, although focusing on the outcome 7 years out for one particular case). I agree that the odds are very bad for someone trying to go solo out of law school (and also that it is dangerous for malpractice reasons), but I disagree that the odds are necessarily terrible for someone who has gotten several years of experience under his or her belt.

BeenDidThat
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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby BeenDidThat » Sat May 21, 2011 6:28 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote:
gwuorbust wrote:I understand that everyone who goes into their own practice will not be successful. But I do not think it is as impossible as it is made out to be.

What you do not understand is that almost everyone who goes into their own practice will not be successful. The odds against any new small business succeeding are terrible, and new JDs will face these same lousy odds, except worse, since a solo practice is one of the hardest types of small businesses to start. They also face the added hazard of screwing something up and losing their license, which is easy to do when you don't know anything and don't have any experience. The "biggest problem with most law students" is that they lack the resources, talent, skills, personality, knowledge, ambition, and work ethic needed to build a successful small business. If they had all those things, they wouldn't have gone to law school.


The one thing that makes it a tad easier for small legal businesses to succeed than for normal small businesses to succeed is that there are some high entry costs to the legal field that don't exist for other businesses. I do agree that it would be one hell of an undertaking, given the unique nature of legal work as opposed to something like providing goods or more tangible services.

And your last statement is right...for most but not all law students. It's not really helpful to say that a lot of people have a bunch of qualities that are not entrepreneurial when the OP was suggesting that some people could be successful this way, and of course it's an individual decision. OP wasn't trying to say most law students should just forget about BigLaw and shoot for the stars hanging their shingle.

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A'nold
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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby A'nold » Sat May 21, 2011 6:38 pm

People that rally against law students starting their own firms out of school repeat the same tired, played out stuff over and over again. I've done enormous amounts of research on this and actually took a class devoted entirely to opening up a law practice directly out of school.

1. It is not some crazy pipe dream. It is doable and it is doable for VERY low initial investment.
2. A law practice should not be analogized w/ other small businesses. It is a service and there is very little overhead if you plan accordingly. You do not have to keep an inventory or pay $5k a month for some little corner sandwich shop in a risky location. Hell, you can do it all from home if you plan accordingly.
3. After having met with and spoken to over a dozen attorneys who have done this exact thing, I've met none that have failed. Sure, they had to do the whole ramen life for a few years, but most of them are making more money now and working less hours than the majority of their former classmates.

The cool thing about owning a solo practice is that if business is slow, you can usually find contract work. You might only make $35 an hour for 15 billable hours a week, but you will survive until business picks up.

Edit to add: The federal IBR acknowledges solo's so your student loans should not crush you during the lean years.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 7:03 pm

A'nold wrote:The cool thing about owning a solo practice is that if business is slow, you can usually find contract work. You might only make $35 an hour for 15 billable hours a week, but you will survive until business picks up.

That's great. Scraping by on $500 a week in overflow contract work =/= "running a great practice employing 40 people seven years out." Lots of solo attorneys wind up scraping by on contract and appointments work and never get out of that rut.

OP's premise is that this is a reasonable fallback for people who have no other options. If you're thinking of doing this because you have no other options, then this probably isn't an option either. Obviously in any profession there are the 5% who can do anything they want and do well at it. For everyone else, this is irrelevant. If people reading this think "going solo" is a viable fallback plan for new JDs who can't get any other job, anywhere, doing anything as a lawyer, then they're going to run into serious trouble.

The point is, people who can do this and succeed don't need some random guy on the internet to tell them that; they're either doing it right now, or they did it before and know how to do it again. Most people who read this and think it applies to them will just use it as a rationalization for making very bad choices, and "going solo" is not going to save them from that.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 7:13 pm

Lawquacious wrote:It sounds like you are addressing someone going solo right after law school (which I think the OP was also doing, although focusing on the outcome 7 years out for one particular case). I agree that the odds are very bad for someone trying to go solo out of law school (and also that it is dangerous for malpractice reasons), but I disagree that the odds are necessarily terrible for someone who has gotten several years of experience under his or her belt.

True. After you get some experience working somewhere as an associate, enough to become reasonably competent in a practice area, make some contacts, and get enough of a reputation that people will consider giving you contracts, then you can branch out with a more viable plan and some realistic chance of making it work.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Anonymous User » Sat May 21, 2011 8:24 pm

My dream is to eventually go out on my own. I think the one thing that helps if you can develop some sort of specific niche- be it a client base, or practice area. For instance, in a big city near where I live, I have met several solo practitioners who have done very well by developing client bases in certain ethic communities- either Latino or African-American. I myself am Mexican, and in my home county there are literally no Mexican lawyers, and very few Latino lawyers. The Latino community, particularly the Mexican community, is booming significantly. Ideally I could dominate the Mexican client base before any competitors get in. I know I would have to do a lot of what this forum calls shitlaw, but my attitude is: So what?

