August 15, 2007

A Very Sobering Article(s) on Life At Big Law

Stephanie West Allen of Idealawg brings us excerpts of a newly published article (and numerous links of valuable commentary) by Alec Scott called Exile on Bay Street which documents one attorney's experience at Big Law in Canada and beyond.  It is truly worth reading. 

But I would like to preface the introduction to the article with the following.

This blog, Build A Solo Practice, is all about going solo for those who truly want to go solo or believe they have no other options.  It is a full road map for the solo option and information to help you determine if going solo is the best or only option for you.

There are countless numbers of law students who expressly desire the experience of BigLaw and do remarkably well, profit from it in bankable and psychological ways the truly solo-minded would not.  The truly solo-minded would feel caged in BigLaw and not appreciate their environment.  Conversely, someone who goes solo when they really want BigLaw will always feel isolated and third rate.  The proverbial square peg in a round hole.  We never appreciate what we have if what we really yearn for is something else.

It is this blog's passionate purpose to bust the myth that getting a legal job in Big Law or Small immediately upon gradaution from law school is a mandatory right of passage in order to practice law. It emphatically is not!

This blog is about having options.  I rant against law schools not publicizing and supporting other options and the professional landscape is littered with the overly-educated bodies of those who never believed the solo option was really viable.  Life is about finding those true choices.  And true choices come from honest information.  This is the goal for this blog, to provide a realistic perspective of the solo option from myself, all the guest bloggers and great commenters, the valuable tools and how to use those tools to make the most of your choice, and responsible economic and demographic trends to help shape your personal and business future as an entrepreneur in the legal profession.  I hope I am achieving my goal for you.

August 07, 2007

When In Doubt About Going Solo, Look For Life's Little Affirmations You Are Making the Right Decision.

This post is a little more intimate because I am going to share a personal story. But then, again, going solo, being an entrepreneur is a very personal and intimate decision.

Every entrepreneur has days when they question why they went into business for themselves as well as their transition from employee to self-employed, self-employed in one business to another business.  (And I've been in business for myself for 13 years.) They think, "I can't believe I've done this (or am doing it)?  What was I thinking?"   And they enter a period of self-questioning which if left unchecked can unravel the whole ball of yarn, especially in the early years.

The reality is if you remove all emotion from the process of opening up your own solo practice and become robotic in the experience, it isn't technically hard.  What distorts the process, helps you take three steps forward and then two steps back is the emotions which get amplified, the fear, the anxiety, the famous "what ifs? and the naysayers ready to say "you're crazy" or "I told you so" when you confide a temporary down moment."  They project their fears upon you.

Well, I'm not immune from these moments. After thirteen years of practicing law on my own terms the doors to the Law Offices of Susan G. Cartier (Liebel) are closing.  It was a very profitable and exciting chapter but it is completed. My consulting work teaching new attorneys and big law defectors how to open their own solo practice (hang a shingle) is now taking its rightful place full time along with teaching as an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law about, that's right, how to open your solo legal practice right out of law school and writing; all this from my newly renovated home office. 

So where is the emotional distortion, you ask?  During the last four year transition (winding down my solo legal practice from home so I could be home with my son) my income will temporarily drop from four to three sources until my rapidly growing consulting business expands to fill the void.  It is really just a blip on the economic screen. Emotions removed, it's a no-brainer.  This is exactly what I love doing. I do it well and I'm right on track to meet my personal and professional goals which include permanently establishing a home office for my coaching/consultancy and being home for my son.  More and more days I enter what I call the 'serenity zone' and I know I'm doing the right thing. This is my personal definition of success. What is yours?  It's important to define it.

However, recently, after staying up very late working (some of my blogger friends laugh when they get e-mails from me at 2 and 3 a.m.) I was awakened by my little guy, who is always happy, saying, "Mommy, you need to make me funky pancakes. It's Sunday."  (He's 3 1/2.)  My eyes were glued shut and as I stumbled out of bed I knew I was going to have one of those 'non-serenity' days....the days where I get anxious about the professional decisions I've made, our financial future, etc.....the days my husband wants to run for the hills but listens patiently as I detail for the hundreth time why maybe I should keep my solo legal practice and consult full time and teach and write my column, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. 

