making sh&%$ law pay you well

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utlaw2007
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making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Fri May 24, 2013 5:44 pm

I have posted on here before about topics relating to this topic. But I haven't really touched upon this aspect. Most of my previous posts have related to acquiring the skills necessary to be in this position to generate very large amounts of revenue. This thread focuses more on the business aspects of this. It is these business aspects that really are the foundation to experiencing great financial success as a small law firm owner.

People on this forum refer to this sort of law practice as sh*&% law. I play along and have referred to it as such since that seems to be the official designation of this type of law practice. However, I find it rather absurd to refer to this sort of law practice by that designation when there is a possibility of generating revenue that puts biglaw partner revenue sharing amounts to shame. I'm not professing that this is the norm or even likely. Making this kind of money is not. But all of the stats that suggest what solos make lump all solos and small law firms into one category. Traffic ticket lawyers are lumped together with catastrophic personal injury lawyers. Social Security lawyers are lumped together with contingency fee contract/commercial litigation lawyers. As you can see, the practice areas are completely different. However, this forum fails to distinguish those things. But more importantly, the amount of revenue from these various practice areas is vastly different and dependent upon the practice area, the demand for that practice area, and the ability of the lawyer practicing that practice area. Elements of marketing and business planning concerning these areas are of paramount importance. I've already discussed the ability of the lawyer and how to obtain and optimize those skills. This thread will focus on the first two factors concerning demand and the actual practice area.

In no way am I suggesting that going solo is a likely path to riches. The odds are greatly stacked against that. But what I am suggesting is that a significant part of whether you get to the pot at the end of the rainbow greatly depends on what type of decisions you make as a solo or small firm owner.

I have not had a firm for that long. But my revenue has ranged from the low six figures to seven figure range. If anyone is making over 7 figures practicing law as a solo or small firm owner, I hardly doubt the law that lawyer is praciticing is sh*&%, worthy of being looked down upon.

I will share my experiences and those of other successful colleagues. Much of what I say is going to be anecdotal. There is just no way around that. But I will also attempt to highlight the general business principles that can lead to success and those common business actions or lack thereof that lead to failure.

So I won't feel like I'm talking to a wall, I'll try to impart all of this information through a question and answer format. It's more interesting that way. And I'm pretty busy these days so I need every reason to stay involved in this thread. So ask away...

I wasn't sure what forum to put this in because it doesn't really concern employment since you are working for yourself.
Last edited by utlaw2007 on Fri May 24, 2013 11:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Redfactor
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby Redfactor » Fri May 24, 2013 6:00 pm

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Last edited by Redfactor on Mon Sep 09, 2013 6:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Fri May 24, 2013 10:46 pm

Redfactor wrote:Thanks, UTLaw for sharing your knowledge / experiences!

I figure the most important aspect of being a successful "small law" is to bring in business. But more than just clients, clients who pay and pay well.

My question is, do you find yourself active within your community in terms of small business organizations / local politics and basically constantly networking? Have you found that to be productive or in your experiences are there just too many lawyers desperate to hand out cards at these types of events?


You are right. The most successful thing to running a successful law firm is getting business. While it helps tremendously, you don't have to have clients that pay well, especially if you are a contingency fee lawyer. Being a contingency fee lawyer is by far the best way to riches. It's also the riskiest. While it is always better to have clients that pay well, whether it be large retainers or flat/hourly fees, it is not necessary to financial success.

Many law firms don't want to leave the comfort zone of these fee structures. Hourly/flat fees are the safest. It is hardest to find clients who can afford hourly fees at the small firm level. Many clients at this level just simply cannot afford it. Some can, especially business clients. But not enough to where you can get rich off of this fee structure if you are small. The pathway to immense riches does not include hourly fees unless you make partner in a big law firm. But even then, we're talking about a finite amount, two million a year tops for example. And that is a best case scenario, I believe. Hourly fee structures at any firm size are an incredibly inefficient way to make money. The only way you can make more money is to work more hours. There is a ceiling on what you can make because there are only so many hours in the day.

