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June 07, 2007

The Joy of Teaching - Part IV

The semester is over and I have just graded the final student's two year business plan for opening up their solo legal practice right out of law school.  This year I had 30 students which was a first as normally it is seminar style, 16-20 students.

There were quite a few revelations this semester which are worth noting.

Every semester I poll the students on the last day of class to see how many now see a solo legal practice as a viable employment option.  They are told it has no bearing on their grade, more to see if learning the business end of running a practice including extensive marketing techniques and the true costs of starting up (including how to manage student loans) has influenced their attitude from the beginning of the semester until the end.  Do they feel they could do it now if they had to?  Normally, I get a show of hands in the neighborhood of 50 percent.  This year I got 75 percent.  And having talked with the students and gotten to know quite a few, this wasn't 'make sure you please the professor, raise your hand.'  This was legitimate.  Most said they realized they could now do it if they chose to or had to.  This gave them a lot of comfort though many still had some trepidation, but at least not as much as they did at the beginning of the semester.

What did surprise me is the absolute resistance to blogging.  Most didn't really know what it was or had very little knowledge, most of it wrong.  Even those who agreed blogging could be beneficial felt they had to have a static website first.  Most thought it would be too time consuming to maintain and felt why would anyone want to read what they have to write?  And even though they were thoroughly educated on the methodology and the benefits and return on investment compared to more traditional methods, they still resisted.

Many, however, were very intrigued and then incorporated into their business plans the concept of a paperless office.

Many, and for all the right reasons, felt very comfortable with the idea of a home office.  They understood the ways to deal with clients when working from home and appreciated the value of keeping their overhead very low.

Those who chose a private office, virtual office or shared space had very sound reasons for doing so.

While all the students were given the opportunity to have start-up costs up to $15,000 (of which they had to account for legitimately based upon their current circumstances and, if the money was borrowed, bank, 401k, credit card, relative, how it would impact their monthly debt service) almost all recognized they could be starting out for less than a third of this and did so.

The educational, emotional and financial backgrounds of the students were quite varied.  Some had overcome so many challenges in their short lives, starting a practice was not intimidating in the least.  Several had been successful (under age 24) entrepreneurs while in undergraduate school and starting a business was second nature. 

Several were older, all knowing they only wanted to go solo right out of law school.  One was such a hot commodity because his background was so unique, every major law firm in the country in his area of expertise wanted him 'of counsel' and he was already working with a few while he was in law school!  Another had a disabled husband, very sick herself, brimming with confidence that if she could handle everything she has in life so far, she'll do this, too.  She knew going to law school no one would hire her because of her precarious health.  She knew from the minute she was accepted to law school she would be going solo.

Almost all had paying legal jobs while attending law school, getting a head start on the learning curve rather than getting their fourth and fifth year of law school post-graduation 'on the job.' 

About two-thirds had staggering student loans and still others were more fortunate.  Yet seventy five percent knew they would go solo, if not right after school, within the first two years.

The practice areas for these students ranged from criminal to trust and estates to real estate to copyright to aviation to energy-regulation to family to full general practices.  No plan presented was unreasonable when the action plan for success was outlined.

The only thing that still troubles me is the more innovative the technology, the more the marketing game changes as a result of these technologies, the more rigid and intractable these students became in their beliefs in the old ways of attracting their clients.  And this from the younger generation.

Overall, there is immense satisfaction knowing these students are now armed with an opportunity, a choice, a road map for going solo upon graduation if this is what they want to do or need to do.  Some will use it right away.  Still others may use it one or two or three years down the road and others, never.  They will be able to modify it based upon their changed circumstances because they understand the concepts, the 'why' behind the 'how to.'   But, at least now, they know 'how to."


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Great post. I recently graduated law school and, in between studying for the bar, I am working on launching my practice. This type of class provides tremendous value for those who plan on going solo and those that do not, but would like to better understand the challenges of solo and small practitioners. In a few years, after (hopefully) nurturing a successful practice, I hope to offer a similar class or free seminar to area 3Ls.

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