So, on this beautiful Sunday while we were outside, my son happily splashing in just his underpants through the sprinkler, my husband and I weeding our garden I said, "maybe (our son) should have been in all day daycare so our income could have been even more these past three years so we could have done ABC (waste of money) and then have DEF (keeping up with the Jones') and save for XYZ (something extemely frivolous).  I just don't know if I (we) made the right decision?  (Picture hands in the air, one filled with pathetic little weeds, voice going up an octave in question, sunglasses sliding down my sweaty nose.) Just at that moment my son comes up giggling, asks me to bend down, puts his wet little hands on my cheeks, kisses me on the lips, says, 'I love you, Mommy" and then places his slippery little hand into my weedless one.  One of life's sweetest affirmations I made the right decision. (At least it was this for me because it reminded me of my personal definition of success, my personal mission statement, my own priorities.)

Even if you know you want to go solo, you will have doubts about your decision, of this I'm sure.  When it comes to your income, you are only as good as the next retainer agremeent, this is indisputable. Look for life's little affirmations you are making the right decision.  Give them more credence then the niggling (or shouting) doubts.  Then trust yourself through these periods.  You'll come through to the other side just fine.

July 28, 2007

Is Your Life Well-Lived? Do You 'Hum' When You Go to Work?

If you were to die tomorrow, would you be happy with your life as lived? And what has this question got to do with going solo? Everything.

There is a new blog out there called Pursue the Passion, four young men touring the country interviewing people who are passionate about their jobs.  Their mission:  to learn what makes people 'hum' when they go to work, working occupying a disproportionate amount of our lives.  Do we toil for another or for ourselves?  Do we toil in service for the greater good or someone else's bottom line?  Do we have time to enjoy all the pleasures in our lives, is it balanced?  Do we have our priorities straight? Do we have more or less days where we sit back with a sense of serenity about the choices we've made in life?

Well, on a recent interview early on in their tour Brett Farmiloe interviewed Jim Cox, a helicopter news cameraman in Phoenix, Arizona.  Brett got his first helicopter ride over the city and met a professional who loved going to work every day.  It was a great interview. 

Jim Cox, a passionate cameraman, talked about how he one day dreamt of getting in the pilot seat and reporting. He was described to me by Bruce as one of the best photographers in America because of his unrelenting drive to get the shot that told the story to the viewer.

Rick Krolak was riding his bike around, like every morning, when he found me aimlessly walking down the runway in search of my helicopter ride. He happily guided me over to the place where I was supposed to be at, and merrily went on his way.

Today Jim Cox, Rick Krolak and two other dedicated professionals died in a spectacular helicopter crash over Phoenix...doing what they loved.  (Video)

It gave me pause.  Does it give you pause when you reflect on the direction of your personal and professional life?  Do you 'hum' when you go to work? If you were to die tomorrow would you be happy with your professional life and is it personally well-lived?

July 16, 2007

"You Ask.....I Answer." Aren't New Lawyers Better Off Working First Before Hanging A Shingle?

This question was posed by a student on a listserv I frequent in response to my recent post regarding the misinformation given to students regarding employment options and salaries available to new lawyers upon graduation.

Question:

Ms. Liebel,

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?

Answer:

Your opinion is well-considered and you ask a valid question. And it is the same perspective/opinion many lawyers/professors/judges share. In the premise, however, is the assumption when one gets a job at a firm or any other legal entity they are getting mentoring which will enable them to come out at the other end better for it and better qualified to service clients.  The other assumption is the new attorney has no clients.

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?
I know there are many who read this blog who agree with the writer of the e-mail I answered.  Please join in the conversation. Let's talk! 

July 01, 2007

"Tip of the Week" - Real Inspiration Begins With Passion - Pursue the Passion

(UPDATE:  7/3/07 - Read an interview at the Blog Herald with the Pursue the Passion boys.)

Anastasia of the the unique and engaging Lawsagna introduces us to a blog that is truly inspirational, "Pursue the Passion."

