"You Ask.....I Answer." Aren't New Lawyers Better Off Working First Before Hanging A Shingle?
I think this is an informative post. I agree with the basic thrust of the post (and the comments below) that there are too many law schools and too many law school grads chasing too few jobs. I think this can be traced, in part, to the overly-optimistic employment prospects that many schools give applicants.
That said, I was wondering if you would apply the same level of bracing realism to your posts on becoming a solo practitioner. While working in the legal community where I am at during the summer, I have been told that it is an incredibly poor idea to become a solo practitioner straight out of law school. In addition to the business difficulties (lack of ties to the legal community, no client list), many view it as a disservice to the clients as the newly-minted practitioner is often learning (and making errors) on the fly. While I have seen incredibly poor lawyering from all types of lawyers with all sorts of experience, the very lowest levels of lawyering hell that I have seen were occupied by fresh-faced solo practioners.
An opinion expressed by a judge, which I agree with, is that a new lawyer should work for a few years in a firm / state's attorney / PD before hanging out their shingle in order to gain some practical real-world experience and hopefully some mentoring. Thoughts?
First, there are very few organized 'training programs' out there. And they are generally in the Big Law firms (think mega firms) where most attorneys will not gain employment. If mentoring is the key and learning from the expertise of another is the most important element in preventing a new solo from getting in over their heads and avoiding harm to the client, new solos fresh out of the chute generally will have a safety net of experienced attorneys they can call upon to assist them. But now they are functioning as peers. The mentoring attorney gets many benefits beyond altruism. This new attorney will bring them business they would not otherwise get. And therein lies assumption number two. Getting your law license doesn't mean you didn't exist before passing the bar. Most business an attorney will get (62%) will come as referrals from friends, family and co-workers who already know, like and trust this individual. The law license is a bonus. Understanding how one gets clients initially, by leveraging current relationships, is key. And a smart mentoring attorney knows this. So there is profit to be made in addition to being altruistic for attorneys to mentor new attorneys. And these mentoring attorneys will advise the new attorney on the full spectrum of legal knowledge as well as the nuances of running a legal services business. So, a new solo can have multiple mentors treating him as a peer in the legal community. In addition, there are invaluable resources through legal associations, CLE, Solosez and more.
If one is to take the attitude solos have to get a job first and the jobs are not there, isn't it better to address what the new attorney is presumed to gain from the job and find the solution within the legal community so they can create their own opportunity? The economy is not pretty and will be less pretty in the not too distant future (a whole other topic.) New attorneys need to be educated on multiple options upon graduation, whether by design or lack of gainful employment. The legal community and law schools do a grave injustice to new graduates by perpetuating the 'myth' of how impossible it is to start a solo practice upon passing the bar and declining to offer help. Malpractice will never be lower then when you first graduate. Did you ever wonder why? Because the statistical likelihood of a new attorney committing malpracticing or getting a high ticket case and causing serious financial harm is minimal. The greatest number of malpractice claims are made against those who have been practicing for 8 - 15 years. And the only reason solos/small firms are singled out is because larger firms have the clout to finesse themselves out of it...solos/small firms have less resources as they are running their businesses. So, first thing we need to do is stop perpetuating myths....not you, but the legal profession as a whole. The majority of lawyers are solos...shouldn't this message be broadcast to law students? And then shouldn't colleagues, judges, professors and asosciations help them to achieve success whenever an attorney, newly minted or well seasoned, chooses to go solo?