Welcome to The Shingle Life

Starting a law practice takes a mix of courage and stupidity. Making it successful takes a few extra ingredients, like hard work, self-confidence, business savvy, and—eventually—experience. It’s a hard knock life in the legal trenches, but some are surviving, and a few are even turning into good lawyers with good practices.

Now, one intrepid Lawyerist contributor is wading in and starting his own firm. Josh Camson just launched a two-lawyer criminal defense firm, CamsonRigby, and will be writing about the experience here, in a column we’re calling The Shingle Life.

Stay tuned.

You can discuss The Shingle Life in the comments, in the LAB, or on Twitter using the hashtag #shinglelife.

Last month I officially put my dream of becoming a prosecutor on hold in order to pursue another dream: opening a law firm. My partner and I sent in the incorporation documents to the state, forming CamsonRigby, LLC. That’s right. There’s no space and no ampersand. It’s similar to ReedSmith, but with a much lower hourly rate. Over the upcoming months as we get up and running I’m going to share our trials and tribulations here on Lawyerist.

My goal with this column is to really address the nitty gritty of opening a new law firm. We will be a criminal defense firm, but I think some of the things we do will apply to civil firms, as well. There are plenty of websites out there talking about the big picture when it comes to starting a law firm. For example, we know everyone needs an IOLTA account, but how do you keep track of that in Quickbooks? What’s it like to work without an office? How do you review an insurance policy?

I plan on addressing these things and more in the coming months. Are there aspects of starting a firm that you’re curious about? Let me know in the comments.

Starting a Law Firm

  • http://www.eriebusinesslaw.com/ Adam Williams

    Josh,

    Step 1 – form a P.C. instead of an LLC since you’re practicing in Pennsylvania.

    Good luck.

  • ADA

    Please be detailed! I am on the same track (prosecutor right now) and am scared to death the costs of going solo will be too high (insurance: medical, malpractice, etc.).

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      I will be discussing insurance costs in a post next month, so stay tuned. I’m going to discuss malpractice insurance first, and it’s not nearly as bad as you might think.

  • http://www.bagenlaw.com/ Lawyer9o4

    Goodluck man!

  • http://adamlillylaw.com/ Adam Lilly

    What I’m curious about:
    1) I officially opened up as a solo in November. I bought Quick Books, but still don’t really know how I’m supposed to be using it, so any resources in that regard would be appreciated.
    2) How do you get the ball rolling for your website traffic? Everyone talks about SEO basics, but those seem to be more relevant to improving an already decently ranked page, rather than taking something from 0 hits to [whatever a decent number would be].
    3) The most interesting thing to me would be the things you’ve never thought of. I’ve encountered LOTS of things like that so far, where I’ve had to learn things that no one ever bothers to tell you, you’d never think to ask, but you definitely need to know.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      There will definitely be a post on Quick Books. My partner is in charge of the finances and he has been doing a lot of reading on the subject, as well as experimentation with Quickbooks.

      I’m sure there will be plenty of things that we’ve never thought of, and I will definitely share those.

    • Lawrence

      Adam what are some of the things that you have encountered that you never thought of?

      • http://adamlillylaw.com/ Adam Lilly

        One example that typifies what I’m talking about: I studied wills & estates about as much as a student could at my school, but never got the chance to do any while clerking in law school. I read treatises on wills, consulted experienced lawyers about what I’d written, and found people who entrusted me with interviewing them and drafting their wills.

        And then (before they came in for signing) I realized that I had no idea what I was supposed to physically do, printing and binding wise. I ended up visiting the probate court, where a wonderful employee showed me some wills drafted by the local go-to guy (who I didn’t know about), and I learned what the local standards are. Not something anyone else ever brought up, and certainly not something I’d ever thought to ask until (soon before being) faced with it in practice. But something that could be helpful to know for new attorneys.

  • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

    What a curious idea. From your bio, you have no experience practicing law, being a law clerk with prior experience as an intern in various prosecutors offices. Your desire to be prosecutor suggests that you don’t have a sincere interest in defending the accused. Your concern with minutiae about your firm name is a bit troubling, reflecting priorities that have little to do with the practice of law.