The flat fee structure is more efficient. This is the fee structure of choice for criminal defense lawyers. This fee structure is second best because it can be very efficient. There is a ceiling on what you can charge upfront, but one can get incredibly efficient at handling cases with minimal effort and minimal time. The quicker one can dispose of cases, the more cases a person can take on. The more cases you take on, the more money you make. But volume is needed to make a lot of money. That is the drawback. There really is no such thing as volume with hourly fee cases because of time limitations. The only way to achieve volume is to work every day and all day. But that is just terribly inefficient and only the richest clients can afford to pay for that schedule of services. This is why biglaw is the best for this type of fee structure. But there are still limitations for how many hours you can work in a given period. And it is also why biglaw works associates to death. That is the only way biglaw can make more money. However, this fee structure carries with it minimal risk. But at the small firm level, it is just not a feasible way of making a lot of money.

The most efficient way of making money is the contingency fee structure. That is the one that I use. It is, by far, the riskiest. You can minimize this risk a bit by charging retainer fees. But those retainers have to be relatively small if you want to remain competitive in the market place. The risk is that you only get paid if you win or obtain settlement. But if you do so, the pay day is just astronomically huge!

For example, I know of someone who took a personal injury case. His client was badly hurt. This guy obtained the medical records and sent them to the defendant whom he hadn't filed suit against yet. He also sent a demand letter. The demand letter asked for the policy limits of the insurance coverage. This is rare, but he received a million dollar settlement from a demand letter and extensive medical records before suit was even filed. The guy made $333,000 off of a freaking demand letter! Sure, his client had to have extensive medical bills, but still. Some defendants will fight you to the death before they pay you anything. Others get scared and pay up right away. This is the most money and quickest I have seen from a demand letter. But I have colleagues who have experienced payouts right upon the filing of the suit. The payouts aren't anywhere close to this amount. They are usually in the tens of thousands in the presuit stages. But that it is why it is so important to build your case so that it is ready to go to trial. You gain far more leverage that way. And you always should be ready for trial because the result of getting a judgment and post judgment settlement can result in humongous pay days. The largest paydays that my colleagues and I have been witness to were in the low millions, resulting in the pocketing of one plus million dollars off of one case. Contingency fee agreements allow for a lawyer to take anywhere from a third to 40% of any award.

I never accept settlement from a demand letter unless it is a contract case. I don't even write demand letters unless I'm obligated to by law. I'm always ready to fight. There is so much more money to be had if you are ready to fight.
Last edited by utlaw2007 on Fri May 24, 2013 11:58 pm, edited 3 times in total.

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Fri May 24, 2013 11:31 pm

My question is, do you find yourself active within your community in terms of small business organizations / local politics and basically constantly networking? Have you found that to be productive or in your experiences are there just too many lawyers desperate to hand out cards at these types of events?


I want to address the second part of your question. But I need to clarify something that is very important. Those humongous cases don't just fall in your lap. Nor do they just appear from fairly hard marketing efforts. They can appear from extremely SMART marketing efforts. There's a lot more to that explanation, but I will tackle your question first.

Regardless of what kind of law you practice as a small firm owner or solo, you HAVE to be out and about within your community. It's fine if you have a rep because you've been doing this for ten years. I would say most solos fail or make little money because they are absolutely horrid business people. They do all sorts of stupid things because they are, in fact, not too bright. Most of them go by word of mouth. Name one other business that markets solely by word of mouth. Maybe there are others, but I don't know any. Back in the 50's, lawyers were such a premium and so rare that any lawyer who hung out a shingle could probably end up rich. But nowadays, the competition is so stiff, you just can't rely on the fact that you are a lawyer with a law firm. And you also can't rely on word of mouth unless you have been practicing law for 20 years. That is the old way of doing things. And that is also the stupid way of doing things.

I knew that when I began my law firm that I did not have 10 years to "get my name out there" through word of mouth. That concept is just so stupid to me. But this is what the large majority of lawyers do. If other businesses approached marketing in this fashion, they would die very quick deaths.

But to answer your question, you have to get out and about. You should join organizations. But those organizations that you join should be tailored to your practice areas. And your practice areas should be dictated by the demand for certain types of legal services in your area. Sometimes, your services may be the same type of services provided by someone else. But there may be a difference in the demographic that you provide those services to. And that may be your pathway to financial success.

While getting involved in politics leads to automatic riches as an attorney. Not because of the salaries politicians make, but because of the name recognition you receive from large audiences. Politics is just not an easy thing to do. I do not think that method would be efficient because making a name for yourself at any political level requires way too much effort.

