April 12, 2007

"You Ask....I Answer" - Can I Take On Clients Before I Leave My Non-Legal Job?

(e-mail reprinted with full permission)

Question: I am writing with a quick question regarding marketing a solo practice while still employed.   As I have mentioned before I have talked with a few close acquaintances, whom I trust, about my plans for August.  It is not my intention to launch a full scale marketing campaign but I am wondering if you have any experience with this type of situation.  I have received a couple of phone calls already from the folks I have talked to about my plans asking again when I will be setting up shop.  They each have a couple of clients to refer over already, but I obviously am not in a position to take that on right now.  If I were in a law firm setting instead of at a XXX firm I would just simply take the referral as part of the law firm.  Since the XXX firm does not practice law I cannot do that.  Any thoughts?

Answer:  Yes.  You say, "I cannot do that" meaning taking on the clients while working full-time for a non-law firm.  I disagree. But let me qualify this.  You know you are going to leave your current position.  Potential clients are seeking you out or other attorneys are ready to refer clients to you.  You do not work at a law firm but will be opening your own practice with a scheduled date in the not too distant future.  Unless you have a contract which precludes you from doing any other work, then accepting these clients would be no different than a firefighter having a side job as a plumber.

However, it also turns on the type of legal work you will be taking on while doing your full time job.  If it involves court time, will you be able to take the time off to go to court?  Would you have to utilize your sick days or vacation days to do the work?  If there is an emergency hearing and you can't get time off from work to attend to your client's needs do you have a contingency plan?  These are real logistical considerations. If the work is non-litigious, and it can be done at night or on the weekends such as wills or business incorporations, then there is no conflict and you should be taking these clients on and meeting them at their homes or places of business if you do not have an 'office' yet.

If you are concerned your employer will find out and terminate you before you are ready then you should consider this as well.  But you are already a licensed lawyer.  If you know that you are going to be opening your own practice in a few short months then you presumably will have already established your business entity, set up your bank accounts, gotten the basic technological tools, gotten your business cards, letterhead, built and parked your website until you are ready to announce or your fully loaded content-rich practice-area based blog and just have to hit the 'make public' button and can and should accept  business that you can do simultaneously with your current position.  If you are already being referred work then you have told other attorneys of your current situation and plans and chances are the clients know of them as well.

Since most solos' greatest fear is not having clients or not having cash flow when they leave the comfort of a steady paycheck, to be able to walk into your new solo practice with clients is something to give serious consideration to before turning these paying opportunities away.

While I have since learned you turned these paying clients away, I hope it was because they fell into the category of  clients that would have required court time and you did not have a means to guarantee your availability.  Otherwise, if you can still get them back.....go for it!

March 08, 2007

You Ask...I Answer - "How Do I Go Solo AND Simultaneously Switch Practice Areas

(UPDATE 3/8/07 - See end of blog post.)

This week two separate questions came in and I'm going to post both and answer jointly because the answer is the same. (E-mails reprinted with full permission.) This is a long post....just giving you a heads up.

Question 1: I am a 37 year old attorney that has been practicing my entire eight year career as a public defender in Chicago after being hired right out of law school. My law school and pre-law school work experience is in a different Midwest city. Work experience while in law school was two years with legal aid/legal services working with SSI and SSDI cases before administrative law judges.

I'm seeking to make a career change and I'd like to open my own practice, but I do not want to practice criminal defense. There area that I would like to practice as a solo  - trusts/estates law. Beyond an LL.M. that I have in Information Technology Law, I have no practice experience in the area. And, of course, there is the catch-22 of not being able to get practice because firms that look for attorneys in these areas only hire those with experience.

I want to be a solo for many of reasons. I have the desire, drive, correct personality and motivations to be a solo practitioner. What I do not have is experience in new areas of law. I am supplementing my knowledge by attending various CLE courses. However, what right do I have to hold myself out to the public as an attorney who is competent to draft their estate? Although I may be able to find the answers for their issues after many hours of library research, I always arrive at the same issue - Would I hire myself?

Question 2: I am very interested in going solo in the estate planning and probate arena in California.  I have been a member of the bar since 1999.  However, I have been practicing in the Worker's Comp area.  For the past three years I have been working on a part time contract basis while raising my little ones which I have enjoyed tremendously.  I have been taking CEB and West Legal Ed classes for the past year but still I feel like I would be jumping off a cliff doing this.  My question for you is how do I get to the level of confidence and competence in a field such as estate planning and probate so that I will be able to successfully represent the clients that I will have? I guess my real question is, how do you ever know whether you know enough?

I responded to each in an e-mail: ............ 

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February 14, 2007

"You Ask....I Answer" - Am I Crazy To Want To Hang a Shingle Right Out Of Law School?


I just ran into your webpage and am really enjoying it.
I am a 3L, graduating in a few months (YIKES!) from a state school.
My GPA isn't good enough to attract the attention of BigLaw, I
participated in no extra-curricular journals. etc... because I was a
stay-at-home mom and went to school on weekends to save the daycare
expense and watch my son grow into a well-adjusted, healthy child. I
live in State XXX where the budget is so bad, no one is hiring. To
make me even crazier, my friend and I want to open up a two-person
general practice seven miles south of nowhere - population 28,000.
There are exactly two practicing attorneys in this entire area, but
the Chamber of Commerce is telling me I am wasting my time.
The upside is, my friend has been a paralegal/office manager at a
boutique law firm for many years and knows the ins and outs of
managing it. I have worked in an elder law clinic for two terms now,
and done wills, probate, guardianships and the like. Why this leap
into insanity? I am 37, have a family and ran my own business for
three years. I'll never pull off the wide-eyed associate thing - it's
like putting on low rider jeans and pretending to look 18. I don't
mind putting in 65 hours a week - I did it for years when I was
working.  I just don't want to do it for someone else.
Okay, the question of the day is, am I crazy?
Thanks in advance.
Well, by my calculations you are not only not insane, you are saner than most with your priorities right where they should be........

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January 24, 2007

"You Ask....I Answer" - Where Should I Go To Law School?

I'm starting a new category called "You Ask...I Answer" which will be filed under the category of "In My Opinion"  - You Ask...I Answer" because, after all, it's my opinion and you asked. 

The category is geared towards law students considering solo practice.  However, it is not limited to this.  I will try to answer all questions, if not directly to the individual, then generally through a post, particularly if the question is of universal concern to those wanting to open a practice .  I will not reveal identifying information and may change some facts to keep it truly anonymous.  If I receive the same question many times I may "create" a composite question.  But all questions will have originated from authentic e-mails.

However, it is my opinion based upon my experience as a solo practitioner who opened a practice out of law school, my background in sales, marketing, advertising and promotion, an adjunct professor who teaches others to open their own practice right out of law school, a columnist who addresses issues facing solos, a consultant who helps solos open their own practices, and a wife, mother of a toddler, and entrepreneur.  If it is a technical question, I may invite a guest blogger to answer the question.  Either way, the goal is to provide answers and considered opinions for those who wish to open their practice.

That being said, let's get to the question which sparked this column:

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