Solo Practitioners

Legal and industry conferences can provide great educational and networking opportunities for solo and small firm lawyers, particularly those just starting out. Sure, there are some conferences that are a complete waste of time, but in some fields, simply doing face time at conferences year after year is critical to keep business flowing. And in other practices, conferences may offer high-level, substantive training on new legal developments.

Of course, back in law school, you could take advantage of your student i.d. card to access almost any conference you wanted to attend. And if you ever worked for a firm, your employer willingly footed the bill for conference attendance.

But now, as a solo or small-firm lawyer, conferences are on your dime. And as many solos quickly learn, conferences can take a toll on your wallet….

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Ed. note: Say hello to our newest columnist covering the world of small law firms, Carolyn Elefant of MyShingle.

Two weeks ago, Greenberg Traurig announced a lawyer residency program — one-year positions where lawyers spend a third of their time on training, are paid “considerably less than associates,” and billed out at lower rates. When the program concludes, residents may be offered a position as an associate, become a non-partnership track “practice group attorney,” or get shown the door. The program has elicited a range of reactions over its implications for Biglaw, ranging from potentially promising (David Lat and Toby Brown), to shortsighted and risky (Jordan Furlong), to a mixed bag for associates (Adam Ziegler).

But from the perspective of lawyers who want to start their own firms and have the option of handling traditionally “big firm” matters, residency programs like that offered by Greenberg Traurig are a boon. Imagine being paid to do little more than spend a year learning the ins and outs of big firm practice and practice areas by observing depositions and trials and accessing unlimited PLI content. Plus, residents have a chance to meet and network with other lawyers at GT and throughout the legal community; presumably, fewer billable hours means more time to hobnob.  At the end of the residency, lawyers could move on to start their own firms — but with the benefit of a year of student loan debt repaid and a big firm credential on the résumé — which can be a selling point for certain types of clients (usually the kinds of clients who won’t experience sticker shock at your $250/hour rates because they’re accustomed to paying double that at a large firm)….

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Ed. note: Please join us in welcoming our newest columnist covering the world of small law firms, Carolyn Elefant of MyShingle.

Although clients are a law firm’s raison d’être, believe it or not, having a roster of clients on opening day isn’t indispensable to, or even a predictor of a firm’s future success.   Many lawyers — whether they are new graduates, or seasoned government attorneys, or moms re-entering the work force, or low level associates and non-equity partners unceremoniously and unexpectedly given the boot — launch law firms without a single client to their name and do quite well, thank you very much.

Still, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to start a law firm with one or two clients already locked in?  Not necessarily….

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Ed. note: This post is sponsored by NexFirm. At NexFirm, we see dozens of new firms launch each year, and we seem to bond with both the people and the practice every time around. Their accomplishments feel like our success, and their disappointments, our failures. It makes for a great professional relationship, but it can also be painful when we see them repeat the same, predictable, new firm mistakes — especially ones that can be avoided with some guidance and forethought.

Attorneys who are launching their own firms tend to wring their hands over every small decision and miss the big picture. You feel overwhelmed, so you want to work feverishly to tackle your to-do list. After a long day full of “doing” without much “thinking,” you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s crucial to be thoughtful about the big things, set time aside to think about them, and treat them like the other action items on your list.

Start with these, the low hanging (albeit important) fruit:

1. Leave, Don’t Quit.

Focused on the unpleasant task of giving notice, worrying that you might piss someone off or — worse yet — be impeded from transitioning matters, you can easily miss the best marketing opportunity you will ever get. Use your resignation to ask your employer to give you business. Beg them, guilt them, scare them, do whatever you need to do, but make it happen. There is no one that knows you and your work better. If you can’t convince them to help you, in at least some small way, you are in trouble…

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Ed. note: Please join us in welcoming our newest columnist covering the world of small law firms, Carolyn Elefant of MyShingle.

Let me start my inaugural column here at Above the Law with a question: Why not start your own law firm?

To be clear, I’m not directing this question at those of you who are gainfully employed in a legal job, however tenuous or intolerable. Over the course of this column, I’ll discuss whether and in what circumstances it makes sense to jump ship — but for now, I’ll assume that your risk aversion is reasonable.

Likewise, my question isn’t targeted at those of you who have no choice but to work at menial jobs just to survive and simply don’t have the time or energy to get a firm off the ground. Again, there are ways that you can make starting a firm work, but it may take a lot more effort than you have to give.