But you do have to constantly network. If you primarily practice criminal law, you need to break down what areas you practice more. Then you need to go to those places to get in front of either potential clients, or people who know potential clients. If you do DUI's, you need to get to know affluent people or upper middle class people. Those are the most likely people to pay thousands of dollars to keep Susy from having a record. Other people do not tend to fight DUI's so strongly.

But everyone fights for their freedom from jail.

With personal injury, those cases are taken on contingency. I have not given much thought to how to optimize marketing for those cases. I don't really practice personal injury unless it's catastrophic personal injury or products liability. But products liability case can be ridiculously expensive to try. And you are always going up against a large manufacturer if your damages are great. Take it if you can afford to do so. You'll have to partner with a law firm to do it. That's why it is so imperative to forge relationships with other solos and small firms. But be discriminant about who you forge relationships with. Don't spend a lot of effort getting to know lawyers who aren't successful. They can't help you. Get to know those that are. The best way to get next to really successful lawyers is to be a great fisherman of extremely valuable cases. Experienced lawyers who are good are drawn to those cases and will finance them to help you out. They get a bigger cut of the winnings. But they will take you under their wing. And a robust lawyer network is always good for business.

Obviously, join business organizations if you service businesses. But always have in mind the type of industry that you join. I see a lot of small law firm use the generic business practice area in their marketing. While it is unavoidable to a certain degree, you should pick out target industries to practice. All business areas rely on contracts, but you need to know the industry so that you can properly interpret those contracts for enforcement of contractual rights. And you need to effectively evaluate whether performance or lack thereof is present. And this is also a way better marketing tool. Let's say you own a furniture store and need legal services. You see two different law firms. One markets that they do business or commercial litigation. The other markets that they specialize in commercial litigation that involves vendors who sell goods. So they have a mastery of the UCC. Who are you going to choose as the furniture store owner? Likewise, you can't be everywhere at the same time. You can only attend so many organizational meetings. It's not about passing out a business card and expecting to get a call. That won't happen. It's about getting to know those prospective clients and letting them get to know you. Go to all of the organizations that are likely to have furniture store owners. Join them all when it is financially possible to do so. But join them one at a time if you have to. Email them. Take them out to lunch or coffee. Get to know them.

When a legal problem comes up, they will retain you or they will refer you. There's a lot more to this, but I'll stop for now.
Last edited by utlaw2007 on Sat May 25, 2013 12:14 am, edited 2 times in total.

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat May 25, 2013 12:07 am

Let me clarify. Clearly, word of mouth is part of the equation. But that should not be the only factor in your marketing equation. Word of mouth implies that you do a good job for someone and then they refer you to someone else. I'm suggesting that you don't rely on others to sell your services. You rely on yourself to sell those services meaning, you get yourself in front of your prospective clients. You sell yourself to parties who may need you. You don't wait for someone to sell you for you.

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat May 25, 2013 12:33 am

A big part of selling yourself to prospective clients is to teach seminars. Join organizations that let you do this. It will cost a little money to buy refreshments. Obviously, you need to join organizations that have the venues for you to give these seminars. But do it. You have to do this if you want a chance at making a ton of money without having much of a rep.Tell the people what services you provide. Tell them what you can do to help them. A very effective way you can do this is to teach them about pitfalls that they may run into. Teach them the legal significance of these pitfalls. Teach them how they can get around these pitfalls by retaining your services. Remember, you are not posing as a law professor. You are not teaching a bunch of top law school students. You are teaching basic legal principles depending on your practice area and relating those things to real life scenarios that these parties may encounter. The general public doesn't know what you know. They know nothing about that stuff. And they couldn't give 2 sh&^%$ about prestige. They want to know how you can help them. Sometimes, you have to teach just how bad a situation may be for them. Sometimes, you have to spell out the value of your services. There is no better stage to do that then to talk to a room full of several people about how you can help them, but do it under the guise of teaching them the basics of (insert law here). That's a room full of prospective clients. That's another way of getting business. You need this skill to be able to relate to and persuade juries. You're teaching them, as well. It's the same thing here.

Of course prestige depends on your clientele. I went to the best school I could have gone to for having a smaller law firm in the state of Texas. The power structure of Texas is dominated by UT Law. And that is why lay prestige for UT is so high in Texas. Plus, going to Texas shows potential clients, that you are one of them and can relate to them. And that helps a ton when it comes to getting business at this level.

