Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Selling Solo Practice

Solo Practice "University" (SPU) queen Susan Cartier Liebel is "grumpy" that a law firm is offering $10,000 as a salary for a lawyer.

Susan asks:

Has the legal market become so bad that lawyers are actually considering taking a 'full-time associates' position which pays $192.30 a week….before taxes?

Um, Susan, I assume since you sell the dream of solo practice to young desperate lawyers you are aware that many of them can't get a job, anywhere, for any amount of money.

And here comes the sales pitch commentary on the low-paying job:

I once heard someone say that most people are not afraid of failure so much as they are afraid of success. At first blush I'm sure many of you are shaking your head and saying, 'hell no. I want to be successful. No doubt in mind. I just need the opportunity and I'm there.'

Success, opportunity, oh dear, wherever can I find this success and opportunity?

That's really what we do think. We want to be successful. We also fantasize about everything we will do with that success (which usually means having a certain amount of money to buy those things symbolizing our success – whatever that is. Maybe food?)

Success, fantasize, money, tell me more.....help me....

But most people are not trained on how to achieve success. We are trained to want and we are trained to be employees and travel a well-worn path to get 'somewhere' known and seemingly safe. And for some this is exactly what is wanted, to follow a well-worn path with guideposts and guaranteed results. It's also why in practically every industry and profession people are panicked because the well-worn paths are no longer leading to success but to no place even resembling the mythical land of promised success.

Training...wanting.....panicked....mythical land of promised success.... I can't take it anymore...tell me how to make money, to be successful, to have........

That is why I had to comment on the latest buzz which is about a legal job posting on Boston College of Law's job site for full-time law associates paying $10,000 per year.

That is why? What is why? Oh, here it is....drumroll......

We are so ingrained to believe employment by another is the answer that we don't realize (nor are we told) there are other ways!

Yes! There are other ways! Is it...is it going solo? Can you help me Susan?

Now Susan wants "to be fair" about this $10,000 job, so here's the whole story:

In addition to $10K per year, the Gilbert & O’Bryan job posting also notes: 'This is an excellent position for a new lawyer or someone returning to a legal career, and a good place to learn how to practice law with real clients. … Benefits include malpractice insurance, health insurance, employer paid clothing allowance and an MBTA pass. Former employees have gone on to prominence in other firms, government and private practice.'”

Learn how to practice law with real clients? Health insurance? Clothes? Transportation? Don't you get that all when you sign up for SPU?

Susan still doesn't like it: "I'm deeply offended by the law firm who doesn't respect fellow lawyers enough to offer a living wage."

You see, the less firms out there offering jobs, offering anything, the more desperate young lawyers become, and the more desperate they become, the more willing they are to jump on the internet and pay for advice.

SPU is a website that sells courses to lawyers that want to go out on their own. They've had "professors" teaching things like blogging for profit (Former Professor Grant Griffiths who was disbarred for taking money from a trust set up for children prior to taking his new gig at SPU), and adoption (taught by a lawyer later arrested in a baby selling scam)

Susan's also been generous enough to give a forum to a young lawyer whose ethics were under the microscope for silly things like not having an office where she practices.

Jobs at law firms are bad things to SPU, as they cause lawyers to decide between buying advice on the internet, or learning to practice with real lawyers.

Susan has good news though about going out on your own, and I'm sure she'll put this in writing for you when you sign up for SPU:

"I'll wager you'll earn more than $192.30 per week before taxes. And you'll certainly get a lot more 'experience' putting your degree to use on your terms without losing your dignity."

Yeah, I wonder how? maybe by...charging less than other lawyers? That's OK, right? It's just not OK for a law firm do to the same thing when offering a job.

"On your terms," isn't that what all young lawyers yearn for - doing what they want, how they want. Of course there's no examples anywhere on how that could be a collosal mistake, or at least when we're selling advice on the web we quietly avoid mentioning it.

Gotta protect your business.

Anonymous comments are welcome as long as they say something relevant and half-way intelligent and arent a vehicle for a coward to attack someone. I trust you understand.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint. Share/Save/Bookmark


Jordan Rushie said...

Great post, Brian.

I am going to get around to writing piece about the biggest problem I see with other young lawyers: undercapitalization. Both financially and in terms of a network.

There are no jobs, that's true. But they feel they're entitled to practice law. So they buy the "Solo Dream!" Anyone with a law license and hang a shingle and profit! Susan Cartier Liebel said so! Look at Rachel Rodgers!

Reality quickly sets in. Bar dues, health insurance, mortgage payment, rent, phones, dry cleaning, student loans, etc become due. To keep it going, they have to take on every client who walks in their door. "You ate a bay leaf and you want to sue? Sure, I'll take your $500 to file a suit for you!"

They've also got no network. So to get more clients, they're forced to post free ads on Craigslist or the Pennysaver. Now they're known by their peers and clients as a "Craigslist attorney." I'm sure only the best clients find lawyers to handle their important legal matters on Craigslist.

And to top it off, they have no idea what they're doing. I just had a n00b solo ask if you can use responses to interrogatories in depositions... (hint: yes). This means someone is actually paying an attorney who doesn't know you can use written discovery in depositions.

Then combine this with the difficulty of running a business, paying taxes, having appropriate licenses, and learning how to manage files from start to finish. It's no small task.

If you have no money, no network, no experience, and a legal degree, my advice would be to do something else entirely instead of starting a solo practice. Or take the crappy job making $10 an hour, learn how to be a lawyer, and build your network. I clerked for 3 years and worked as an associate for about 4 years before hanging a shingle. And I'm still green as hell. We also keep a years worth of operating expenses in the bank so we can tell bad potential clients "No thanks. Keep your $1000."

This "everyone everywhere should just start a solo practice!" nonsense is equally horrible for both clients and young lawyers.

Anonymous said...

thats interesting Jordan - you graduated in '08 but somehow have 7 years experience?

Jordan Rushie said...

Did you read the part where I said "clerked"? You know, clerking, as in, working for law firms in a research capacity while still in law school? (reading is so hard).

Hint: I put my (in)experience on my lawyer website. So does my partner. You can Google it. Just like you did...

Nah, I came on Brian's blog to over-inflate my experience. Really.

Rob Switzer said...

Looking forward to that post, Jordan. As an undercapitalized young lawyer, I wish I had heard more of that message before I started. I try to stick firm to my ethics, and have turned down bad clients (or cases out of my comfort zone) many times, even as recently as last week. But sometimes it can be very tempting. The ethical dilemmas arise on a damn-near daily basis...

It's not always true, however, that all newby lawyers have no network and don't know what they're doing. I'm practicing in my home town and I know a lot of people, so by far my biggest source of clients are referrals from friends or family. And those are typically the best clients. And thank goodness for my Legal Clinic in law school and my summer associateship at legal aid. Without that experience I would have virtually no idea what I'm doing, and almost certainly would not have hanged a shingle.

Anonymous said...

I knew you would've said that, Jordan. I could've written the response for you.