Young Lawyer Chair Messages
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February/March 2015: Hanging Your Own Shingle? The Scariest Decision for a Young Lawyer
Thinking about hanging your own shingle? Thinking about leaving the big firm and going solo? Make sure you are fully aware of the coming highs and lows and be realistic in your expectations.
When I began practicing law, I went to work for a long established law firm and life was really easy. I did not have to worry about payroll, or paying case expenses, electricity bills, copier bills or telephone bills. I did not have to worry about paying malpractice insurance coverage. All I had to do was practice law. My paycheck would come every two weeks and health insurance was covered. No worries.
Then, I became a partner and the paradigm shifted. Rather than spending 100 percent of my time practicing law, this went down to about half. My work hours were consumed with marketing strategies, building up more contacts, finance meetings, etc. Becoming a partner had become a nightmare. The partners no longer got along, and the firm eventually split. My now-partner and I left and started our own shop. While we were certainly experienced attorneys and had a great caseload, we were on our own. And the fun actually began. Instead of trying to micro-manage everything, like the old firm did, we decided to hire professionals to do the marketing, to handle the business operations, and to handle the IT issues. We were free to practice law again.
When I started my own practice, I had the luxury of a number of years under my belt, had built a good caseload, and was financially sound. However, these luxuries often are not available for young lawyers who come out of law school and hang their own shingle, whether by choice or lack of any other option.
The economic downturn following the Great Recession and a pile of debt have forced more law graduates to open their own law firms rather than take the law firm or corporate attorney route. Many new lawyers come out of school not knowing the nuances of practicing law and with little knowledge about how to run a law office. Running a law firm is daunting, even for the most experienced practitioner. Imagine starting out with literally nothing and making a go of it. Since around 2005, this has been the ever-increasing norm with new lawyers.
If you make the choice to start your own firm, seek out advice from those who have plowed the field. The great advances in technology now require a new lawyer’s attention as never before — decisions such as a standard phone system versus a voice-over IP phone, computer servers versus a cloud-based setup, and case management software are just a few. While all the technological choices can be overwhelming at times, they certainly can make the practice of law more efficient.
While starting your own firm can be daunting, it will most likely be the best decision you have ever made. It certainly was mine. My best piece of advice to those who choose this path — Run your law firm. Don’t let it run you.