    But what makes this particularly curious is the idea of its worthiness as a subject to publish. You are hardly the first young lawyer to open a practice. Many fail. More eventually lapse into desperation, as the lawyers struggle to keep their heads above water and maintain viability.

    Along the road, lawyers find out whether they have made good or bad choices, although sometimes even good choices fail to produce success. Sometimes, the lawyer just isn’t a very good lawyer. Sometimes, even small firms with cool names (no space and no ampersand) don’t survive. As it turns out, the name isn’t usually the most important factor in law firm success.

    The problem arises from the publication of the journey. Whether it’s information worth conveying often isn’t known for years, when the lawyer has established his practice as viable or goes on to a job at Dairy Queen. During the course of the journey, it’s very difficult to assess the merit of choices, and any suggestion that they’re good or bad has yet to be seen. Yet someone will think that your posting about your journey means you have some insight they don’t. Boy, will they be pissed when they find out otherwise.

    But in this internet age, when every burp of a young lawyer seems like something that the world ought to know about, why not? It may be helpful. It may be amusing. It may demonstrate that you should hold out for a job as a prosecutor. But it’s curious that you have decided to air it out publicly, as it could just as well be your undoing as your moment in the sun. Either way, time will tell.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Here’s why I think this column is valuable (as I’m obviously the one responsible for approving its publication here on Lawyerist). It’s true that experienced lawyers have the best advice to give, but by the time a lawyer is three or five or fifteen years into practice, she has probably forgotten most of the little questions that kept her up at night the year she hung her shingle. This includes things like the choice of entity and accounting software as well as which motion papers to send to the judge and which to the clerk, or how to deal with a bully of an opposing counsel.

      Josh doesn’t pretend to be an authority on any of these topics. His column will be more of a journal than a how-to manual. To the extent he does offer advice, I’ve asked him to quote experienced lawyers instead of trying to offer advice himself. His column will contain more reporting than “teaching.”

      No matter what happens, I’m sure our readers will have plenty to say about it in the comments.

      • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

        Makes perfect sense. Reminds me of the time we gave nuclear waste to a kindergarten class and told them to figure out really good ways to dispose of it. Hilarity ensued.

        Good times.

        • Adam Williams

          If you disagree with the blog’s premise, then don’t read it. Some people may actually find this idea useful. Perhaps Lawyerist will let you start a blog for unhappy old lawyers who need to take cheap shots at young lawyers. Sounds like there may be a readership for that concept as well.

          • http://adamlillylaw.com/ Adam Lilly

            He [shg] had that very blog, but shut it down 2 weeks ago.

          • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

            It’s funny that baby lawyers want to paint old lawyers as unhappy. I assume that makes you feel better about yourself, and somehow allows you to shrug off experience as being some manifestation of misery that we’re trying to shift onto your shoulders.

            What we are, or at least I am, is deeply concerned about the circle jerk of inexperienced lawyers feeding on each other, and the impact that has on the profession and the public. We try to make young lawyers aware of the potential harm they could do to themselves and others. Some get it. Some don’t. Some make childish arguments and impute malevolent purpose to what we do.

            But when things go bad, some unhappy old lawyer will be there to help you and your client stave off ruin. We understand what it’s like to be new and inexperienced, and not recognize your limitations. We were young once too.

          • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

            Actually, Josh and I have talked at length about just the issues Scott raises. It’s a valid criticism, and we’re going to work hard to make sure that his column doesn’t turn into a “baby lawyer circle jerk.” We’re hoping that by talking to more-experienced lawyers and reporting back, Josh will overcome this issue and even Scott will be satisfied.

      • AH

        I’m an experienced lawyer who does criminal defense, among other things.
        I like to think that I’m a little less self righteous than Scott; who to his credit wrote a great blog that I miss.
        I also used to be a criminal prosecutor so I know the game from both sides.
        I am happy to offer my experienced lawyer feedback in the comments. I hope that Scott and other experienced lawyers do as well.
        Good luck to both the practice and the blog column!

