In a column entitled Start-Up of You, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times made the case for a new model of career development. According to Friedman, this job market is “not your parents’ job market,” in which you could expect to move up the corporate ladder at a single company and then retire. In this job market, things are no longer so stable. To be competitive in this new market, Friedman suggests that you treat your career as if it were your own business. This means that you should constantly experiment and adapt, search for growth opportunities, and be resilient.
This is great advice for lawyers (both Biglaw and small-firm lawyers). This advice, however, can be taken even further. As many solo practitioners will tell you (and as one in fact did), having a law degree means that you can do more than treat your career as if it were a business; you can actually have a career where you have your own business….
I have had many people speak to me about how to get jobs at small-law firms. I refer them to my prior post. More than that, however, I suggest that they consider starting their own firm. After having many conversations with successful solos and learning about all of the resources that exist for those ready to take the plunge, it seems like a very solid option if finding a job in a law firm does not work out.
And, thanks to one of my readers (one of the named partners of a small firm in Virginia), I now have an even better nugget for these potential solos, based on an offer he recently received from two “newly minted” lawyers. Instead of sending in résumés seeking to become associates, these two new lawyers started their own firm and asked him if they could co-counsel on his cases or have him co-counsel on theirs, particularly in cases where the work was on contingency. In so doing, they came up with a creative new way to develop business as solos: instead of asking for a job, they offered an opportunity.
Even with the fact that law firm employment numbers are still down and the path to partner is no longer what it was, many people I speak with prefer the devil they know (law firm) to the one they don’t (solo practitioner). Indeed, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me she was too scared to start her own firm, I would be able to pay the big bucks to read Tom Friedman on Sundays rather than read the few pieces I
steal from find via Twitter.
If none of the above inspires you to go solo, I may have another fact to push you to hang up your shingle. Meet Tahir Malik. Malik practiced law in Illinois. He tried more than 60 cases in his career as a solo practitioner, charging his clients between $500 and $4500 per case. Recently, however, he had to take down his shingle because he was a fake lawyer. It turned out that Malik was not a lawyer; he just played one in various courtrooms throughout Illinois.
Why is Malik’s story inspiration to go it alone? This guy had no law degree, and yet he had sixty cases! If he could convince that many people to retain him, you should be just fine. I call this my if-he-can-run-with-that-extra-baggage-I-better-get-my-my-running-shoes brand of motivational speech.
And, with that, I will be returning to my van down by the river. That, or I may go try to sneak into a hospital and deliver babies. Catch me if you can.
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.