But going to most law schools will suffice. You just may have to pick your practice areas accordingly. I'll go into that later...
Last edited by utlaw2007 on Sat May 25, 2013 12:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

wisdom
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby wisdom » Sat May 25, 2013 12:41 am

1. Did you practice in a big law firm before going solo, or did you do this straight out of school?

Depending on the answer to that, can you give a sense of how valuable your prior experience was to solo practice? The perception on my end is that big law firm practice is so hierarchical nowadays that you get very little practical experience for case management, client interaction, actual courtroom time (whether it be pre-trial, trial, or appeal), etc.

2. Not to out yourself too much, but what was your background? Did you come from a relatively well-off family and were some of your first clients a product of your social circle/class and/or your parents' social circle/class? I imagine it'd be hard to start off as a solo with NO clients, so where did your core client base come from?

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat May 25, 2013 1:08 am

wisdom wrote:1. Did you practice in a big law firm before going solo, or did you do this straight out of school?

Depending on the answer to that, can you give a sense of how valuable your prior experience was to solo practice? The perception on my end is that big law firm practice is so hierarchical nowadays that you get very little practical experience for case management, client interaction, actual courtroom time (whether it be pre-trial, trial, or appeal), etc.

2. Not to out yourself too much, but what was your background? Did you come from a relatively well-off family and were some of your first clients a product of your social circle/class and/or your parents' social circle/class? I imagine it'd be hard to start off as a solo with NO clients, so where did your core client base come from?


These are superb questions. I'm a very spiritual person. I pray. I give God all the glory for the things He's done for me.

That being said, I did this straight out of law school. I graduated. Passed the bar. I did not want biglaw. Too many hours worked. I also wanted to be a trial lawyer so I was looking to get on with a small firm or the DA's office. Then I became terribly sick with a rare illness. I was sick for a few years. When I got well enough to work, although I was far from recovered, the economy had tanked. No firm small enough to give you trial experience was hiring unless you had 2-5 years experience doing a certain area of law. So I had to make money some kind of way, so I opened up my own law firm. I knew nothing about the practice of law.

You are right. Biglaw experience gives you no kind of advantage to doing this. It's not hands on enough. Biglaw work is akin to an assembly line almost. You do several bits of work for all sorts of partners. Small law practice is nothing like that. You have to do it all if you work for yourself. I had to learn how to file a lawsuit. I had to learn where to file it in the courthouse. I had to learn how much it cost. I had to learn local rules for the courthouse. Each courthouse is different. Most importantly, I had to read codes and statutes to learn the state's twist on certain causes of action. I had to study civil procedure rules. The interesting thing is that I learned a lot just from reading the pleadings of opposing counsel. As a plaintiffs attorney, opposing counsel, especially if they are good, is always trying to dismiss your case. Suing big defendants early in your career is the best way to learn stuff. They know what they are doing and they do it well. You learn from their pleadings and you are also faced with obstacles that you have to overcome. And the way to overcome them is to research those issues. So you learn that way, too.

I had no clients. But, I was fortunate enough to come from a fairly high socioeconomic status group. I was not affluent by any means. Actually, I had very limited means. But the circle of friends I had had good means. And we, including my family, were all very well educated. That always leads to connections and greater resources. I took advantage of that. I was fortunate enough to have a few guys who I went to high school with who were business minded and opened up their own shop. Both make millions of dollars a year. So I asked them plenty of questions. I had 2 family friends who were lawyers who I asked questions to. I cut my teeth on two cases that were referred to me by a family friend who was a lawyer who tried to help me out.

But I think anyone who is educated enough to attend a good law school is going to have some connections. I cut my teeth on those cases that were given me. And they were huge learning experiences. But I didn't make money off of them, at least not a lot. I mostly supplemented my income by doing the dreaded document review. But you have to do what you have to do. I was actually fired from two projects because I missed too much time from the projects running my practice. Plus I would get so bored doing that stuff that I was always away from my desk on the phone in casual conversation. But that was the only way I could tolerate those gigs. My animosity towards those places is extremely high.

I'm a very social person. My first cases just came from random connections I had. The rest came as a result of those things that I mentioned above. Others came from lawyer referrals. I'll talk more about that later...