  • Adam Williams

    I only assume you’re unhappy because you appear to be a jerk. If you were “deeply concerned” for young lawyers, you wouldn’t begin your comments with name-calling, degradation and insults. However, what I can take from that, is that those types of things are exactly what are required to become a successful attorney. I am deeply concerned that curmudgeons like you are the reason that attorneys have a bad name. And the best part is that you admit you were in exactly the same position as these young lawyers at one point.

    I may be a young lawyer, but I have learned that the effectiveness of your message is deeply affected by it’s packaging. While your message may intended as helpful, your method of delivery is severely lacking.

    I will now return to my circle jerk of satisfied clients and the significant harm I must be imposing on them.

    • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

      It’s okay for you to lash out. That’s what young people do. Should you have a problem, I will still be happy to speak to you and give you whatever help I can. If not me, then I’m sure some other experienced lawyer will be happy to help.

      And I hope you have satisfied clients. And I hope you always will.

  • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

    Hey, hi everyone, looks like lots of interesting dialogue over here. What I find interesting is that Josh himself hasn’t responded to that old angry unhappy lawyer Greenfield. My guess is he may be looking for his phone number, as he may be one of the few young lawyers left that appreciate tough love and the opportunity to learn from someone who’s been doing it more than 5 minutes.

    Saying a young lawyer has “no experience practicing law,” isn’t an insult, it’s a fact. But in today’s world, unless we old guys tell every newbie that they are supermodels and worthy of only love, we are tagged as the problem in the profession.

    Lawyers like Greenfield don’t give the profession a bad name, it’s lawyers that think Greenfield is “mean” and devoid of hugs for every 26 year old lawyer that don’t belong in the profession.

    This is a profession involving people’s lives and their money and their property. It’s not a place for those simply looking to make money through SEO. Those are the lawyers that give the profession a bad name.

    Good luck Josh, and remember, as Greenfield says, don’t make anyone dumber. I know that’s odd advice for young lawyers, but think about it.

  • http://www.chuangblog.com/ William Chuang

    A blog about the nitty gritty of setting up a law firm and managing one by someone who is just starting out can be very useful. It’s not as though the blog is about “learning the substantive law” or “following ethical criteria” or “getting clients.” Those topics can only be learned through experience.

  • http://www.constitutionaldaily.com BL1Y

    I’d just like to point out that just cramming a bunch of letters together is not a great way to create a name.

    • http://adamlillylaw.com/ Adam Lilly

      What you did there…. I see it.

      • http://www.constitutionaldaily.com BL1Y

        What I did here was just make a stupid joke.

        What I did elsewhere was take the time to track down research on how people respond to longer, weird names like what OP has created. Long story short, the short story is better.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      LOL

  • Wannabe Lawyer

    I have a question…

    Do you guys need a paralegal to do the grunt work or cite-checking and researching? Haha.

    I’m actually serious, but since I live in the Deep South; I couldn’t afford to move to PA.

    Good luck though, I intend to follow this column and the development of your practice.

  • AH

    Scott, Brian and the rest of their crew picking on ambitious young lawyers is really getting old. Nobody is suggesting that young lawyers be incompetent or unethical. Everybody is in agreement that lawyers should be competent and ethical. Everybody is in agreement that it is best to start with a legal job under an experienced lawyer.

    This guy tried to get experience by getting a prosecutor job first. Unfortunately, he couldn’t.
    My first piece of advice: A prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney are not separate professions, they are both different sides of criminal law. Only very childish lawyers, regardless of actual age, see one side as “good” and the other side as “evil”. There is no need to “commit” to one side. It is almost universal to begin as a prosecutor, and then move to more lucrative criminal defense. In torts, the same often happens from insurance defense to plaintiff work. You can also skip the step of being a prosecutor and still pick it up, as Scott and Brian have done.

    I intend to offer advice in the comments on how to achieve their goals, gain competence and avoid ethical pitfalls. I think advice from Scott and Brian would also be welcome. “We did it, but you’ll never be able to do it, and you’re unethical, so quit.” doesn’t count as serious advice.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      Thanks for the comment. I’m looking forward to any advice and comments you have.

