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March 07, 2008

Is it the Worst Time To Be A Lawyer?

On a listserv I frequent there was a recent question and answer session regarding whether or not it is the worst time to be a lawyer, given the economy, glut of lawyers and more.  This was one response I felt compelled to answer:
Worst time to be a lawyer?  Not if you are in Biglaw.

Now if you are planning on opening a solo practice or if you go to a marginal school, well, sure it's a bad time to be a lawyer.... But that would be the case even in the best of times.

(This was my response:)


Solos comprise more than 50% of all private practice attorneys in the country.  In some states, like New York, they are as high as 81%.  In the best of times they do well by their own standards which include, but are not limited to gross income.  In the worst of times they have to rewrite their business model, consider shifting practice areas, just like BigLaw.

However, they never have to worry about a pink slip at an inopportune time, (have you read the news lately) being derailed from a partnership track, office politics, or with proper planning wanting to start a family or taking a vacation.  They are more professionally agile, technologically forward and quite capable of riding out economic downturns if they keep their ear to the ground....as they are a committee of one and just have to say, 'I think I'm going to do this right now.'  And solos don't have to worry about their law school pedigree as dictated by U.S. News and World Report.  They can choose their law school based upon other criteria like proximity to where they live, tuition costs and more.

General Counsel of major Fortune 500 corporations are seeking out solo and small firms because of innovative billing and high tech presentation, one-on-one dealings with the actual lawyer versus layers of associates.  The examples proliferate in the news and around the blogosphere.

Smart and profitable lawyers exist in every employment configuration.  Don't broad brush.  If BigLaw is the ambition, then absolutely strive for it.  But what will you do if the $160,000 associate's position doesn't materialize?  What is your plan B? Know there are other viable and satisfying routes to practicing law regardless the economy. You just have to know where the opportunities are and go for it like any good entrepreneur...except you have a legal license

I've noticed on the listserv something very sad (and frustrating).  The mentality is so firmly />BigLaw or you're a failure, that those students who speak up about their own ambitions to be an entrepreneur are quickly ridiculed, labeled as professionally suicidal (all under the cloak of anonymity) and sternly warned by those 'senior' members who actively dissuade.  With rare exception this is the 'advice' this particular listserv provides.  And there are multiple thousands on this site. Has nothing changed?

I recently spoke with a prospective client who went to a top notch law school, second career lawyer with an incredible background, who was laughed at by his school counsel and fellow law students and deemed foolish for wanting to go solo.  His personality and professional pedigree made him highly desirable but the professional and academic mentality was archaic and limiting.  And to his credit, he immediately went solo upon graduation and is doing just fine, just needs a little help with target marketing.

I almost feel like shouting this old chestnut to the world:  "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing." This paranoid-driven sabotage of those who aspire to conquer new personal and professional frontiers has got to stop. (Ok, who am I kidding. But I've got to try, right?)

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Comments

Michael McBride

Don't listen to the negative comments, hype or derision from BigLaw. I've been in private practice for over 20 years and have no regrets. I make a comfortable living and in the best of times...a very good one at that. In the worst of times, I made sure I saved enough while it was the best of times. Technology is my sword of efficiency! I just filed three pleadings in three different cities from the comfort of my home office without the need to travel anywhere. Let the BigLawyers slave over their time/billings; office politics and pressures. I truly enjoy what I do! I wish those who are in private practice and those contemplating hanging up their shingle best wishes! Life is too short!

JDWired

Great post. There is a lot of self-loathing in the legal profession. It's great to see that some of us are beyond it.

Larry

Thank you for this post; what an encouragement. I am a 2L and have always had my eye on solo practice.

This site has been - and will continue to be I'm sure - a great source of encouragement and information for me and countless other solos or solos-to-be as well.

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