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat May 25, 2013 9:40 am

Just wanted to clarify something I said earlier that may have not been clear. Earlier I said that the largest payouts the SOME of my colleagues and I have been witness to were contingency fee amounts of one million plus. We didn't just see someone else make that kind of money. We have experienced that ourselves off of ONE case. I will go into greater length about assessing case value and how to get those types of cases. Some of it is purely random. But a significant portion of whether a lawyer can get this type of case is totally dependent on the lawyer. I'll go into greater detail about that later, as well.

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Grazzhoppa
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby Grazzhoppa » Sun May 26, 2013 12:50 am

Thank you for this.

Bobnoxious
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby Bobnoxious » Sun May 26, 2013 1:04 am

What's the best way to learn whether a case is worth taking on a contingency basis? How do you learn the likelihood of winning a given case as it's presented and the likely payout, both to you and the client?

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Sun May 26, 2013 2:57 pm

I wanted to add that some of my anecdotes to business marketing seem pretty simple. That's because some of them are. But you would be surprised at how few attorneys employ these tactics.

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Sun May 26, 2013 3:49 pm

Bobnoxious wrote:What's the best way to learn whether a case is worth taking on a contingency basis? How do you learn the likelihood of winning a given case as it's presented and the likely payout, both to you and the client?


Good question.

Much of this answer depends on the ability of the lawyer. From what I have learned in my early legal career, NEVER trust more experienced lawyers opinions about the strength of your case IF you have a sound theory to support an advantageous result. Don't rely on typical jury verdicts for certain harms. You have different lawyers who give completely different arguments than what you may give. The composition of the juries may be different. The judge may be different. However, you should develop an inner circle of people who you can run theories by to make sure that they are understood and feasible. My inner circle consists of few trusted law school classmates for evaluating my legal theories. And a few trusted friends for evaluating my factual theories. And even then, the most important person you should trust is yourself. Now clearly, if you think you have developed an awesome theory only to have holes poked into it by someone and this someone has articulated a sound argument as to why your theory is suspect, then you need to take heed. If they poked holes in it, opposing counsel, especially if suing a huge defendant, will definitely tear it apart. But if your only feedback is that it's never been done before, or no one is going to buy your theory and no sound argument as to why is given, then you have to press on ahead with your theory. Don't be scared of large defendants. Of course, if you have lots of ability, then the defendants size won't matter. If a large law firm is involved, it's not like you have to get in a ring against 1000 opponents. But all of this depends on the ability of the lawyer and his/her confidence in himself/herself.

But in my personal opinion, lawyers are either too lazy to assess damages correctly or they are just not good enough to assess damages correctly.

Quite honestly, if that guy was able to obtain a million dollars from a demand letter, that tells me that he probably could have gotten several more million dollars in a pretrial/post trial settlement or judgment. Why settle for 300 grand when you can make 2+ million off of one case?

But I'll try to simplify my answer to your question. As for assessing value for a contingency fee case, you should first determine the gist of what kind of legal argument you can use to win. Then you need to assess what kind of factual argument you can use to support that legal argument. Finally, you need to assess how you can PROVE that factual argument with evidence. And you need to get the gist of the costs associated with obtaining that evidence. Once you do these things, the value of the case, both for the client and you, is going to span a a huge range.

This is the only time I'd say that you need to get a sampling of jury judgments in your state and county. Not for every type of case, necessarily. You mainly need to get an idea of what is a realistic amount. You always shoot for unrealistic amounts. You might be pleasantly surprised. But you need to get an idea for what is reasonable and what is most likely obtainable. I like to assess cases conservatively, and then I have higher range of value that centers around what I think I am capable of getting but is less likely. But you need to understand that these ranges are going to span a wide range. I can tell you, a mediocre attorney may get $40,000, total, out of a case. A bad attorney, this includes most attorneys at the small law level in my opinion, may get the same case dismissed because of defective pleadings, didn't sue the right entities, or got a take nothing judgment at trial for the same case. And a good lawyer may get $200,000, total, if he/she had the exact same case. But you do need to get an accurate gauge on possible, not necessarily likely, but realistically possible payments for certain damages in a case.

