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February 14, 2007

"You Ask....I Answer" - Am I Crazy To Want To Hang a Shingle Right Out Of Law School?


I just ran into your webpage and am really enjoying it.
I am a 3L, graduating in a few months (YIKES!) from a state school.
My GPA isn't good enough to attract the attention of BigLaw, I
participated in no extra-curricular journals. etc... because I was a
stay-at-home mom and went to school on weekends to save the daycare
expense and watch my son grow into a well-adjusted, healthy child. I
live in State XXX where the budget is so bad, no one is hiring. To
make me even crazier, my friend and I want to open up a two-person
general practice seven miles south of nowhere - population 28,000.
There are exactly two practicing attorneys in this entire area, but
the Chamber of Commerce is telling me I am wasting my time.
The upside is, my friend has been a paralegal/office manager at a
boutique law firm for many years and knows the ins and outs of
managing it. I have worked in an elder law clinic for two terms now,
and done wills, probate, guardianships and the like. Why this leap
into insanity? I am 37, have a family and ran my own business for
three years. I'll never pull off the wide-eyed associate thing - it's
like putting on low rider jeans and pretending to look 18. I don't
mind putting in 65 hours a week - I did it for years when I was
working.  I just don't want to do it for someone else.
Okay, the question of the day is, am I crazy?
Thanks in advance.
Well, by my calculations you are not only not insane, you are saner than most with your priorities right where they should be........
You recognize you are a family person and your child comes first.  Clearly Biglaw is not an option not because of your grades but because of where you live, it would seem, and because of your priorities which are incompatible with traditional Biglaw. Plus, you've made it clear you don't want to work for someone else.  And you are not afraid of hard work.
Let's look at this analytically:
  1. At 37 you are an experienced business person;
  2. You are grounded with your priorities;
  3. You have experience from law school in a specific area of law but open to, and recognize you need to learn, other practice areas to satisfy the clientele of a small community;
  4. You have a friend and potential co-worker who has highly complimentary skills and is a valuable resource;
  5. You've chosen to be a stay-at-home mom in a traditional family. This implies there is some cashflow and insurance and while things might be tight you've been existing on one income already; (therefore you have affordable risk.)
  6. There are two lawyers in town and 28,000 people; Read this post and this.

Rudimentary math means there is plenty to go around.  Even if you got 1/10 of the population to transact some business with you over the next five years you would be doing very well!  These other lawyers could also be conflicted out of a lot of matters if they are the only ones in town especially if they are functioning as general practitioners.  They may also be close to retirement or no longer want to handle the smaller matters.  They may even welcome a new lawyer whom they could mentor.  Plus, you are not limited geographically because of the wonder that is technology.  You are simply talking about your physical office space which begs the question, do you actually need one outside your home?  Can you practice out of your home(s), travel to your clients' offices or homes and offer this courtesy for their comfort?  If it is elder law and trusts and estates, this is a very viable option with on-line research tools.  The elderly or infirm would appreciate the "house call" approach. Then look to get contract work from your local courts. And if you are going to law school on the weekends, then I presume the law school is not too far away providing another meeting area and venue for research. If the town is depressed look into developing skills in bankruptcy.  This other post could help you make that decision, too.  In addition, when times are tough people are enterprising and start creating their own businesses which could inspire you to investigate small business incorporations and transactions.

So, if your grades are less than 4.0 are you, the "employer," not going to hire yourself?  It's a moot point and in the big scheme of things irrelevant.  What matters is your commitment to your endeavor, your skill set and attitude (which is already that of an entrepreneur) and your ability to cultivate a network and relationships that you can leverage into paying clients.  Depending upon the type of business you ran in your previous incarnation you already understand the importance of quality customer service, effective billing, sales, referrals and networking.  I'm sure you are talented in other marketing areas as well. 

If your personality matches your writing style you are not shy, but gregarious and very engaging so clients will be attracted to this right off the bat. Go high-tech/low overhead, stay home, travel to your clients as required.  Keep your priorities straight at all times and that will be the shining beacon guiding you back on course when you periodically get lost in the fog.  Build your business from scratch in a way that comports with your clearly defined priorities and you will be glad you did.

Are you crazy?  We should all be so lucky, I mean crazy.
Let me know when you "Pass The Bar - Hung a Shingle" and I will be happy to feature you and link your website to my blog.


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The Associate

Wow, I wish I had that outlook fresh out of law school. I've been an associate at a small firm for almost four years now. While I've learned alot, I wonder how much I could have grown a business by now if I had just hung the shingle day one. Now I have the added stress of determining when to leave, how to leave, whether to leave. I agree with Susan, just do it! Good luck.

The Independent Urologist

I like your blog. Good stuff.

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