"Passed the Bar - Hung A Shingle" - Gabriel Cheong
I really love what I do! This solo, I believe, is very representative of many new lawyers, the passion, the commitment and the circumstances of today's new law graduate. Gabriel is emminently relatable. Let's cheer him on! (Note: his site will be live the week of March 10, but I wanted to give him a running start.)
Guest Blogger - Gabriel Cheong, Esq.
I've been reading your blog, "Passed the Bar - Hung a Shingle" and was inspired to tell you my story.
I graduated law school May, 2007 and passed the MA bar on November, 2007. I opened up my solo practice the day after I passed the bar exam. This decision came out of both necessity and determination.
I went to law school at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, MA. They really helped to prepare me for my solo practice work through their mandated coop program. Their coop program is an internship program that is worked into their 3-year curriculum. The first year of law school is a traditional, 2-semester course work load. Beginning the second year and continuing to the third, students rotate between going to school full time and working full time at an internship of their choice. The school year was broken up into 3-month quarters so courses were tightly packed and summer vacation was non-existent. All in all, during my 3 years in law school, I worked at 4 different places ranging from corporate taxation at the Department of Revenue, clerking for a federal judge, divorce and advocacy work for victims of domestic violence, and lastly for a solo practitioner.
Upon graduation from law school, I quickly sent out what seemed like a million resumes to firms all around Massachusetts. I knew early on that I did not like the Big Firm environment because I wanted to practice family law and litigation. In a big firm I would never get the opportunity to litigate or even meet with clients, which is part of why I wanted to become a lawyer - to help and relate to people. So I sent out resumes to mostly small and solo firms. It was at this time that the economy started to take a turn for the worse and many small firms were not hiring new lawyers. Some that posted for job openings were only willing to talk to experienced attorneys practicing 5+ years.
I was discouraged by the bad economy but eventually landed a job with a solo practitioner. I worked for this attorney for less than two weeks before I was let go. I'm not sure if it was a lack of need for my services, ill performance on my part, or personality conflicts, or even a combination of those things that led to me being let go. I realized a few days into the job that I did not fit in and it was for the best that I was let go. It was at this time that I gave practicing on my own serious thought. I kept repeating to myself during this time and still do, that if others won't give you opportunities, you have to make them for yourself.
So I made up letterhead, got my own liability insurance and started out on my own. I worked out of my home but rented an office space with the solo attorney that I had interned for in law school. It was about 2-months into my solo practice that the solo attorney I had worked for decided to close down shop. It was a personal decision on her part, not a financial one so I decided to purchase her firm and take it over since it was an LLC.
During this time, I had gotten referral work from that attorney because she needed to off-load her family law cases and I was also getting some work on my own. I am about to close the deal on the business in a weeks time and I hope that my solo practice will continue stronger than ever. My new firm is called Infinity Law Group and I practice primarily in the areas of family/divorce law and estate planning.
I am still confronted daily with doubts on opening my own firm, both from myself and also some of my family who doesn't believe I should've gone through with the decision. But I learned that I have to do what makes me happy and success and money will follow only if I am happy with what I do. Even though I'm just starting out and work is not as steady as I'd like it to be, I wake up everyday (including Mondays) loving what I do. That feeling of happiness alone keeps me going. Many of my peers in law school still have no found permanent work due to the poor economy and some that do have work have expressed disinterest and loathing for what they do. Even though they make a steady paycheck and more than I make (right now) I'm glad that I went through with going solo.