Once you get a ballpark figure, then you need to assess how much value YOU can bring to the case. How much higher can you raise the damages amount? Do you have an idea of how you are going to prove this increase? These are all things that you need to do when deciding to TAKE a case. It can take some time to get the hang of this. But it doesn't take nearly as long as you think. What I did, in the beginning, was poll different strangers to get ballpark figures on damages. These strangers are no different than those who could serve on a jury. The amounts you receive are going to be higher because of psychological reasons and because they are not hearing opposing arguments. Then you have to adjust way, way downward, especially if the damages are not inherently obvious. The more explaining you have to do, the lower your damages amount is going to be because shock value is not high. If the shock value is high, whether the misconduct is intentional or the damages are permanent, then your damages are going to be higher.

But you can never predict with certainty what your damages are going to be. And you don't want to put pressure on yourself. Your main thought should be is it possible for me to find the pot at the end of the rainbow with this case? Doesn't matter if it is a huge pot or a little pot, but can I get something for all of my time invested by taking and working this case?

Jimbo_Jones
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby Jimbo_Jones » Sun May 26, 2013 10:53 pm

What do you use for legal research (library, Westlaw, other databases)?

fluffythepenguin
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby fluffythepenguin » Sun May 26, 2013 10:56 pm

Would you ever recommend someone going solo like yourself if they had Biglaw as an option? If so, in what circumstances?

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Mon May 27, 2013 11:22 am

Jimbo_Jones wrote:What do you use for legal research (library, Westlaw, other databases)?


When I was first starting out, I used my bar study materials as reference starting points. I also used the U of H Law Center law library. I used Google Scholar. And I downloaded current civil procedure rules, both federal and state. You have to always make sure the stuff you use online is the most current. The Texas Supreme Court also has a site that has all of the codes/statutes in the state. I studied these the most since they were most relevant.

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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Mon May 27, 2013 12:13 pm

fluffythepenguin wrote:Would you ever recommend someone going solo like yourself if they had Biglaw as an option? If so, in what circumstances?


I would NEVER recommend going solo over biglaw in the BEGINNING. Take your biglaw option, make your money. Save it. Then when you have worked in biglaw for 3 or 4 years, then I'd recommend going solo over biglaw. But I'd only do so if you like to interact with strangers and are cordial and likable.

I lot of people transition out of biglaw into inhouse positions. There is a pay cut, but there is also a quality of life increase. That's why they do it. If you transition out of biglaw into solo practice, you are going to see more of pay cut if you want to still do transactional work but just on a much smaller scale. I know some attorneys who have a transactional solo practice. They are doing pretty well. They are not rich like the some of the solo trial lawyers I know, but they are doing well. I have also met some lawyers with a transactional practice who are struggling. And I have met solo trial lawyers who are struggling. But I do think that if you subscribe to really good business principles, I think you greatly decrease the odds of that happening to you.

The problem with a transactional practice, and I would never recommend pursuing a transactional practice, is that you have to start somewhere. And in the beginning, you aren't going to have many clients if you have any. And transactional practices require volume. I do not consider myself an expert on running a transactional practice.

However, with litigation, you can get a few decent paydays to keep you going as you grow. Transitioning out of a biglaw practice should allow you to have savings to get the show running.

While it is best to be a trial lawyer with trial skills and whatnot, it is not at all necessary to favorable outcomes. The main difference is that you are never really going to want to go to trial unless you have to do so. So you won't have as much leverage to obtain larger settlement amounts. But you can still be successful. You just have to have a good poker face. I do have one law school classmate who hates the courtroom. But he can bluff with the best of them. He just goes for settlements. And he has gotten some big ones. But he doesn't make as much money as some of my other colleagues who are actual trial lawyers. His father is also well connected so he gets lots of business that way. I think he is rather in a unique situation.

Now if you find that you like biglaw while you work there. Don't leave unless you have to. Your chances of making close to or over a million dollars a year by making partner are probably higher than your chances of doing the same thing as a solo. But if you are not afraid of risks, then your chances of making over a million dollars a year as a solo trial lawyer are greatly increased. It's incredibly risky. And there are times when you have to do things you do not like to make ends meet. Transitioning out of biglaw should make that easier, but you just never know.

The main idea is that, yes, if one is smart about it, there is a pathway out there to great financial success as a solo trial lawyer. And when I say great, I'm talking about becoming wealthy. Successful trial lawyers are the richest lawyers in existence. But it requires very savvy business planning. And it requires A LOT of patience and persistence. And there is some randomness. But not as much as you think. But you have to work super hard and smart about getting quality business. And you have to work equally as hard to learn your craft so that you can take more types of cases and take more difficult ones.

