So you want to start a law practice out of law school?
It isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible.
Trust me – I did it myself five years ago.
In this post, I’ll show you the steps you need to take to best prepare yourself for going solo once you pass the bar.
Start a law practice out of law school – 5 steps
Here’s my story:
I entered law school dreaming of working in-house in the entertainment industry. This was my third career – before that I had been an animator for video games and a casino blackjack dealer.
At some point during my three years of law school, two things happened that changed my mind:
- I took an internship with a solo attorney, and
- I read Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week.
The combination of the two was inspiring – I realized that I could not only survive as a solo lawyer myself, I could do it on my terms.
Using Ferriss’ concepts of “lifestyle design,” I knew that I could craft a business for myself that allowed me the freedom to live how I wanted. That meant to embrace the “digital nomad” lifestyle, traveling around the world while running my law practice virtually.
My experience proves that it’s possible, even though I made a ton of mistakes. In fact, I think that with enough preparation and hard work, any new law graduate can make a solo career happen straight out of law school.
Here are the 5 most important steps to take to make it happen.
Learn as much as you can before you graduate
So, you’re in law school.
Take advantage of it.
Depending on how early in your schooling you decide to go solo, there are lots of moves you can make to better prepare yourself academically for a solo practice career.
While 1L is generally non-negotiable as far as the classes that you take, your curriculum for the next two years are usually up to you. Except for classes related to bar subjects, you should be tailoring that coursework towards your eventual law practice.
What does this look like?
I’ll give an example from my own experience:
Since I had decided to go into transactional law for video game developers, I made sure to take courses in intellectual property, specifically trademark and copyright law. I also took our school’s Entertainment Law course for additional background.
Where did I go wrong?
Lots of places, because I didn’t have a great plan and my options were a bit limited. I didn’t pay attention in some classes that would have served me well, like Corporations, and had to relearn a lot post-graduation.
I also didn’t have a lot of practical courses like those on practice management or contract drafting, since they just weren’t a focus at my school. If you have the ability to take those types of courses, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
I did take a few trial practice courses, which weren’t my focus and probably slowed my progress toward my eventual career goal.
So learn from me – focus your studies on actual, practical (not theoretical) experience and the types of classes dealing with what your clients will want help with.
Another great thing to do while you’re in school is to take advantage of those free Westlaw/Lexis subscriptions. Read up on Practice Guides and relevant cases in your future clients’ niche, or check out the basic contracts that your type of clients will need you to draft.
The more you do this before you graduate (and lose that access), the better prepared you will be!
Get real world experience
Here’s one thing I did right:
During my 2L and 3L years, I managed to score about a half dozen internships with (except for my first) various companies related to my future practice areas.
It helped that I was in the Southern California area, so there were lots of entertainment companies of all sizes, as well as solo practice attorneys that could help guide and mentor me. These ranged from startups to big companies, all of which provided a different experience and a lot of hands-on projects that showed me what being a lawyer is like.
Aside from legal work, I had the opportunity to work on a podcast focused on Entertainment Law, which forced me to keep up with the latest developments in the law and get the analysis of working attorneys on these cases. I also worked as a research assistant, which sharpened my research and writing skills while getting me paid.
One thing that’s almost more important that the actual legal work is seeing how attorneys deal with their practice.
This could be any number of things, like:
- Seeing a working attorney handle real clients
- Understanding how a law practice is run
- Learning to manage your workload and prioritize tasks
- Figuring out what tools work best for a law firm, including practice management and billing software
- Watching a law firm’s client acquisition and advertising machine at work (and possibly helping out with it)
Contact your school’s internship and career development departments, and work them hard – you need to have real experience under your belt before graduating if you plan to hit the ground running after passing the bar.
Expand your network
Here’s the real truth:
When you start a law practice out of law school, you’re probably not going to have any clients.
It makes sense – you’re a nobody. Unless you’ve worked to build a network before opening your firm, your going to rely on your post-bar marketing to get you client work.
That’s where networking during school comes in.
There are so many opportunities to meet potential referrals and clients while you’re in school. Most law schools have various events where attorneys come to meet with law students. You need to take advantage of these.
- Exchange contact info with working attorneys and actually follow up.
- Don’t be annoying
- Offer to meet them for lunch or coffee to discuss your future career and how you might be able to work together either during school (internship) or after you start your practice (referral work)
- Stay in contact with them after you graduate and as you start your practice
How do you do this without being annoying?
There’s a few things you can do to avoid that problem.
- First is to not contact them too often. Only reach out when you have something momentous happen (such as when you pass the bar or officially hang your shingle).
- When you send them an email without important news about yourself, make it relevant – send them a link to a news story that impacts their practice
- If they have a blog, offer to write an article discussing a topic their law firm deals with
Above all, remember these three things – be grateful, be respectful of their time, and provide value to them.
You can also start meeting potential clients before you’ve actually started your law practice. Before my bar results came in, I was attending various meetups (such as from meetup.com) where the type of client I hoped to represent would go.
For me, these were startup and video game development meetups. I actually got my first client from one of these.
Familiarizing yourself with online hangouts where your clients might be is also a great thing to do prior to starting your firm. That ties into the next step, getting ready for the launch.
Prepare for launch on the day you pass the bar
If you’re anything like me, you had a good amount of time between taking the bar and finding out your results. In California, where I took the bar, it was about a four-month wait.
While your time before taking the bar should be spent studying your ass off, once you’ve taken it, there’s nothing more you can do.
It’s time to get to work.
You need to figure out the specifics of your upcoming law practice, including:
- Who your ideal client is and where they hang out
- What kind of problems they have and how you can solve them
- How to turn that problem solving into a series of highly-targeted blog posts on your new website
Oh, you need to have a website, too.
Your online presence is absolutely key to getting clients in today’s world. When looking for a lawyer, most people turn to the internet first.
While you shouldn’t neglect your networking for referrals, having a great website is going to be the cornerstone of your marketing efforts. A “lead magnet” is another thing that you can prepare before opening up your law firm, as well.
This is basically a thing that you offer to people in order to get them to sign up for your mailing list. Once you have them on there, you can send regular emails to them so that you’re always in mind when legal problems crop up.
If you’ve never made a website before, all of this can be overwhelming.
That’s why I created SparkSOLO, to help guide other new solo attorneys through the process of getting their law practice up and running online. Why waste thousands of dollars paying someone to make your site, when you can do it yourself in a few hours?
I’ll show you how.
Just sign up for my mailing list below, and you’ll get my free email course on laying the groundwork for opening your solo firm, plus be the first to know about my upcoming courses!