Solo Practice University

We try to provide some balance in our coverage of law schools. Last night, for example, we posted our latest round of law school success stories, to balance some of the more depressing fare in our pages — such as the $10K a year lawyer job being offered to Boston College Law School students, which the law school defended vigorously.

At the same time, we have to report the reality that’s before us. And that reality isn’t always pretty.

Which brings us to today’s topic, the latest employment data from our friends at the National Association for Law Placement (NALP)….

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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….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

It is not easy staying abreast of all of the important issues affecting small firms, but I do it because my words impact our nation’s policy. Do you think it was a coincidence that less than a week after I instituted the Small Firm Pro Bono Push, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee suggested that private-sector employees need to do more pro bono work? Obviously not.

But sometimes even I need guidance. So I enlisted the help of Susan Cartier Liebel, the guru of solo practice.

Liebel founded Solo Practice University (“SPU”) in order to provide the resources for people to start their own firms that she found to be utterly lacking when she first decided to hang a shingle. SPU offers a wide variety of educational programs and networking opportunities. As Liebel stated, SPU provides the 360-degree experience to learn how to open a law firm in a simple-to-use and cost-effective online platform.

Above the Law covered SPU back in 2009, but much has changed over the past two years. Learn more about SPU after the break….

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Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at, follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.

Dear Lat,

Thank you so much for the back-to-school care package you sent when I started classes at Solo Practice University! I must ask: where did you find the Wonder Twins pencil box? I absolutely adore it, and I love the Trapper Keeper (and the puffy stickers with googly eyes!) you picked out. I am also crazy about the Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox, and the note you included was very thoughtful. (I’m not sure that “Knock ‘em dead!” is appropriate advice for a lawyer, but why split hairs?)
I’ll address, seriatim, the questions you posed in your enclosed letter. Regarding your first question (“What are you going to wear on your first day of class??”), I had a hard time deciding between the plaid skirt, button-down shirt, and penny loafers you helped me pick out when we went back-to-school shopping, and something a little more casual, like the Guns ‘n Roses t-shirt and holey jeans you turned your nose up at when I was modeling outfits. (I believe your exact words were “If you think you’re leaving the house dressed like that, young lady, think again,” and “If I put a 7-11 hot dog and a Slurpee in your hand, you’d look like Britney Spears – on a bad day.”)

But that, my fashion-forward friend, is the beauty of Solo Practice University: I don’t have to leave my house to go to class. Susan Cartier Liebel, the headmistress of Solo Practice University, calls it “carpet commuting,” but since, as you know, I live in true Manhattan-style squalor and thus do not have a carpet, I simply call it “convenient.” In any event (and because I also do not have an air conditioner), I opted for a tank top with a large coffee stain on the front, and shorts. Though I was certain my mother would pop out of the closet, smack me on the back of the head, and remind to “dress for the job you want,” she did not make an appearance. The cats, however, channeling her disapproval, looked at me with disdain.

As for your second question, things here at Solo Practice University, or “SPU,” as we call it on campus, are going well. The classes that SPU has to offer are – at this point – too numerous to list here, but as you know, they are divided four general areas: Substantive Law, Marketing and Management, Technology, and Work/Life Balance. In fact, the course content is so voluminous that I spent a few undignified minutes wringing my hands, uncertain about where to begin. (Again, the beauty of SPU is that no one can observe, firsthand, your minor meltdowns.)

No, Lat: there’s no need to start gathering piles of Zoloft for my next care package (although a little Valium never hurt anyone – let’s talk later). It turns out that my generalized anxieties, and the sense of being overwhelmed by the nuts and bolts of solo practice, were a valuable object lesson. Many people, Susan told me, are derailed by their fear of solo practice. One of her goals, therefore, was simply to “demystify” the reality of lawyering without a net. This led me to a minor, but useful, epiphany about one of my perceived barriers to solo practice: my fear of commitment.

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