      On the issue of prosecutor vs defense attorney, I completely agree. I think both sides have the opportunity to help people, just in different ways. And although the US criminal justice system is adversary in nature, cooperation and good relationships on both sides make plea negotiations and trials go much more smoothly. That’s what I’ve observed after interning in numerous prosecutors’ offices and working for a trial judge for almost two years.

    • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

      “it is almost universal to begin as a prosecutor.”

      Damn. What do we tell the thousands of public defenders?

      The advice and knowledge here continue to impress me, especially this piece, as a former public defender.

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

        I assumed he meant that almost all prosecutors eventually become criminal defense lawyers, since the money is (apparently) better.

        As far as I can tell, many public defenders also rotate into private criminal defense at some point, too.

        • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

          Oh gee Sam, I didn’t see it that way because he then said you could also “pick it up” like I did.

          Except I was a PD.

          Sam, the column is a great idea, as long as we as experienced lawyers are willing to acknowledge both good, and bad advice, and notice the difference without the fear of hurting feelings.

          My feelings have been hurt many times in 17 years, and I appreciate every time it happened.

  • http://www.kiskelawoffice.com Anne Kiske

    To SHG and Sam Glover and Josh – I have been practicing law for 18 years now, so I’m not a “newbie” lawyer. This year, though, I decided to take the plunge and “hang out my own shingle,” to borrow your phrase, so this will be my “first shingle year” and I feel like a “newbie” in some areas. I was actually pleased to see this column even before I read the comments.

    It takes courage to air your journey publicly. The editor’s response to SHG also speaks to the wisdom behind this piece — each journey, and the perspective from each journey, is valid. To invalidate a journey just because someone is new in the profession, or young, invalidates all of us. I’m sure that although many of my “first shingle year” experiences will be quite different than Josh’s (first example just from what I’ve read so far will likely be insurance – I had to buy prior acts insurance whereas Josh will not have to, which increased my overhead right out of the starting gate, second example, I know how to practice law so I wont’ have many of those questions), many of the things that worry me about my “first shingle year” will likely be similar to Josh’s even though he is young and has not practiced law yet.

    I will say this: Sometimes the wisdom found within the experiences of the young is worthy of a good listen. And perhaps it is precisely the fact that Josh’s youth gives him the courage to share his journey with us that will allow us all to benefit. Those of you like SHG who have been running firms for awhile and have the hard earned business experience, will be able to comment on his efforts – whether those efforts turn out to be frivolous, wrong, worthwhile or perhaps something that is just new to the old-salts and therefore “curious” – those comments will likely lead all of us to a greater appreciation and understanding of what it takes to be successful.

    I am looking forward to reading more from Josh about his travails, and I will also be looking for comments from SHG on all of Josh’s endeavors.

  • http://www.lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com ian

    Yes, this could be very useful. I just started looking at malpractice insurance and received many different quotes that I will have to spend some time going through. Also, I am not sure if there is something specific I should be looking for. If you could do that post sooner rather than later that would be great. Also, I found many of the virtual office spaces I looked at kind of shifty. That is, they kind of hid fees and were generally a very expensive for what they were offering. I ended up going with a “full” office as I thought there was a significant advantage associated with being around other lawyers…at any rate, a blog post about some of the things to look out for when selecting a virtual office or a fixed office would be helpful. Not sure all of that back and forth above was really very helpful for anyone. I was a bit annoyed I had to read through a cat fight to get to the end of the comments. I, like most, read this blog to get good ideas and I tend to limit my responses to negative posts to ONE response. (if that). If I want drama, I read above the law.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      This post is coming in the next two weeks. I found that almost every attorney I spoke to used the same insurance company. It was the company that the bar “endorsed” read: the one that paid for advertising. I eventually ended up going with someone different, and it was a little cheaper. But hopefully I can shed some light on things to look out for in the insurance.

      • http://www.lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com ian

        Great. Thanks. Yes, I too have looked at a number of carriers that were recommended by ABA and it would be helpful to find out what others who have recently gone though the process have to say. Thanks again.

