‘—– Original Message —–
From: “Luke Lxxxxxxxxx”
Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2007 8:37:59 PM (GMT-0500) America/New_York
Subject: Question from Law Student
I am a
law student in Minnesota
and would love to start my own practice right out of school. Is this
possible? I still have 2 years of school left, but I know this is my dream….can
you provide any advice?
Hello Angie & thanks for the great question!
The answer is absolutely, positively YES. And I’m especially happy to
see that you are thinking ahead which distinguishes you from so many
other law students I have met over the years both back when I was in
law school and ever since who seem to think that the only “acceptable”
choice out of law school is to get an impressive job with a big firm.
Reality check: Across the United States, more than 50% of the lawyers
are actually solos! Click HERE to check out this & some other
interesting statistics in the Press Room section of How To Make It
The fact of the matter is that when the big firms come to
campus they’re typically only going to be interested in Top 10
Graduates who are willing to kill themselves “for the good of the firm”
in hopes of someday climbing to the top of the pyramid and being able
to leverage off of other top 10 graduates who will kill themselves to
support those at the top of the law firm structure. This is just the
basic economic structure of a large law firm and is shocks me that so
few law schools feel obligated to equip their students with a
fundamental understanding of how a law firm business actually works.
OK, but back to your question. . . yes, it is absolutely possible and
realistic to expect to graduate from law school two years from now and
open a successful law firm of your own. But you have to recognize that
your J.D. isn’t going to necessarily equip you to run a successful law
firm BUSINESS. It’s only going to prepare you to go to work for one,
and the traditional J.D. curriculum doesn’t even address some of the
more important skills you’ll need to thrive in a law firm environment
either! So the upshot of all this is that if you want to open your own
law firm in two years you are going to have to develop your own “shadow
curriculum” to equip yourself with the book skills and get some
practical experience too. Here’s what I suggest:
1. Read David Maister’s Managing The Professional Service Firm to get a
basic understanding of the various strategies available to you and not
inconsequentially to recognize the strategies being employed
consciously or unconsciously by your soon-to-be competition so you can
find your niche and compete effectively right away even amongst the
largest firms with the most experienced attorneys
2. Read Foonberg’s How To Start & Build A Successful Law Practice to get a practical overview of all the skills
you’re going to have to learn in order to run your firm effectively –
remember you’re going to spend half your time running the firm so you
better know how to do it well. And this classic gives a great overview
with lots of practical tips.
3. Read Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited. I actually prefer this
one on audio which is read by the author to get instruction on how to
develop systems & procedures for your law firm so that it doesn’t
end up eating you alive and making your miserable. Sorry to be blunt
but that’s the reality. . . a huge percentage of lawyers are simply
stumbling along hardly able to get out of their own way with a
completely screwed-up relationship with their business and consequently
with their families and themselves. Systems = Freedom.
4. Listen to my own How To Market A Small Law Firm – You can get it for
FREE when you subscribe to my Bronze Coaching program and even though
you’re not even graduated from law school yet, I highly recommend you
begin marketing NOW. How do you market legal services when you’re not
even a lawyer you ask? Go ahead & listen to my program and then
send me a follow-up e-mail once you have the basic foundation and I’ll
be happy to elaborate (That’s why I took the time to record everything,
so I wouldn’t have to keep repeating myself)
5. If you can find it, read Mark McCormick’s “The Terrible Truth About Lawyers” It’s been out of print for about 20 years but Amazon can sometimes help you find a used copy. Read it. Re-read it. Remember forever that clients hire you for THEIR reasons, not yours.
OK, that should get you started on your book skills. Now here’s what I suggest you do about getting some practical skills. . .
A. Begin offering paralegal services to friends & family. Help
them fill out forms, help them by doing research on issues they need to
understand. Check with your local State Bar to understand how far you
can go as a “Paralegal” without violating Bar Rules and offer all the
services that are allowed but for a fee. That’s right, I don’t want
you to do any of these services for free not even for your family. I
want you to get them to sign an engagement letter acknowledging that
you have disclosed that you are not an attorney, that they will not not
rely on you for legal advice but only for providing the types of
services your State Bar says you can offer, and agreeing to your hourly
rate or negotiated flat fee. I want you to keep track of the time you
spend helping your friends & family. I want you to ask them to
give you a deposit for anticipated fees & costs and review my free
course entitled “A Simple System For Managing Your Trust Account That
Won’t Make You Feel Like A Schmuck“. Set up a filing cabinet in your
home or dorm room or wherever to keep your billing files, your
engagement files and your substantive work files and devise & test
a filing system that works for you. It’s ok by the way if you want to
give your Mom a bill showing the amount of time and the steps involved
in solving her problem and then to give her a “courtesy discount” to
zero-out her bill. But you MUST get used to doing all of these things
or else you will suffer when you get out of law school, pass the bar
exam and have to do all of these things for real or else miss a meal.
B. Get a job with a big firm as a clerk. It’s important to know what
you’re missing. And as I’ve said above, it’s also important to have
good systems & procedures. I don’t often have alot of great things
about big firms but they do tend to have great systems & procedures
that you can learn from and copy. Spend alot of time in their mail
room and file room to see how they do it. Study the architecture of
their computer system. Get comfortable with their file management
software, billing software and appreciate the dollars & cents value
of their documents and forms library so they don’t have to keep
reinventing the wheel. Absorb the essence of the place so you can
project the same level of professionalism when you open your own law
firm. Figure out who the Rainmakers are and make friends with them –
those relationships can be valuable to you in the future – but don’t
get sucked into the cult of personality you find in many large firms.
And don’t stick around if you find yourself in a big firm that’s poorly
organized. You’re there to LEARN.
C. Go to the courthouse and learn where everything is. Since you’re
a law student you can ask a million “dumb” questions of the clerks,
judicial assistants, and passing lawyers without feeling embarrassed.
Where do you go to file pleadings? Is there an after-hours drop box
& how does it work? How do you get an emergency hearing with a
judge? How do you know which judge to call if you need a TRO on the
weekend? Can you get a tour of the clerk’s office? Howabout sitting
in on motion calendar in a Judge’s chambers? Walk around, introduce
yourself and ask. . .the worst thing anyone’s going to say is “no” but
I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that alot of judges
and even the Clerk of Court him/herself will be impressed with your
initiative and go out of their way to familiarize you with the way
things work so it won’t be such a scary mystery to you. Then go to
another courthouse and notice that they are all organized pretty much
the same way.
OK, that’s it for today. Keep me posted on your progress!
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