Going Solo--but not the typical situation

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Anonymous User
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Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 12, 2011 3:12 pm

I live in a major market and go to a t2..I am about top 35% so while biglaw is not an option [nor did I want it to be], I could hopefully get a job at a smaller firm if I put the effort in. My area of interest is wills, trusts, and estate planning, but more specifically, this practice area within a certain subsect of the community [ie. a specific religious faith who have their own set of inheritance laws]. As far as getting clients is concerned, I grew up in this area and have family ties to most of the wealthy businessmen within the community---while I will likely have to do some work to get clients, I am pretty sure this will not be an issue for me. Not only do I know a lot of these people, but having seen me grow up, they are the type that would root for me and refer their friends to me as well.

Aside from this, I am graduating with no debt and having a working spouse--not making 80k my first year is not an issue for me.

My basic concern is 1) being able to have time for a family and to pursue my other interests, and 2) practicing law in an area that interests me to some extent---I do not need a booming practice. It would be nice. I just dont want to waste my degree.

So my question is, I know that the general consensus is to NOT go into solo practice straight out of law school, but do you think that for osmeone like me that has a specific niche that general advice is also applicable? What do you think are the potential pitfalls of doing this?

Also, do you have any advice as to what steps I can take right now to prepare me for solo practice?

kahechsof
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby kahechsof » Wed Oct 12, 2011 3:16 pm

Practicing solo out of school should be malpractice per se.
But why not, go for it.

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romothesavior
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby romothesavior » Wed Oct 12, 2011 3:20 pm

Develop relationships with practicing attorneys in your area. Talk to a few solos in your area about what worked and didn't work for them. Having mentors you can go to ask questions of is very important for a fresh solo, and maybe they'll be able to kick you a little business or something when you start out. Many of the people I know who went solo and were successful have stressed how important having connections and mentors was.

I do think you may overestimate your ability to get clients. Yes, these people may like you a lot, but are they going to trust handing important matters for their business and personal life over to a recent graduate with zero practical skills, knowledge, or experience? Obviously I don't know your situation, but it may be more difficult than you think.

I admittedly don't know a ton about going solo, so perhaps some recent grads who know more about it can chime in.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 12, 2011 3:25 pm

romothesavior wrote:are they going to trust handing important matters for their business and personal life over to a recent graduate with zero practical skills, knowledge, or experience?


this is a very valid point and one which I did not give a lot of thought to.

I had started out thinking I would work at a firm for a few years and then go solo---I just feel like what I want from my life [to start a family] is coming in the way of that. I put it off so I can finish law school but I am hesitant to hold off for another 3 years *after* law school. Maybe I am trying to have it all and its just not possible...but I am really just hoping to find a way to balance the two.

keg411
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby keg411 » Wed Oct 12, 2011 3:33 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
romothesavior wrote:are they going to trust handing important matters for their business and personal life over to a recent graduate with zero practical skills, knowledge, or experience?


this is a very valid point and one which I did not give a lot of thought to.

I had started out thinking I would work at a firm for a few years and then go solo---I just feel like what I want from my life [to start a family] is coming in the way of that. I put it off so I can finish law school but I am hesitant to hold off for another 3 years *after* law school. Maybe I am trying to have it all and its just not possible...but I am really just hoping to find a way to balance the two.


T&E tends to have the reputation as the most "work-life" balance-friendly law practice, so even if you worked at a small firm that does that kind of work, I don't think it's going to kill you or your ability to start a family. My suggestion is that you look up T&E attorneys on Martindale and try to get Spring and Summer internships (likely unpaid) at least to learn the practice. And try to find them with attorneys who want to mentor someone looking to go into the business, rather than attorneys looking for free WL/Lexis.

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Mick Haller
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Mick Haller » Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:15 pm

I am in pretty much the same boat. I wouldn't recommend going solo, it's better to find a small firm or solo prac. and try to hitch on to their wagon. Offer to split their operating expenses once you get going, and hopefully they will help you find clients and teach you basic stuff.

