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February 16, 2009

"Passed the Bar - Hung a Shingle" - David H. Fuller

David H. Fuller is a solo practitioner in King County, Washington focusing on bankruptcy and criminal defense.  He's known as 'the tough times lawyer'.  Just open for six months he wanted to share his story. Most importantly, he also falls into the category of "Passed the Bar - Hung a Shingle" because he did so within 18 months of graduation.  It is also a relocation story. So for those who want to understand how to relocate to a state where you know no one and still open a solo practice, Dave's story can help.

Guest Blogger - David H. Fuller

Becoming a solo practitioner meant practicing law as the sum of all my parts. I’ve been solo now for about six months. I practice bankruptcy and criminal defense in Seattle. My fear after two years as a paralegal in a large DC law firm, three years of law school, and a year of clerking for a federal judge was that the law sort of picked you up and put you in a compartment. If the compartment didn’t fit, you were out of luck. It seemed like who you were mattered less than how you fitted in to the legal world. I’d seen it with my friends and colleagues and I felt it during recruiting season at law school. What I discovered is that if you can tolerate the risk of being a solo, you can make your own comfortable place in the law.

I went to law school knowing three things: 1) if I was going to the trouble of law school, then this would be my career; 2) I knew the realities of a big firm life from being a paralegal, and 3) I really wanted to work with and help real people. I floundered for my first two years, not really knowing if law school was the right place for me and not wanting to work in Chicago, where the vast majority of my school’s alums end up. In my third year, I discovered bankruptcy law and began to form this crazy plan about working for myself.

I really thought that being a solo was crazy. I had never started a business before, I had never seen myself as an entrepreneur, I was deeply in debt to the federal government, and I didn’t have deep ties to any one place or legal market. I got lucky by getting a federal clerkship, which gave me a year to defer my decision.

During my clerkship, I searched for the kind of job that you get after a clerkship, which is to say a big firm job. My wife and I decided to move to the Pacific Northwest, but I found that in the foundering economy, hiring in Portland and Seattle had focused inward on graduates of local schools that had ties to the firms. The thing of it was this was a very half-hearted search. I did all the usual stuff, sending resumés and cover letters, phone calls, a couple of interviews, but I didn’t want what they were selling. I didn’t want hierarchy, document review, and the often futile fight for partnership.

When it became clear that no job offers were coming my way, I put my focus onto solo practice. I started working on a business plan, developing a practice plan, and trying to figure out how to be an entrepreneur. Along the way, I’ve had more than my fair share of missteps and made some cringe inducing mistakes, but six months in, I see a lot of potential.

Coming away from my first six months as a solo and my first six months as a practicing lawyer, I have one piece of advice: focus, focus, and focus. As a new lawyer and a new business owner I needed, and still need, to learn about a million different things. By centering myself on two areas of practice, I found that I was better able to pick up on the quirks of local practice, which gave me more time to figure out how to do things like file quarterly tax returns and find a good private investigator.

Being a solo let’s me be what I want to be, a lawyer. Everyday, I get to interact with people – some of them quite difficult – and help them make sense of their lives. Whether it’s a foreclosure or a criminal charge, I’ve been able to find at least one good alternative to abject surrender; and that makes me feel good.

I’ve come to believe that as long as I’m engaged with the law, engaged with my clients, engaged with ethics, and engaged with my community, my practice will succeed. I’ve always got my eye on the business side of things – money is nice – but I do believe that as long as I keep my eye on the law, strive to help my clients, then I’ll be a decent lawyer and make an honest living, and for that I am thankful.

David H. Fuller

1825 NW 65th Street
Seattle, WA 98117
(206) 789-8751
E-Mail: davidhfuller@toughtimeslawyer.com

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

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Comments

gyi tsakalakis

I think we all benefit from a reminder of the benefits of maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit. This is especially true in today's tumultuous legal career climate.

Remy

Welcome Aboard!!!

Its not bad once you get used to the Water!!!

Elizabeth

Way to go David. Good idea to focus on two areas. We did the same thing. I have lots of friends in Seattle who are struggling to find firm work--I encourage them to follow your lead (so far they're not interested). Best of luck to you!

robin

Way to go...I ditto your sentiments. I was compartmentalized for 6 years....and then broke free--best day of my life....scary being solo....but it gives me passion...hey, you have to have passion to get paid and to keep getting up in the morning.

Mary

Thanks for this honest take on one solo's experience. It is inspiring and I wish you the best!

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