"You Ask....I Answer" - Can I Take On Clients Before I Leave My Non-Legal Job?
(e-mail reprinted with full permission)
Question: I am writing with a quick question regarding marketing a solo practice while still employed. As I have mentioned before I have talked with a few close acquaintances, whom I trust, about my plans for August. It is not my intention to launch a full scale marketing campaign but I am wondering if you have any experience with this type of situation. I have received a couple of phone calls already from the folks I have talked to about my plans asking again when I will be setting up shop. They each have a couple of clients to refer over already, but I obviously am not in a position to take that on right now. If I were in a law firm setting instead of at a XXX firm I would just simply take the referral as part of the law firm. Since the XXX firm does not practice law I cannot do that. Any thoughts?
Answer: Yes. You say, "I cannot do that" meaning taking on the clients while working full-time for a non-law firm. I disagree. But let me qualify this. You know you are going to leave your current position. Potential clients are seeking you out or other attorneys are ready to refer clients to you. You do not work at a law firm but will be opening your own practice with a scheduled date in the not too distant future. Unless you have a contract which precludes you from doing any other work, then accepting these clients would be no different than a firefighter having a side job as a plumber.
However, it also turns on the type of legal work you will be taking on while doing your full time job. If it involves court time, will you be able to take the time off to go to court? Would you have to utilize your sick days or vacation days to do the work? If there is an emergency hearing and you can't get time off from work to attend to your client's needs do you have a contingency plan? These are real logistical considerations. If the work is non-litigious, and it can be done at night or on the weekends such as wills or business incorporations, then there is no conflict and you should be taking these clients on and meeting them at their homes or places of business if you do not have an 'office' yet.
If you are concerned your employer will find out and terminate you before you are ready then you should consider this as well. But you are already a licensed lawyer. If you know that you are going to be opening your own practice in a few short months then you presumably will have already established your business entity, set up your bank accounts, gotten the basic technological tools, gotten your business cards, letterhead, built and parked your website until you are ready to announce or your fully loaded content-rich practice-area based blog and just have to hit the 'make public' button and can and should accept business that you can do simultaneously with your current position. If you are already being referred work then you have told other attorneys of your current situation and plans and chances are the clients know of them as well.
Since most solos' greatest fear is not having clients or not having cash flow when they leave the comfort of a steady paycheck, to be able to walk into your new solo practice with clients is something to give serious consideration to before turning these paying opportunities away.
While I have since learned you turned these paying clients away, I hope it was because they fell into the category of clients that would have required court time and you did not have a means to guarantee your availability. Otherwise, if you can still get them back.....go for it!