I will be helping regular people, it still has the potential to be lucrative, and most importantly, I will be my own boss.

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gwuorbust
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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby gwuorbust » Sat May 21, 2011 8:46 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote:
A'nold wrote:The cool thing about owning a solo practice is that if business is slow, you can usually find contract work. You might only make $35 an hour for 15 billable hours a week, but you will survive until business picks up.

That's great. Scraping by on $500 a week in overflow contract work =/= "running a great practice employing 40 people seven years out." Lots of solo attorneys wind up scraping by on contract and appointments work and never get out of that rut.

OP's premise is that this is a reasonable fallback for people who have no other options. If you're thinking of doing this because you have no other options, then this probably isn't an option either. Obviously in any profession there are the 5% who can do anything they want and do well at it. For everyone else, this is irrelevant. If people reading this think "going solo" is a viable fallback plan for new JDs who can't get any other job, anywhere, doing anything as a lawyer, then they're going to run into serious trouble.

The point is, people who can do this and succeed don't need some random guy on the internet to tell them that; they're either doing it right now, or they did it before and know how to do it again. Most people who read this and think it applies to them will just use it as a rationalization for making very bad choices, and "going solo" is not going to save them from that.


RC Fail. Did you miss the part where I said:
Obviously I understand that everyone who goes into their own practice will not be successful. But I do not think it is as impossible as it is made out to be.


I do not think that everyone has what it takes to be successful to go solo right at graduation. I have also posted many times that going solo should not be knee-jerk response to a seeming inability to find a job. Indeed, the whole point of my OP was that "...the main issue with "going solo" is that most law students don't have a plan." I think that if you have no money, no plan or no past business experience..if you whimsically try to start a solo practice, it will probably be unsuccessful. If students put thought and preparation into getting ready before graduation, then the choice to go solo can be a reasonable decision.

And do you have any idea how businesses are created? While you may have to skimp and eat Ramen at the beginning, if you can grow a client base over time you can probably end up making more than most BigLaw partners. Think about the lawyer in my OP. He is probably billing each associate out at 3x or 4x their salary. So if someone there is making 75k then they are billed out at 225k per year. Assuming you also have about 75k in overhead per associate, that leaves the owner banking 75k per associate. 75k(20)= a cool 1.5 million. So yeah, while he probably had to skimp for the first say 3 years..his long term profits can go much higher than if he did BigLaw. Again, I'm not saying this is something most people could do. But I feel that people at law school have a perception that individuals who go solo right at graduation are all failures who didn't have other options and are bound to make less than 60k for the rest of their life..when often, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby A'nold » Sat May 21, 2011 9:16 pm

To all that responded negatively to my post, I have this to say: Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah, blah.

This is the sound you make b/c all you are doing is parroting conventional wisdom. If you haven't thoroughly researched the topic, then GWU and I are obviously in the better position to speak on the subject.

Setting up a strawman argument against GWU does nothing but make you look uninformed. Just b/c it this is a novel sort of idea does not make it automatically foolhardy. He nor I never said that EVERYONE can run this successful rainbows and unicorns thriving practice right out of law school AND we never said it should be a fallback option.

Back to the discussion: In response to the contract workers never pulling themselves out: look, many people can make a pretty good living (and by that I'm not talking a six-figure salary or anything like that, but see the poster "Mathies" on here) by doing contract work. Obviously that's rarely "living the dream" but look at it this way. If you pull in 65k a year or something by doing half the time something simple like flat fee bankruptcies and half the time doing doc review contract work for a personal injury firm making like $40 an hour, if you have any commonsense you can easily grow that practice through effective networking, advertising, etc. If in 5 years you are making like 80k take home a year, I wouldn't call that a failure if you're o.k. w/ that. However, if you are ambitious, you can haul off and really start growing your practice. Say you are now getting so many flat fee bk's that you have to turn away some clients (not unheard of). You hire a fresh t3 law grad w/ crappy grades to start out at your firm for like 32k a year. You're doing him/her a favor by getting them some actual legal experience and now you just basically doubled your firm's productivity/income. Lather, rinse, repeat until you have a shit law firm that nets you 250k a year and now you are happier/less killselfy that most churned out biglaw associates. :)

Regardless, every "solo right out of ls" law grad that I've met is making a living. Around here, you need to make at least 30k a year to live. Is it glamorous at first? Not so much. But guess what? You're not working for anyone else and no one is forcing you to do anything you don't want to do. In a few years, you can make a solid middle class wage w/out killing yourself slaving away in some dungeon firm. And that is like the bottom 50%ile of those that strike out on their own after law school.

Disclaimer: once again, we are talking about those that don't just say, "oh crap, it's six months after graduation and I don't have a job. I think I'll open an M&A shop in downtown Manhattan."

