"You Ask...I Answer" - I Know I Want To Go Solo. What Can I Do To Prepare While In Law School?
Question: I will be starting law school in Atlanta this fall. I'll be 34 when I start law school, and 37 when I pass the bar. I'm going to law school to become a criminal defense attorney, and want to start my own firm upon passing the bar. I already subscribe to Solo Practice University E-zine. What, if anything, can I do between now and the time school starts? Could I start on my business plan? Start a blog? Twiddle my thumbs?
First, congratulations on your pre-law school decision to go solo. Given you wll be a non-traditional law student you clearly have some background behind you from the work world so I'm assuming you went to law school with your eyes wide open. But not fully knowing your background I wonder if your career counseling office has given you any advice about how to navigate through law school given your solo ambitions? We'd all be curious to know if you got any direction and/or advice and what it was.
As far as your law school experience, if I was your advisor and knew you wanted to go solo upon graduation, I would navigate you accordingly:
After your core courses, I would take every possible practical course offered and taught by adjuncts. Why adjuncts, because they are currently practicing and already connected in the community. Thus, your professional networking begins and your professional reputation starts.
Absolutely do clinical work at your school. Get accustomed to case flow, court room experience if possible. (My best experience came from doing an actual trial, preparing the case, examining witnesses.) This will give you as a close a flavor to practice as any if your clinic is good.
I would get my self involved in any internship or externship programs (hopefully placed with a solo) so you can actually see how a solo operation runs and will have a better chance to actually DO work which will simulate your future work, getting into court, reading and writing pleadings, meeting clients. Even if the solo or small firm you work for turns out to be an example of the type of solo practice you DON'T want to create, it remains a valuable lesson for that reason alone.
Since you want criminal work, try volunteering at the PD's office. Strive for any internships the school can arrange or create your own. Yes, try to create your own on your own time even if it is for a week of shadowing a PD or local criminal defense attorney. Make it your own non-credit, non-paid creation if you must. And if all else fails, go to the school itself...that's right, the court room and sit in on as much as you can, note the players. Every court has a core group of 'lawyer celebrities' both famous and infamous and you should know who they are and watch their style, learn the language. The biggest intimidator for most solos is is believing 'they won't know what to do.' (And many colleagues will feed this fear.) Imitation (with a little knowledge) is a beginning. You won't be the first to do it, trust me. Learn the rhythm of the court house. Get to know the marshalls. Be seen in your million dollar suit. Just having people see your face is big. Once you pass the bar, most people won't know why they know you. They just will.
And if you know you are going solo, unless you have extra energies to spare after doing all the above, skip moot court and law review. They are great if you want to pad your resume and get a job. Their value is marginal if you are going solo because appellate work is NOT the norm when you first get out of law school. Every day experiences takes top priority if this is your course of action and if you need to take a course which will give you practice, take trial practice. Learn how to define and then try a case. And if you are lucky, the course will be taught by an adjunct from the PD's office or a practicing plaintiff's trial lawyer.
Create a blog. If you have to do so anonymously because you are not ready to have your name out there yet, that's fine. The most important goal of blogging while you are in law school is to become familiar with the blogging platforms, technologies and techniques, learning how to connect with others and understanding it will be a powerful marketing tool upon hanging a shingle. If you master the skills now, understand you need to put aside 'marketing' time to do this, develop good blogging habits, it will stand you in good stead when you open your doors.
And you should follow the construction progress of Solo Practice University as it will be in full session while you are in law school and definitely give you the 'how-to-tools' you will need to comfortably go forward with solo practice upon passing the bar.
I hope this helps. If others would like to add points I may have missed or share their own experiences, please join the discussion.