If you need inspiration in your life, check out Pursue the Passion.  Here’s what the creators of the project say about it:

Half the American work force is not satisfied with their job, and only a fifth apply a passion towards their career. As this trend trickles to students entering the working world, people continue to pursue a path that leads them further from their true dreams.

“Pursue the Passion started as a group of three recent college grads who embarked on cross country roadtrips to interview passionate professionals about their career paths. We created this site because we felt that others could benefit from these interviews, and use them to determine a direction to take their careers.”

What they have really done is created an amazing literary adventure that is getting sponsored by many companies as they trek across the country meeting enlightened people from every walk of life who inspire you and encourage you to not forget where passion lives.  Read their e-book "Timeless Advice" based upon their first three month cross country trek in 2006."

It is very difficult to pursue your passions when you feel overwhelmed by your life, the choices you have made or have yet to make, the family considerations you have an obligation to honor, the debt that threatens to swallow you whole and professional pressure to follow the herd.  The pilot light is dimmed.  The passions are put aside. And yet, what happens when you have a quiet moment to fantasize?  You know.  You've won the lottery, or you are 25, again.  Or you are on that trip around the world.  Or you are painting, writing poetry, sailing, volunteering.  It doesn't matter what you are doing.  What matters is how you are feeling when you think about what you want to do.  Pursue the Passion tells you stories about people who have this satisfied, excited feeling every day in their working lives. They know life isn't just good.  It is grand.  They feel it in their heart...because that is where passion lives.

Well, you can have this in your professional life, too.  Without question it takes guts to go out on your own and become a solo practitioner.   And there are unique challenges, both psychological and financial that must be faced.  And you will pay your dues.  But with great 'risk' comes great reward and it isn't always in dollars. If going solo and being your own boss is your passion then be inspired by those interviewed on Pursue the Passion.  And then be inspired by other solos who are following their passion. The blogosphere is full of great stories, intimate and honest, including those starting the journey under a cloak of anonymity, Dreams of a Solo and Practical Lawyering. 

As someone told me on the day I married, "always ride the roller coaster, never the merry go round.  It's much more exciting!"  And she was right.

And I have an exciting update. I've just been informed I will be interviewed by the Pursue the Passion team on September 10, 2007 when they drive from Boston to New York.  Apparently they believe me to be very passionate about what I do, teaching law students to think outside the box and helping lawyers become entrepreneurs.  Well, they've got that right! I am passionate about what I do.

April 04, 2007

Going Solo Success Stories

This original column appeared the first week of the new year, 2006.  I'm resurrecting this column and posting it now as submitted, the unedited version, because it is the time of year when newly minted lawyers are thinking about their options and this may provide some much needed inspiration.

Solo Success Stories

Connecticut Law Tribune - January 2006 (unabridged version as submitted)

It is the first week of the New Year, 2006, and everyone needs a little inspiration to pursue their dreams. Every once in a while, it’s more inspiring to read about real life solos with the same fear and anxieties as yourself, successfully venturing out on their own. Here are three favorite inspirational solo success stories.

A former student, Frank, is 36 years old, one young child, a wife who is well paid in the corporate world, and in his last year of law school discovers they are pregnant, again. He has ten years of experience in the lucrative health care market and upon graduation is offered a job with the state which he gladly takes because he is legitimately scared to be without a paycheck, even though I told him with his wife providing a steady income and insurance, with his professional experience and connections he will be profitable in no time. He, quite frankly, is too concerned about "being without a job." Within a year, he calls me and tells me due to State cutbacks he’s been let go and decides he "has no choice" but to start his own practice. With slow and deliberate care, initial lack of support by his spouse and no support from his family, he baby steps his way into opening his own practice, sweat breaking out on his brow, even afraid to tell people. Just as he is about to open his doors, his wife is laid off just three weeks after returning from her maternity leave. She receives severance which gives them a little financial breathing room. With no other options, Frank plunges full steam ahead into building his practice. His wife now joins him to help with the research, filing, telephones and calendars. Long story short, within six months Frank is on track to earn a full fifty percent more in his first year of self-employment then he did with the State. The icing on the cake? The State looks to rehire him. Once paycheck dependent, Frank tells me he could never work for someone, again. The freedom he enjoys determining his own day, the balance in his personal and professional life, the unexpected pleasure of partnering with his wife (who is now thinking of going to law school) cannot be replaced by the false security of a paycheck even though he had been repeatedly told he must first start out working for "the firm."

