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July 19, 2007

"Passed the Bar - Hung A Shingle" - Lawrence Burroughs

This Passed the Bar - Hung a Shingle(r) started a part-time solo practice right after passing the bar, something I'm sure most new lawyers believe they would feel more comfortable with.  Lawrence D. Burroughs II didn't take this path deliberately. Here's his story.

A little over a year ago I passed the bar and hung a part-time shingle. I didn’t, however, set out travel this path from the outset. In the beginning, I found myself being offered “jobs” at a few local firms in areas of law that were not particularly appealing, under conditions that felt oppressive and demeaning on some level. I’ve worked cubicle jobs in several mega-sized companies and understand what it feels like to be a number in some statistical output performance report. These firms tended not to have any mentoring program in place and were mostly looking for a willing drone to accumulate billable hours without too much drain on existing resources. I discovered I wanted something different but I knew I needed to gain some legal experience in the process.

             I started working in the Office of the Public Defender in Norfolk on a part-time basis to get my feet wet and it turned out to be more like trying to sip water from a fire hose. Realizing I’d have to supplement my income to help make ends meet, I started my solo practice part-time in Virginia Beach. With three daughters in a three bedroom condo, a home office was not an option for me. I needed a place with a door in relative peace and quiet. I leased a small space on a month-to-month basis I found on craigslist just after accepting the position with the Public Defender’s office and negotiated away the deposit requirement. I was also fortunate to find work as an adjunct professor at a university, teaching mostly on local military bases to adult students in law enforcement and government jobs.

             All was going well until I started taking on a few too many felony cases with the Public Defender’s Office. It was no longer a couple of interviews and a court appearance in a twenty hour workweek handling misdemeanors and appeals. It was, instead, approaching near thirty to forty hours of preliminary hearings, trials, continuances, and sentencing. Again, all wonderful in the experience department but it was challenging to say the least on my wife and three daughters. Between teaching, working in the Public Defender’s Office, and my growing solo practice, I was working no less than sixty to seventy hours per week. This didn’t include the time it took to prepare for teaching a college course for the first time or working on the “business” side of my solo practice.

             Needless to say, I was nearing a point of no return. I was offered a full-time position with the Public Defender’s Office at the same time Saint Leo University was asking me to take on a few more courses. My practice suffered only from the lack of time and attention I allocated to it by virtue of my other obligations. Well, just shy of four months ago, I made my decision. I spent some time revisiting my business plan and started fine tuning my marketing efforts for the upcoming year. I gave one month’s notice with the Public Defender’s office and started the process of winding up my remaining cases. I retained a few remaining cases for sentencing rather than pass them along because I had developed a relationship with the client and the judge in each case would expect nothing less.

             I’ve since moved from my one-room office in an awkwardly located suite to a larger space in a more central location for roughly the same cost in overhead. Being in the office more has opened my eyes to the missed opportunity I’d not taken advantage of, namely, answering my phone. What I thought wasn’t worth the money in advertising was apparently working quite well. I’m still spending endless hours wading through the drudge of business management and marketing, but I’m now being paid nicely for my efforts.

             The move from hardly part-time to a full-time practice has so far been a rollercoaster ride, which is fine because I tend to enjoy the thrill of letting go a bit and taking a well-calculated risk on occasion. After all, isn’t that a large part of what being a solo attorney is all about? Take a seat, pull down your restraint, and prepare to let it all out.

Very truly yours,

Lawrence D. Burroughs II

Attorney and Counselor at Law

Burroughs Law Office, P.C.

3500 Virginia Beach Boulevard, Suite 421

Virginia Beach, Virginia 23452

Tel: (757) 363-0077

Fax: (757) 363-0092

Email: ldburroughs@burroughs-law.com

Website: www.burroughs-law.com

Adjunct Professor

Saint Leo University

1481 D. Street, Bldg 3016

Naval Amphibious Base

Norfolk, Virginia 23521-2498

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