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 9:19 pm

A'nold wrote:If you haven't thoroughly researched the topic, then GWU and I are obviously in the better position to speak on the subject.

When you're running your own firm and making good at it, you'll be in a better position to speak on the subject. Right now, it's obvious you have no idea how this works.

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A'nold
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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby A'nold » Sat May 21, 2011 9:22 pm

Anonymous User wrote:My dream is to eventually go out on my own. I think the one thing that helps if you can develop some sort of specific niche- be it a client base, or practice area. For instance, in a big city near where I live, I have met several solo practitioners who have done very well by developing client bases in certain ethic communities- either Latino or African-American. I myself am Mexican, and in my home county there are literally no Mexican lawyers, and very few Latino lawyers. The Latino community, particularly the Mexican community, is booming significantly. Ideally I could dominate the Mexican client base before any competitors get in. I know I would have to do a lot of what this forum calls shitlaw, but my attitude is: So what?

I will be helping regular people, it still has the potential to be lucrative, and most importantly, I will be my own boss.

This is a great start to a potentially successful plan. You already have a "niche" and can network/advertise as such. I say if you develop a solid business plan and set realistic goals, you have a great shot at developing a very lucrative and rewarding firm.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 9:31 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Ideally I could dominate the Mexican client base before any competitors get in.

You realize that you're not the first Spanish-speaking person to attend law school, right? You may be able to do well with the right plan, and the right skills and resources to back it up. But you're not going to find any virgin legal markets anywhere in the U.S.

That said, speaking Spanish fluently is a tangible asset for many legal jobs, not just solo practice. In a lot of public interest organizations, Spanish fluency will almost guarantee you an interview, no matter what else your qualifications. It won't guarantee you a job, but it will get you a call.

Having a connection with the community is great, because people do like to feel they can trust you, if you're supposed to represent their interests. But you won't be the only one that has that connection.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby gwuorbust » Sat May 21, 2011 9:35 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote:
Lawquacious wrote:It sounds like you are addressing someone going solo right after law school (which I think the OP was also doing, although focusing on the outcome 7 years out for one particular case). I agree that the odds are very bad for someone trying to go solo out of law school (and also that it is dangerous for malpractice reasons), but I disagree that the odds are necessarily terrible for someone who has gotten several years of experience under his or her belt.

True. After you get some experience working somewhere as an associate, enough to become reasonably competent in a practice area, make some contacts, and get enough of a reputation that people will consider giving you contracts, then you can branch out with a more viable plan and some realistic chance of making it work.


I missed this little gem. While it is generally thought that experience is beneficial, if you work as an associate then you are not automatically more ready to set up your own shop. In fact, in many instance I could see it being limiting. Think if you worked on IPOs in BigLaw for 3 years. Does that prepare you to do bk or PI filings or to work on criminal cases? Probably not. A lot of PI, bk, and other stuff is really boilerplate. You are not reinterpreting the constitution with each fender bender.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 9:57 pm

gwuorbust wrote:Think if you worked on IPOs in BigLaw for 3 years. Does that prepare you to do bk or PI filings or to work on criminal cases? Probably not. A lot of PI, bk, and other stuff is really boilerplate. You are not reinterpreting the constitution with each fender bender.

Firms that do insurance defense and personal injury have associates too. HTH

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Anonymous User » Sat May 21, 2011 9:59 pm

gwuorbust wrote:
Gideon Strumpet wrote:
Lawquacious wrote:It sounds like you are addressing someone going solo right after law school (which I think the OP was also doing, although focusing on the outcome 7 years out for one particular case). I agree that the odds are very bad for someone trying to go solo out of law school (and also that it is dangerous for malpractice reasons), but I disagree that the odds are necessarily terrible for someone who has gotten several years of experience under his or her belt.

True. After you get some experience working somewhere as an associate, enough to become reasonably competent in a practice area, make some contacts, and get enough of a reputation that people will consider giving you contracts, then you can branch out with a more viable plan and some realistic chance of making it work.


I missed this little gem. While it is generally thought that experience is beneficial, if you work as an associate then you are not automatically more ready to set up your own shop. In fact, in many instance I could see it being limiting. Think if you worked on IPOs in BigLaw for 3 years. Does that prepare you to do bk or PI filings or to work on criminal cases? Probably not. A lot of PI, bk, and other stuff is really boilerplate. You are not reinterpreting the constitution with each fender bender.


I think most people who work on IPOs want to exit law and end up in-house. I don't think people who work in the transactional side really want to go solo. They'd probably just quit the law and go into banking/business.