Another favorite student, who ventured out on his own with another fellow student and with no help from me other than my class, did so right out of law school, and just 25 years old. His attitude was, "I have nothing to lose right now and everything to gain." He understood that once passing the bar the state says he is qualified to practice law and the state doesn’t require an apprenticeship at a law firm for a number of years. He had full faith in himself and his partner and their ability to get the job done. They had no money and, are you ready for this, took free space in his father’s building, literally a cleaning supplies closet, sharing their space with shovels and brooms and detergents, setting up their computer and telephone on a folding card table which they had to supply themselves. They signed up for every court attorney’s list, met clients at the court house or the client’s home. That was five years ago. Today he is married, purchased his first home in an upscale community, is established in a spacious and more appropriately decorated office, has hired associates and administrative help to assist with their burgeoning practice all while continuing to provide internships to Quinnipiac University law students to show them they can do it, too. His one wish, teach more about opening a practice in law school.

And one last favorite story is based upon an e-mail I received June 11, 2004 from a former student, just 26 years old, who, too, hung his shingle the minute he passed the bar. This is the abridged version, but his words verbatim.

"As you may recall my original intention was always to go out on my own straight out of law school–which I did. I am doing so much better than I ever thought was possible.....I know you always told us not to harp on the money side of things, but quite frankly, that was always my true driving force. And without going into specifics, I can tell you this: I was sworn in on February 20, 2004 and I have already made more money than I would have made all year if I went to work at some private firm.....I always took the attitude that I refused to work for someone else and for some reason that attitude was always looked down upon in law school....I’ll never forget one day in class you said to us ‘after you pass the bar the state will have told you that you are qualified to practice law.’ I think of that statement every time I go into a situation which I feel may be beyond my capabilities....one example of that was when I was going to my first pre-trial. I was back in chambers waiting for my turn to speak with Judge Kavenewsky and the State’s Attorney. Waiting behind me was Mickey Sherman...he represented Michael Skakel and Judge Kavenewsky presided—so you can imagine how under qualified and out of place I felt. I was so nervous I could have thrown up...I really began thinking to myself I had gone way too far and taken on more than I was ready for. The one thought which kept running through my head was what you told us in class. That, and that alone, was what helped me keep my composure. As it turned out everything went really smoothly. When I was leaving the court I did not think I could have felt better until, get this ( and I swear this is true!), I bumped into a kid who I went to law school with. He was always cocky about everything; his connections with New York City law firms, his grades, his BMW, etc. I talked with him for a few minutes only to learn he was still a TAC!"

Be inspired. Believe in yourself. Happy New Year.

April 02, 2007

National Law Journal Discusses How Law Schools Fail The Entrepreneur

The National Law Journal interviewed me a few weeks ago regarding an article on how law schools are failing the entrepreneur, "When Hanging A Shingle, Solos Are Reluctantly Solo". And I also suggested they speak with Melanie Jester and Bill Conger at Oklahoma City University School of Law who teach a course called Introduction to Legal Practice. (Melanie and I had e-met as well as talked on the telephone a few years ago discussing our frustrations as well as (dis)similarities in course content.) 

What I'm proud about (please indulge me one Cheshire cat grin) is the mention of Temple University's Career Counseling Office's ridiculous postings regarding solo practice right out of law school.  I had posted about this earlier here (without mentioning their name) and as a result the NLJ interviewed the school and they are going to change their current 'presentation' regarding solo practice as an option, claiming they were unaware of the website's content." Huh?

In furtherance of this failing, at the Ms. JD conference this weekend, an assembly of women from every corner of the legal profession, a few 'in the know' little birdies whispered in my ear something I know they would never admit publically.  There were many Career Counsel Officers present, having flown in from across the country.  When one was questioned 'why the resistance to providing support for solos within law school?"  The answer, "you will always have an uphill battle because our agenda is driven by ranking with U.S. News & World Reports.  If we turn out too many solos instead of placing within employment it impacts our all-important ranking." (Yes, sodium pentathol was flowing freely at this conference.) 