Wills and Trusts is a hard field for young lawyers to break into because many old folks are more trusting of experienced attorneys. Malpractice isn't a big concern despite what others in this thread have said.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:22 pm

I did a T&E internship and it taught me quite a bit--about the practice. Given that your business plan doesn't compete with most of the T&E attorney's in your area, it would be worth your while to put a year or two or maybe even a summer or two if you've got the time to learn from the experts.

If you can you might consider going of counsel in one of their offices, maybe offer work for space and training while you build up working experience and clientele.


just some ideas.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:17 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
If you can you might consider going of counsel in one of their offices, maybe offer work for space and training while you build up working experience and clientele.


just some ideas.



this is interesting and something I never heard of before. How exactly do you go about approaching firms for this type of arrangement? Would it be working for "free" in terms of an actual physical salary?

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby CanadianWolf » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:28 pm

Aren't "Of Counsel" positions usually for experienced attorneys ?

sebastian0622
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby sebastian0622 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:31 pm

You're going to go straight from taking strategic business advice on TLS to representing clients in the most important matters occurring in their lives? It's a bit of a stretch. There are a lot of practical concerns: do you know, thoroughly, the procedures of the courts in your area? Do you know the other attorneys? If applicable, do you know the county attorneys and how they handle things like pleas and reschedulings and juvenile placements and etc....? Do you know how the state offices for various types of aid handle claims against estates for gov't assistance rendered? Do you know the going rates and retainers? Do you know land values for taxation or auction purposes? Do you have relationships with real estate agents, appraisers, bureaucrats, CPA's, and other lawyers? Do you know how to pursue people who don't pay their attorney fees? Do you know what to look for in hiring a secretary? Do you know how to run a business?

These questions are seriously just the tip of the iceberg. There is a whole sea of procedural, cultural, and relational obstacles to navigate in solo practice. I'm not saying it can't be done, but even 2-3 years working for a firm would help tremendously.

CanadianWolf
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby CanadianWolf » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:31 pm

Recently read about an Amish investment advisor who only served those within the Amish community. He made & swindled millions. The biggest risk of going solo straight out of law school is inexperience. Inexperience can be overcome by prior related work experience such as for life insurance companies or the IRS.

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IAFG
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby IAFG » Thu Oct 13, 2011 7:54 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
romothesavior wrote:are they going to trust handing important matters for their business and personal life over to a recent graduate with zero practical skills, knowledge, or experience?


this is a very valid point and one which I did not give a lot of thought to.

I had started out thinking I would work at a firm for a few years and then go solo---I just feel like what I want from my life [to start a family] is coming in the way of that. I put it off so I can finish law school but I am hesitant to hold off for another 3 years *after* law school. Maybe I am trying to have it all and its just not possible...but I am really just hoping to find a way to balance the two.

You're being shockingly naive if you think starting your own business is going to be less time consuming than working for someone else.

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AreJay711
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby AreJay711 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 8:00 pm

IAFG wrote:You're being shockingly naive if you think starting your own business is going to be less time consuming than working for someone else.


This.

Think about it -- everything that you would have asked someone for guidance on, you will be doing yourself and on top of all the legal work you will be trying to manage the firm's marketing, accounting, and other administrative b.s.

Geist13
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Geist13 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 8:31 pm

CanadianWolf wrote:Aren't "Of Counsel" positions usually for experienced attorneys ?


Yes. It's just a way for a firm to continue to claim it's still associated with a particular individual who, for whatever reason, they want to remain associated with.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 14, 2011 9:51 am

AreJay711 wrote:
IAFG wrote:You're being shockingly naive if you think starting your own business is going to be less time consuming than working for someone else.


This.

Think about it -- everything that you would have asked someone for guidance on, you will be doing yourself and on top of all the legal work you will be trying to manage the firm's marketing, accounting, and other administrative b.s.



well the benefit to your own practice is that you can take on as many or as few clients as you wish. You can set the days that you work on. And more importantly, you can work from your own living room.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 14, 2011 9:53 am

sebastian0622 wrote:These questions are seriously just the tip of the iceberg. There is a whole sea of procedural, cultural, and relational obstacles to navigate in solo practice. I'm not saying it can't be done, but even 2-3 years working for a firm would help tremendously.



starting to think this is the way to do it.