No — for now, I’m just asking those of you who really have no choice. For example, if you graduated from law school more than a year ago and you’ve been sending out résumés constantly and haven’t had a nibble. Or those of you who have had a doc review job here and there, but nothing steady — but at the same time, you’re fortunate enough to have a spouse or partner or family who can at least cover your living expenses while you get a firm off the ground. Or maybe you’re more experienced — perhaps your law firm pushed you out as you were nearing 65 and you’re not ready or can’t afford to stop working yet, but nothing else has presented itself.

In these kinds of back-against-the-wall, nowhere-to-go-but-leave-the-law-entirely cases, is the horror or shame of starting a law firm worse than being unemployed or junking your JD?

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* The lawyer who shot himself in the back and lied about it has pleaded guilty since his defense was full of self-inflicted holes. [WBIW]

* Do you want to be a partner? These 12 simple rules are a good start. (Not featured: Rule 13. Have incriminating pictures of the other partners.) [At Counsel Table]

* The University of Vermont and Vermont Law School are considering a joint “3-2″ degree program. So if you’re 18 years old and positive you want to grow up to be a lawyer, you may soon have a lower cost option. You’re also probably a tool. [AP via Boston.com]

* Can introverts be solo practitioners? It’s an interesting question, but since Growth is Dead (affiliate link) notes that even rainmakers are tragically lacking in sociability, it’s likely that most lawyers across firms are introverted. [Lawpolis]

* St. Louis University Law School has taken over and refurbished an old building in downtown St. Louis. See, it’s possible to run a law school without spending money on MOAR BUILDINGS! [Urban Review STL]

* A poem about CLE. Wait, are there people not doing their CLE online? [Poetic Justice]

* How to pick a good divorce lawyer. Done. [Huffington Post]

* Matthew Martens, the senior SEC attorney who ran the “Fabulous Fab” trial, is leaving the agency. Possible landing spots for Martens include Kirkland & Ellis; Paul Weiss; WilmerHale; Latham & Watkins; and Cleary Gottlieb. [Wealth Management]

* A judge in Kentucky moonlights as the PA announcer for high school football games. He’s also blind. Eschewing the obvious “he still sees better than the refs” joke, my question is why isn’t it just more efficient to make his spotter the PA announcer? Video after the jump…

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I was raised to never hit a girl. I was raised at a time when you had no concept of a girl doing that. In the 1950s, girls didn’t snatch purses. They wore petticoats.

Jonathan Damon, a Michigan lawyer, in remarks made after subduing Mikayla Danielle Hull, an alleged purse snatcher. During the course of the struggle, thinking that Hull was a man, Damon punched her in the face repeatedly after she bit his wrist, breaking the skin. Damon will not be charged for hitting Hull.

(Want to see the video of this lawyer’s heroics? We’ve got it, after the jump.)

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For those AUSAs taking the plunge into Biglaw because they orgasm over having a “former federal prosecutor” handling their “white collar” work, my advice is call me when you realize you’re merely reading compliance documents and walking corporate executives over to your old office to give proffers. For now, you can stop reading here.

Leaving government work to “open your own shop” is a unique proposition. If you’re leaving Biglaw, your main concern is not making what you’re making now. If you’re “going solo” right out of law school, you’re worried about making any money at all.

Leaving government service is leaving a guaranteed salary, the precious “benefits,” and if you’ve been there for a good amount of years, a level of comfort not found in small law firms (with the exception of the federal public defenders who have fallen victim to the sequester and deserve better). The main reason people leave government is the perception that there is more money in the private sector. That was mostly true before the economy tanked. Now it’s not so certain, and it’s something you need to consider before cashing out on your accrued vacation and sick time…

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Are you interested in building and growing a virtual law practice, or hoping to obtain new clients for your existing law practice? If so, here’s a new tool that you might want to investigate.

The team behind it includes two lawyers who used to work at major law firms. Let’s hear more about the platform they’ve designed and how they made the move from counseling start-ups to launching one of their own….

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Reema Bajaj

Some stories just won’t go away. Consider the tale of Reema Bajaj, the attractive Illinois attorney who pleaded guilty to prostitution last June. Reema keeps coming, and coming, and coming.

After the story climaxed with her guilty plea, we expected it was all over. But then Bajaj thrust herself back into the headlines by suing one of her former lawyers, along with other attorneys, alleging that they shared nude photos of her around the courthouse.

And now Reema Bajaj has been hit with ethics charges from the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (IARDC). The IARDC’s most salacious allegation: that Bajaj traded sex acts for office supplies.

What would Reema do for a ream of printer paper? How much toner to access that taut, toned body?

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