Posts Tagged ‘law practice’

So You’re a New Lawyer Hanging Out Your Shingle? Here’s Some Advice

Friday, August 19th, 2011

(Our last couple of posts about law school and recent graduates were a bit negative, focusing on those who are entering the profession for the wrong reasons.  But what about those who are doing it for all the right reasons?  They are in the majority, after all.  Well, this one’s for them.)

There’s plenty of talk around the blawgosphere these days of fresh young law graduates looking to start their own practices.  Some are hanging out their own shingle because they couldn’t find the right kind of job out of law school.  Some are doing it because that’s what they always wanted to do in the first place.  Either way, it’s a decision that takes a certain kind of entrepreneurial mindset.  Most lawyers we know would rather not own their own practice, because at least working for someone else you’re making steady reliable money with which to pay for such things as rent and debt.  When hearing of someone starting their own practice, they often say nice things like “how brave” or “that took some guts,” to which the new solo typically responds (in his head) “really?”  The kind of person likely to go solo isn’t the kind of person who thinks it’s a brave thing to do; they do it because it feels right for them.  Maybe they’re happier being their own boss.  Maybe they’re risk-takers by nature.  Whatever the reason, it’s what they’re comfortable doing.

So if you’re one of the newly-minted JDs thinking of going solo, hats off to you.

That said, however, there are some things you probably ought to be aware of.  There’s been a fair amount of foofaraw online about the ethical and disciplinary pitfalls out there.  All the warnings are true.  Read them and take heed.  These warnings are not threats.  They are not the crazed jabber of old farts trying to keep you out of their territory.  Ignore those who say otherwise; they are displaying poor judgment.

Lawyer ethics is not a trap for the unwary.  It is not a minefield of hidden dangers.  It’s pretty much common sense for anyone who has a sense of the law as a profession, rather than a business.  The rules are very simple:

  1. The client comes first.
  2. Know what you’re talking about before you open your mouth.
  3. Only take on a case if you can actually handle it competently.
  4. Never misrepresent anything to anybody, ever.  This includes what you say or imply about yourself online.

It’s not hard.  If you think these are scary rules, or that they’re designed to make it harder for you to make a buck, then please do not practice law — you have missed the whole point.  If you understand that your role as a lawyer is to protect the interests of your clients, who have entrusted to you matters that are of great importance in their lives, then these rules should elicit nothing more than a “duh, of course” from you.  You should wonder why such rules even need to be mentioned.  They are obvious and self-evident.

So enough of the rules.  We’ll presume that you have the necessary mindset to go it alone, and practice ethically.  What more do you need to know?

Although the practice of law has changed a bit over the past 15 years or so — with the rise of the internet, email, computerized research and all that — you don’t care about any of those changes because you’re just starting out.  The last thing you need is someone telling you how things work in the digital age.

What you probably don’t know, however, are some of the nuts and bolts of building a successful law practice.  So here are a few things to get you started:

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First, make sure you (more…)