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IAFG
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby IAFG » Fri Oct 14, 2011 11:35 am

Anonymous User wrote:
AreJay711 wrote:
IAFG wrote:You're being shockingly naive if you think starting your own business is going to be less time consuming than working for someone else.


This.

Think about it -- everything that you would have asked someone for guidance on, you will be doing yourself and on top of all the legal work you will be trying to manage the firm's marketing, accounting, and other administrative b.s.



well the benefit to your own practice is that you can take on as many or as few clients as you wish. You can set the days that you work on. And more importantly, you can work from your own living room.

You can take on as many or as few people you can talk into working with you. This may or may not be enough to pay your overhead, let alone to pay yourself a salary.

reverendt
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby reverendt » Fri Oct 14, 2011 11:42 am

What have you been doing during law school?
I'm considering going solo (I graduated in May) but I've been working as a clerk for a solo for almost 2 years. I'm starting to get a feel for how it all works...everything from intake to the procedures of my state.
If I didn't have these 2 years of experience I'd be absolutely clueless. I don't know about your school but they didn't teach us a thing about actually being a lawyer....I learned that on the job.
So if you HAVEN'T had that kind of experience, definitely go work for a small firm for a few years.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby CanuckObserver » Fri Oct 14, 2011 2:30 pm

Yeah, I do not recommend going solo right out of law school. You may know a lot of the theory, but you know very little about actual practice - and you need to run a business on top of that. In legal practice, that also means being on top of the trust accounting rules (where many solo's run into trouble). Sure people do it, but in my experience working for the disciplinary department of my bar previously, it is usually soloists who run into the most trouble with malpractice and other practice issues. Be it mistakes in trust accounting, or be it getting in over their head by accepting files they probably were not competent to handle, but they needed the money or figured they could learn as they go. I know a few who have not run into trouble by going solo right out of very soon out of law school yet, but they are pretty horrible lawyers and in my small legal market they don't have the best of reputations amongst other lawyers or the judges. They would not get hired around here in a small firm even if they wanted to due to that.

I practice in a small firm. I have plenty of autonomy but also do not have to worry about my own overhead, hiring, trust accounting, staff, rent space, and so on. I can come into work at 8, and leave at 4 or 5. I can also use the firm reputation to get new clients. Even if people "like you", it does not mean they want you to be their lawyer - especially when you are untested. Very few businesses - even if you know the owner personally - is going to trust their legal work to someone fresh out of school. I work with many experienced colleagues who are a great source of guidance and information. Even what appear to be "straightforward" wills and estates can be much more convoluted and beyond your experience and competence. It is likely unreasonable to rely only one wills and estates. Solo's and small firm lawyers generally need to be able to handle a breadth of practice areas if they want to stay current and have a steady income stream (relying all on one area as a solo/small firm lawyer is too susceptible to fluctuations in demand or suddenly losing a major client, etc).

You also underestimate how difficult it would be to have time for a family as a solo. I do not have kids, but many of those I work with do. Where I am, I can give conduct of current files and matters to other lawyers I work with if I was to take leave for parental leave without having to lose clients/refer them elsewhere, or had to stay home with a sick child, I know I can leave at 4:30 if I had to run to the daycare to pick up a child even if business taxes were due the next day, and so on. I have a reliable salary (plus a percentage of my realized billables) so I can budget for household expenses without worrying about fluctuations from week to week or month to month just due to client needs of what I can actually "take home" and so on. It is unreasonable to expect to be able to get a lot of work done with a nursing newborn or a fussy toddler if you plan to "work from home while watching baby".

I am certainly not against solo practices, I just highly, highly recommend you work in a small firm practice for a while before you go that route.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby sebastian0622 » Fri Oct 14, 2011 2:44 pm

That's a really good post by Canuck, and I agree 100%.

I would like to comment on his mention of the importance of advice and mentoring. Here's an example: I was working on a fraud action relating to an estate over my 1L summer and had maybe 10 hours of research into it. I was researching fraudulent conveyances and a number of other legal doctrines. A senior partner asked me how it was going, and I discussed a few of the issues. He instantly said, "You need to research accretive interests; here let me find this case I'm thinking of." I'm thinking, "WTF is an accretive interest?" It didn't come up in any cases I was researching, I had no idea such a thing even existed, and I would have been exceedingly unlikely to ever come across it in even 100 hours of my own research. But in five seconds he told me that, and sure enough the research he suggested was vital to the case. This led me to the obvious conclusion that you can't give your clients the best representation possible if you don't even know some relevant things exist.