And you have to also be able to relate to people. You don't have to be the smoothest, most charismatic person in existence, but you do have to be likable. People have to like you. Be warm and kind. Be friendly. Empathize with people. When you know you have to say something to someone that they aren't going to want to hear, say it as nice as you can. But remember, you are the expert, they are not. At all times, you have to say things with authority. Just be nice about it. And never let a client push you over. Some will try. Don't let them succeed.

I think the most important aspect to this all is that you have to be more than willing to take on risk. That's why I could never recommend going solo over biglaw. It's just too risky. But if you find yourself hating biglaw, then I would suggest you do inhouse next. There is a pay cut, but you can still live very comfortably. And then there is working for the federal government.

What I do should never be pursued for financial reasons ALONE. It is just not wise to pursue it for those reasons. That would be like pursuing an NFL career because you want to make a lot of money. Well, it would help if you are actually good at football, first. And it also helps to like playing football. I love what I do. That's what got me through the tough times, the struggles, trying to make it happen. If I didn't love it, I would have eventually gotten a job with a firm so I could receive a steady paycheck and not be faced with so much risk.

But if you are more than willing to take calculated risks that can be minimized a bit depending on your business decisions, and you love the idea of working for yourself and the freedom it gives you, then by all means, throw your hat into the lot and see what you can do.

I view this as a game. How much money can I make off of this case or that one? And how can I find the next case so that I can make some money? And it's very thrilling.
Last edited by utlaw2007 on Mon May 27, 2013 1:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Mon May 27, 2013 12:20 pm

But this cannot be stated enough. You HAVE to market your butt off. Or you will starve. It's that simple. And that's the hardest thing about this. And you have to be extremely smart about it, meaning, you have to get in front of the right potential clients for what you do. And they are not easy to find. That takes a lot of planning, brainstorming, and trial and error.

And when you do get a business card, you need to follow through if you think they might be able to get you business. That means that you need to send them an email and schedule a lunch or coffee date.

Look for all of the organizations that actually refer legal services to small businesses or individuals, but preferably businesses. Get in good with those organizations. Offer to join their referral network. See if there is anything more that you can do to be active within that organization. Most of those organizations have educational/development aspects to them. This presents an opportunity to give those seminars on basic business legal perspectives and common legal challenges.

Remember, the really successful lawyers who have been doing this stuff for years aren't going to waste their time with this stuff. They don't need to. So never think that you have no expertise. You're a lawyer or you will be soon. Your knowledge is going to be as good as anyone else's that they have access to. You know contracts. If not, buy yourself some bar study materials to refresh your memory. Relate those things to common real life business problems. Base your seminar off of that stuff. Keep it basic. In addition to litigation, provide consultation services at an hourly rate.

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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Mon May 27, 2013 12:52 pm

If you go solo, no matter how long you have worked for someone else as a lawyer, you're going to have to buy a book of common legal forms and pleadings, both state and federal, to draft stuff correctly. In Texas, we have the O'Connor's series. This is a necessity. These forms include all of the relevant statutes/rules that give you the authority to submit whatever motion or pleading you are submitting to the court. I always amend these forms a bit. You don't necessarily have to, but I do it. And then there are those times when you have to create something entirely from scratch. It's not often, but at least, the forms give you an idea of what should be acceptable to the court.

I worked out of my house in the beginning. I met clients at Starbucks. Obviously, you can only service a certain kind of client if you have to meet them at Starbucks. You also need to get yourself a laser printer that is a copier and scanner.

And read those courthouse local rules so that you know what is presentable when you file something with the court.

I'd also suggest buying a book that explains, indepth, your state's civil procedure. And get to be best friends with your state's codes.

If you transition from biglaw, you need to teach yourself this stuff just as I did. If you are coming from a small firm, you may think that this stuff is unnecessary for learning because you feel you already know this stuff. Given all of the solo's and small law firms that have given me the wrong advice on things, chances are that some of what you know is wrong. And given the bad reasoning and misinterpretations of the law that I have seen in pleadings coming out of small firms and solo's, chances are that some of what you think you know is wrong. I'd suggest you do all this stuff, too.

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SaintsTheMetal
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby SaintsTheMetal » Mon May 27, 2013 1:02 pm

Tagging. BigLaw to solo is exactly what I want to do, at least as a 0L.