So, it will take a lot of chutzpah, blogosphere amplified conversation and a conscious decision by the law schools to toss out the U.S. News & World Reports ranking in order to create a curriculum that addresses the paying customer's real needs. In some bizarro way I understand the reason for the enslavement to a magazine's annual 'list' but I don't applaud it, I rebel against it and this sacrifice of multiple thousands of students on the altar of the false god of artifical lists. I would strongly suggest other magazines start creating more informative rather than competitive lists tailored to students' individual successes based upon quality of their education combined with after-graduation success as practitioners which would give rise to intelligent and thoughtful lists that actually matter in the real world.

Regardless, if you are unable to read the whole article (as it is by subscription), here it is:

When Hanging a Shingle, Solos Are Reluctantly Solo

Lack of business training in law school is decried.

Sandhya Bathija/Staff reporter
April 2, 2007

When
Luz Hererra opened her solo practice in Compton, Calif., she had no idea how to bill or create a retainer agreement, what to charge clients for consultation, where to drum up business — or who to ask for help.

"It took me two years before I felt comfortable running my practice," said the Harvard Law School graduate. "It shouldn't take that long, and I don't think it does for people who have support from their law schools."

It's a complaint of many solo practitioners, who claim their law schools failed to prepare them to "hang a shingle."

And while some law schools are beginning to address the problem with courses on law practice management, most schools aren't catching on, said Susan Cartier-Liebel, a solo practitioner in Northford, Conn., who teaches a course called "Law Office Management" at Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden, Conn.

Solo practitioners make up 48% of the private-practice lawyers, according to the American Bar Foundation's Lawyer Statistical Report. But only 5% of graduating law students immediately go into solo practice following graduation, according to a separate 2004 American Bar Foundation study. This is because schools aren't encouraging students to believe they're capable, Cartier-Liebel said.

"Law schools aren't preparing their students to take the bar and immediately hang a shingle," she said. "That's a significant portion of people in law school who are not recognized for their ambitions."

Discouraging words

On the career Web site of Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia, students are told that solo practice means lawyers who are "generalists or practice in the personal injury area. It is difficult for someone to establish a solo practice immediately upon graduation after law school."

Louis Thompson, assistant dean for career planning for Temple's law school, said he was unaware that this was on the Web site and that the school will change it because it wants to encourage students to go into solo practice. The school introduced a course this year called "The Business of Law," he said.

" 'Difficult' may not be the right word to describe it," Thompson said. "But realistically, going into solo practice requires thought and planning, more than just doing a passive job search."

Which is why students are starving for help from their law schools, said Bill Conger, a professor at Oklahoma City University School of Law who teaches the course "Introduction to Legal Practice."

Students in Conger's class create a business plan, where they create a law firm, a Web site, lease office space and draft a lease agreement.

The course also addresses malpractice insurance, how to enter into a fee agreement with a client and how to set up trust accounts.

Tim McKinney, a solo practitioner in Guthrie, Okla., took Conger's class in law school and opened up his solo practice in 2005, immediately after graduating.

"The class helped me know what to expect," he said. "And it helped me refine some of the business."

Yet career development offices at most first-tier law schools only cater to students who want big-firm jobs,
Herrera said, explaining that she approached her alma mater, Harvard, to set up a program for students wanting information on going into solo practice.

"They told me students weren't interested in that," she said. "But then I worked with several student organizations to plan a session on it, and at least 40 students came."

Mike Armini, a spokesman for the school, said that when Herrera contacted the career services department, the school was very interested in working with her but the schedule was booked.

"It was a timing issue," Armini said.

Harvard Law School will start a course in professional services in spring 2008, which focuses on how to run law firms and law practices, Armini added.

It's seems when schools are called on the carpet and there is negative publicity afoot, they sing a different song.  Quite frankly, I don't care why they change as long as they change!

(Update:  You can see the whole article on Law.com where it was picked up.)