As for the thread, I think it's hard starting solo because you have no connections. I do know people who first made connections as public defenders, and then went solo as criminal defense attorneys, initially got referrals, and now make more money than biglaw associates. It's probably harder on the civil side to make connections. That said, I worked for a pair of attorneys who made a very good living doing contract work -- probably more than 160k/year tbh;one was T-14 order of coif -- but they had been working for almost 40 years, and I have no idea how they garnered enough contacts to get started.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby AreJay711 » Sat May 21, 2011 10:08 pm

I would imagine that law is easier to do this than other professions. There is low capital and you do have some idea of what needs to be done. The thing is that other professions just acknowledge it as impossible and move on with their lives, save money, and wait for the right opportunity.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 10:14 pm

Another good (extreme, but not actually atypical) anecdote of "success" in solo practice:

http://abovethelaw.com/2011/04/mistrial ... ompetence/

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 10:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I do know people who first made connections as public defenders, and then went solo as criminal defense attorneys, initially got referrals, and now make more money than biglaw associates. It's probably harder on the civil side to make connections. That said, I worked for a pair of attorneys who made a very good living doing contract work -- probably more than 160k/year tbh;one was T-14 order of coif -- but they had been working for almost 40 years, and I have no idea how they garnered enough contacts to get started.

A good public defender organization can set you up well for solo criminal practice. Often after a few years you can easily set up to take on conflict cases from the same agency (ones that the PD can't do, because someone else in the firm reps a witness or party). Most agencies also have overflow contracts, just because they have too much work to begin with. Even if you just get on the appointed counsel list, at least you will know enough to give competent representation to people who are facing serious consequences. The sad thing is that there are so few good PD organizations around to start with.

The way most people get connections is working with lawyers who are already established in an area, and eventually getting good enough to take some cases on their own, and get referrals. The really good attorneys in any area typically have more business than they can handle, but they don't want to hand it off to people who will make them look bad. So they look to people who they know well and can depend on not to ruin their reputation by screwing up a case that was passed on.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby gwuorbust » Sat May 21, 2011 10:25 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote:Another good (extreme, but not actually atypical) anecdote of "success" in solo practice:

http://abovethelaw.com/2011/04/mistrial ... ompetence/


I am actually starting to think you are a troll or alt, considering that you have 150 posts in 3 days and are spreading pretty bad info.

that said, this is an example of what happens if you are a dumbass. I am sure the reason this guy didn't get a job is because he was a dumbass. he is obviously lying on his website. he also has no control over his practice. this is an example of someone who is using "going solo" as an emergency response. This is exactly what A'nold and I said we were not talking about.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby kalvano » Sat May 21, 2011 11:16 pm

I haven't read everything in this thread because Gideon seems like...well, something.

But if you have 7 years of experience with a firm or doing something in the legal field, then hanging out your shingle probably isn't near as big a risk. That's 7 years to make contacts and get to know people. Obviously, if you never socialized and met people and made friends with anyone, you're probably not going to do well. But if you've kept up with your friends from school, met people at the firms, etc., then that is the basis for a successful solo practice. Those people send you referrals for stuff they can't handle for whatever reason. If you handle those well, then it grows from there.

If you try and do it straight out of school, you're setting yourself up for failure. But people on TLS have a far too narrow view of the real world sometimes. After several years of experience, you would (hopefully) have the necessary skills and contacts.

I know several people that have done this and most have been moderately successful, if not very. Note that I don't mean raking in $300K a year successful, I mean being their own boss and taking home enough money to live and enjoy themselves on. One attorney I know went from making $250K at a firm down to making $80K his first year solo, but he said it was the best decision he ever made.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby A'nold » Sat May 21, 2011 11:19 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote:
A'nold wrote:If you haven't thoroughly researched the topic, then GWU and I are obviously in the better position to speak on the subject.

When you're running your own firm and making good at it, you'll be in a better position to speak on the subject. Right now, it's obvious you have no idea how this works.

Great refutation of everything I said; I bow down to you sir.

ANYWAY.....

Another piece of conventional wisdom that is just plain wrong is that, as a solo straight out of law school, you will be so ignorant that you will commit malpractice and your life will be over. Even though I apparently know nothing according to Gideon Strumpet, I've talked to the head of the solo practice section of my state bar and this is not only rare, it really doesn't happen. Once in a blue freaking moon maybe.

Another thing this person (who obviously knows less than Gideon) said is that malpractice insurance, CONTRARY ONCE AGAIN to the conventional wisdom on this site, is absolutely dirt cheap for fresh grad solos. It is much cheaper to insure a new solo than it is one with more experience and a built up clientele.

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Re: Hanging Out Your Shingle - 7 Years Later

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Sat May 21, 2011 11:29 pm

kalvano wrote:But if you have 7 years of experience with a firm or doing something in the legal field, then hanging out your shingle probably isn't near as big a risk.

True. There are plenty of people who do this and have good outcomes. The article OP posted is about a lawyer who went from solo to running a 40-person firm in seven years; so the reference is to outcomes seven years out from starting up as a solo, not starting a firm with seven years experience in practice.




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