Question.. is there any real money in criminal defense? Is it even realistic to think you might find clients charged with murder or rape or whatever that would also be able to pay the big bucks?

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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby BCLS » Mon May 27, 2013 1:24 pm

Thanks so much for your input! I'll be starting as an associate in a small P's lit firm and I will definitely hit you up for advice if you don't mind via private message

utlaw2007
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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Mon May 27, 2013 1:29 pm

SaintsTheMetal wrote:Tagging. BigLaw to solo is exactly what I want to do, at least as a 0L.

Question.. is there any real money in criminal defense? Is it even realistic to think you might find clients charged with murder or rape or whatever that would also be able to pay the big bucks?


There is HUGE money in criminal defense. The money to be had is not nearly as much as it is for a successful plaintiffs attorney. But successful criminal defense lawyers make a lot of money. I'd say the successful ones make more money than biglaw associates but less money than biglaw partners.

The awesome thing about criminal law is that they make that money providing the least amount of effort. The only reason why I don't feel their flat fee structures are more efficient than the contingency fee structures of plaintiffs attorneys is that contingency fees can get ridiculously high. But there is a lot of work that goes into working a contingency fee case. With criminal defense, not so much. The criminal defense lawyers I know work the least hours of any lawyer by far.

The challenge for criminal law is going to be finding the right clientele that can pay. One great thing about criminal defense is that people want to keep their butts out of prison. And to do that, they will search high and low to come up with the necessary money to pay those fees. Even supposedly poor clients can sometimes come up with 15 or 20 grand to beat a murder or rape charge. Often times they have to mortgage their home or sell other possessions. But that is worth it if it keep you from going to prison for the next several years.

The reputable guys charge $60,000+ for murders. I have no idea how their clients pay for those things. But if you are a criminal lawyer, you want to get in front of well off or affluent clients. Those clients are more willing to pay top dollar for less severe crimes. This is important because it doesn't take much work to work your typical criminal case. The murder cases, you have to go to work. But the misdemeanors and low level felonies, they never go to trial. They are always plead out. And that just takes a few visits to the courthouse to talk to the prosecutor who is on the case and to look at the prosecutors file on the defendant. And then striking a deal. And that's pretty much it. Now imagine if you got paid 7 grand to do that. You get yourself four cases in a month, which shouldn't be hard to do with any level of marketing, that's $28,000 that month for easy work.

That's why I think criminal lawyers have it made. I think it is an excellent field of law to go into. You just have to attract the right clients.

But I have seen well off criminal attorneys with poor clients. These clients are so numerous, so while you don't make as much money per case, you have more cases. Criminal law is just an awesome, super laid back way to make a lot of money.

This is from my personal experiences, but to me, criminal lawyers struggle less than civil lawyers. I've never met one that was struggling. I have met a lot of civil lawyers that were struggling. It's that I have met and know some civil trial lawyers that are flat out rich. I think the fact that people will do what they need to do to keep themselves out of jail is the difference.
Last edited by utlaw2007 on Mon May 27, 2013 1:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Mon May 27, 2013 1:35 pm

The main thing to remember is that many of the criminal lawyers who are charging 60+ grand for murder cases are making over a million dollars a year. So you don't need to charge that much to make good money as a criminal attorney.

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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Mon May 27, 2013 1:51 pm

One more thing to add about criminal defense. NEVER take case unless you have received all of the money you have received for that case. I have dabbled in criminal defense. Clients will plead with you that they don't have any money. They will promise to pay you when they get their next. If you take that case before they have paid, no matter how well their intentions are concerning payment, you will NEVER see that money. I've been burned and so I have learned. Many criminal attorneys charge an upfront advance on fees and then a later. I don't know why they do that because they know they will never see that second payment. But they still make good money off of that first payment.

There is a real challenge to getting clients who can pay. If a client is too poor, they qualify to have a public defender. So you have to market yourself to people who can't qualify for one.

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Re: making sh&%$ law pay you well

Postby utlaw2007 » Mon May 27, 2013 1:54 pm

Also, and this is very important for business, it is imperative that you keep overhead as low as possible. You don't want to office out of the hood, but you don't need to office downtown, either.

Your possible office locations are going to be dictated by your clientele, but keep those costs down as low as possible. Law firms of all sizes spend way too much money for office space and furniture. You want to have nice office furniture, but go as cheap as you can go, but still look professional.




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