March 21, 2007

Those In The Bottom Half of Their Law School Class Can Rank Tops In Success

I have to say I loved this e-mail from a soon-to-be newly minted attorney.  He exemplifies intelligence, common sense, stick-to-it-tiveness and just plain chutzpah in a profession that marginalizes those soon-to-be-lawyers who don't want to get on the same train as everyone else.  He has asked me to keep his name private but I'm reprinting his e-mail with his full permission.

"In a way, I am a typical graduate. I am a 26 year-old white male from middle-class suburbia with a six figure debt. At the same time, I am very atypical because I graduated at the very bottom (like bottom 15%) of my class. I always knew I wanted to work for myself and I would never want the type of job that required top 10% grades, law review, journal, moot court, etc.. Consequently, I never pushed myself to get those things. Instead I pushed myself to get experience and become self-sufficient.

One of the biggest lies they tell in law school is that you need the status marks above to achieve anything worthwhile in law. Well, I clerked a summer at a Court of Appeals in D.C. and then clerked for an entire year for the senior judge of the largest circuit court in Missouri.

My point is that even though I was at the very bottom of my class, no one else in my graduating class had a combination of such "prestigious" jobs on their resume from their time in law school. And I did not get those jobs by doing what everyone at law school will tell you have to to get them. I got those jobs by networking and hustling to get an introduction, interview, contact, or whatever. I was persistent, and when my one chance came I got those jobs with my personality and making people believe in me.

Actually, when I went in for my interview with the judge, I recognized the person who walked out before I went in as one of the Top 10%, Law Review people from school. At that moment I knew I was golden because in addition to their stats on paper they had the sense of entitlement and know-it-all-ness to match. Sure enough, when the interview started, the first thing the judge did was set my resume aside and we just started talking. A year and a half later that judge will be at my wedding."

I've had other e-mail correspondence with this charming young man and what strikes me most is he recognized even before he went to law school that he wanted to be his own boss.  As such, he understood the coveted brass rings in law school were not a good use of his time.  Others may argue you never know where you are headed and every notch in your belt can only help.  But in my experience when someone is truly committed to being their own boss right out of the chute, they want real hands on experience in the world in which they will be functioning and it is a calculated decision how they are going to best utilize their precious resources. 

This gentleman understood he needed to 'hustle,' network, get in the game early on.  And he suceeded admirably.  Had he been counseled in an entrance interview on the path he wanted to take, going solo, would he have been given the same advice?  If he had told the CCSO he didn't care about his ranking in law school because it was irrelevant to his goals would they have helped him get the positions he did?  I think not.  No, he got them himself against the odds.  And it is an interesting commentary on the judges, as well.  It makes you wonder what they are really looking for in their interns.

He says he got those jobs by 'making people believe in him.'  I venture to say that his belief in himself and his abilities and his committment to the task at hand was what persuaded the judge to hire him over the student who 'looked good' on paper.

Everyone in law school does not share the same need or ambition as the next.  And as one of my students said, "doesn't law school have an obligation to address the needs of 'all' their students, not just the top 10%?"  Well, we all know where I stand on this issue. 

And if all goes according to schedule, as soon as his wedding bells ring and he is sworn in, he will be introduced in "Passed The Bar - Hung A Shingle."

Continue reading "Those In The Bottom Half of Their Law School Class Can Rank Tops In Success" »

March 17, 2007

"Tip of The Week" - Stop Telling Me What 'I Can't' Do

Connecticut Law Tribune - March 19, 2007

When I was growing up my mother forbade my brothers and I to say, "I can't." Without fail, she would repeat her mantra, "Say, 'you don't want to' or 'you don't know how' or 'you don't have time.' But never let me hear you say 'you can't."

Therefore, I would like to officially strike the two words "I can't" from our lexicon. It has to be the most debilitating phrase in the English language. It serves no other purpose than to express fear at trying something new, encourages us to never challenge the norm, or, in the alternative, is a phrase we use to avoid doing what is requested of us.