This is just one example. There were several other examples of this type of thing, typically over lunch when the attorneys all catch up, make small talk, and invariably discuss at least one legal project. The shared expertise of a handful of people with over 100 combined years of legal practice brought to bear on a lunch conversation is an enormously valuable resource. Five minutes with good attorneys can save you 20 hours of research and expose you to arguments you might not ever come up with otherwise, no matter how smart you are, just because of a lack of experience.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 14, 2011 4:40 pm

thanks everyone. All the posts thus far are very helpful/solid advice.

And yeah, I would say that if I had to go out and write a K for someone today, even having taken K's and having done well, I would not know where to begin. You are right to say we dont have the skills to actually BE a lawyer right out of law school, and that is definitely one hurdle you can't jump with brunt force.

...I guess I will be making some changes to my plans.

hopefully 2 yrs at a firm would provide me with some experience.

In response to those mentioning covering overheads, etc...like I said, I am not looking to make a living off of this. I just want to do *something* with my time and not sit on the couch all day getting fat. I suppose there are other things one could do to avoid this fate [volunteering, etc] but after 3 years of hard work, I'd like to use the skills I worked so hard to attain.

CanuckObserver
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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby CanuckObserver » Fri Oct 14, 2011 5:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:thanks everyone. All the posts thus far are very helpful/solid advice.

And yeah, I would say that if I had to go out and write a K for someone today, even having taken K's and having done well, I would not know where to begin. You are right to say we dont have the skills to actually BE a lawyer right out of law school, and that is definitely one hurdle you can't jump with brunt force.

...I guess I will be making some changes to my plans.

hopefully 2 yrs at a firm would provide me with some experience.

In response to those mentioning covering overheads, etc...like I said, I am not looking to make a living off of this. I just want to do *something* with my time and not sit on the couch all day getting fat. I suppose there are other things one could do to avoid this fate [volunteering, etc] but after 3 years of hard work, I'd like to use the skills I worked so hard to attain.


Okay, but even if you do not need to make a living off of it (I hope you have no debt to worry about!), you still have overhead. Rental space, bar dues, CLE's, phone bills, marketing, banking fees, office supplies and equipment, accountants, storage (since there are requirements for holding onto files for a period of time and you may not have the space), proper disposal of sensitive documents, and so on all cost money. I imagine you do not want to be going into the hole to cover these costs.

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Re: Going Solo--but not the typical situation

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 14, 2011 5:54 pm

CanuckObserver wrote:
Okay, but even if you do not need to make a living off of it (I hope you have no debt to worry about!), you still have overhead. Rental space, bar dues, CLE's, phone bills, marketing, banking fees, office supplies and equipment, accountants, storage (since there are requirements for holding onto files for a period of time and you may not have the space), proper disposal of sensitive documents, and so on all cost money. I imagine you do not want to be going into the hole to cover these costs.


yeah, no debt. thankfully. but absolutely, there is cost associated with it...and it would be nice to make some money. Just saying it's not the typical situation where money is a controlling factor in all respects, etc


I have read about people, particularly those doing T&E work, not having an office and that they will meet clients at their homes or at coffee somewhere. Two of the main things I see being money-makers in this particular subset of the community are wills and marriage contracts---all marriages are performed with a contract and religiously you are supposed to form a K the way other Ks are formed...many in the communtiy have not done this and simply enter into marriage with a boilerplate K...as teh div rate increases, ppl are starting to pay more attention to the K itself. I def think community outreach would pull in people willing to pay a lawyer a flat fee to draw up the mariage contract with terms that will not leave them screwed if the marriage dissolves. Opinions on whether this kind of work can be accomplished without an office? Do you think that having an office allows people to put more faith in you? To a certain degree, I feel like an office gives at atty credibility, in some weird way..in my mind at least.




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