When I was in the fourth grade, our class was going to put on the musical "The H.M.S. Pinafore, by Gilbert & Sullivan." I wanted nothing more than to be the Monarch of the Sea, one of the lead male singing roles. When I told the teacher I wanted to audition for the part, she explained it was a male role and "you can't." I didn't understand why? It made no sense to me.

I was getting my first lesson in blind, thoughtless, habitual sexism. I got off the school bus so upset I was inconsolable. Finally, my mother asked why I was so upset. I told her the story. She explained to me as only a mother can that the teacher was just buying into the norm. She was going along with "the rules" because it was easy. She lacked creativity and a mind of her own and wasn't looking for the best person to fill the role, just looking for the correct gender to fill the role. Therefore, if I really wanted the part, it was my job to let her know in no uncertain terms that I had the right to try out for the role.

My mother asked me about the tryout process. I told her that none of the boys really wanted the role. They were told they didn't have to memorize the words and they could even sing facing the wall, their backs to the audience, if they were scared. My mother said, "Go back to school, demand an audition, then memorize the lyrics and sing straight into the audience." I did. I got the part. It was one of those life-defining moments.

As a new lawyer, when I started my own practice right out of law school, my two partners (also newly minted) and I had a running joke. If I suggested something legally innovative, they would say, "You can't do that." I would say, "Show me where it says I can't?" And they would laugh, "The law according to Susan." From fourth grade on, the motivating principal in my life has been: Until someone shows me legitimately why I can't, I'm going to assume I can.

As new lawyers, we are told over and over again that "we can't" open our own practice right out of law school. Like my fourth grade teacher, these naysayers in the form of professors, career counselors, other lawyers, judges and family members are just projecting their fears upon you, maybe the very same fears that stopped them from venturing out on their own and pursuing their dreams. Find out why they are so fearful of you, so you can address the obstacles to the success they perceive to be insurmountable, one hurdle at a time.

You can open your own legal practice. Some perceived hurdles might present challenges you're not willing to take on. That, however, is very different than saying, "I can't." If you're just not willing to make those hard choices, that's perfectly alright. But you absolutely can open your own law practice if you want to.

I've stricken the phrase, "I can't" from my vocabulary and banished it from my household. If my husband says those words, I give him the raised eyebrow. If my three-year old says those words, I immediately say, "Don't tell me you can't. Tell me you don't want to or you're scared because you don't know how. If you're scared because you don't know how, I'll teach you how." •

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel

March 13, 2007

Following Another's Definition of Success Leads To.....

Luz Herrera, a 1999 graduate of Harvard Law School, writes an An Open Letter to HLS Students in The Record, dated March 8, 2007:

"I applied to Harvard Law School because it was supposed to prepare me to be a great advocate for people in my community. Instead, I found it difficult to speak up in classroom discussions that discouraged the acknowledgment that class, race, gender and political ideology were intrinsically tied to the creation and execution of the laws we studied.

Further, the career options presented by OPIA [Office of Public Interest Advising] and OCS [Office of Career Services] did not fit my vision of the lawyer I imagined I would be. At some point I hung up my idealism and agreed to take the easier path. When I graduated from HLS in 1999, I left to be a corporate attorney. That diploma and that starting salary meant that by all standards I had made it! The problem was that I was a success in everyone's eyes except my own."

Imagine a law school where upon acceptance you are asked, "what do you envision doing with your legal degree?" From that point on you are given guidance as to the educational path you should take through law school that makes the most sense for you so you can realize your vision, achieve your defintion of success.  It allows for you to change your mind, of course, but it doesn't just shove you, like every other calf, into the same cattle car on the train to the same dairy farm to be mindlessly milked.  This herd mentality is destructive and degrading.

But the pressure is so great on students to act as if they want what everyone thinks they should want, to bend to peer pressure as well as the law school's definition of success it's hard to stand your ground without seeming disgruntled, the outsider, the ingrate, the fool.  The curriculum and designated career path(s) is for the general herd and there is seldom room for individuality or unique ambitions.  And that is a travesty. 

I give tremendous credit to Attorney Herrera for having the courage and conviction she does and committing them to a public writing for the Harvard Law School community to read....and hopefully absorb in a meaningful way.