  • http://www.lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com ian

    Also, would perhaps be nice to tweet regarding this topic as it would be great to get small bits of advice or links on a regular basis.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      We’re going to use the hashtag #shinglelife to keep the conversation going, although we haven’t made an announcement, yet.

      • http://www.lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com ian

        Great..I will look out for them. Thanks.

  • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

    Ian,

    Let me try and understand this, you want to get advice about malpractice insurance here? In a column written by a new lawyer? And you need it ASAP? This is where you want to get your advice? You have no lawyers in your town that have been practicing more than 5 minutes that can help you? No one to call? No one to buy a cup a coffee that maybe can help you?

    Odd, many years ago someone more experienced than me told me to call Sam Cohen of attorneys first, and hes been a great resource for malpractice insurance.

    But you just wait, wait for the next blog post.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Maybe he’d like to get an idea of what other attorneys heard when they did exactly as you suggest, so he can compare notes?

      • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

        Sam,

        or maybe he’s part of a bigger problem – the lack of desire by young lawyers to actually pick up the phone, email, go see, or otherwise speak to stupid old lawyers that may have a thought outside of the internet.

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          That may be. I’ve known a lot of young lawyers who spent plenty of time asking old lawyers how to do things, and I’ve known many who didn’t. The latter generally don’t last long.

          That doesn’t mean there’s no value in discussing it here, though.

        • http://www.lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com ian

          This blog is all about sharing ideas and getting information. It is one way to do this and young and old lawyers do and should utilize many different mechanisms to get information. A blog post that goes over the experience of a person who has recently gone through the malpractice insurance process would be helpful for someone who has not gone though this before and I really cannot understand how you cannot see that. In fact, in this case given the recent experience, I think that the person would add a perspective that someone who did it 20 years ago might not have or remember. I am not “waiting” for this post to make any decision but again it is one piece of information that I will find useful. I, like many that want to start a practice I am sure, have had numerous conversations with other lawyers and I have also used blogs and other internet sources to get information. Both are excellent sources. Your responses have a flip tone (in my opinion) and perhaps your point would better come across if you just made your point (people should speak to other experienced lawyers via phone, meetings etc.) rather than writing in such a condescending manner. As I mentioned above, I only comment once on these types of replies so that is it for me.

          • http://adamlillylaw.com/ Adam Lilly

            Ian, I fully support your method of getting information from multiple sources, and I do the same thing.
            There are experienced lawyers that I talk to, frequently, for advice. However, I don’t like to feel like I’m pestering them about every little thing I do. So, to prevent this, I try to get any info I can elsewhere – court personnel, books, and – yes – the internet.
            Also, it’s really nice to see someone else like Josh doing what I’m doing, not only to learn from those experiences, but to feel like I’m not the only new lawyer out there.
            If other people don’t see the value in that, I don’t have a problem with it. But they shouldn’t try to devalue it for others who disagree.

            • http://www.lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com ian

              Thanks Adam, I agree with all your comments and good luck! Finding the right balance between asking a busy lawyer and researching other ways is tough. Generally though, I have found that the people I have spoken to are happy to help. One person that I had only met once before even offered to review my office space lease agreement. (and they offered to do it for free). I was pretty comfortable with my lease though and signed it on Friday.

              Also, for Josh, another idea for a good blog post would be things people have done to attract clients that new solos have found particularly ineffective. (effective is of course good too) I read & hear about many good ways to attract clients but do not hear much about what people felt has been a waste of time and money. For example, I see many of these “law match” ads and they all want money to give you referrals. Also, how effective have people found yellow pages or newspaper ads.

              • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

                I don’t plan on buying any yellow page ads or newspaper ads, so unfortunately I won’t be able to advise. But don’t worry. If our other advertising ventures don’t pan out, I will definitely let everyone know to stay away from those options.

  • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

    I’m terribly sorry for writing in a condescending manner. I hope this doesn’t mean we can’t be Facebook friends.

  • http://questionoflaw.net Lisa Solomon

    I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned two of the best resources for solos: Solosez and Solo By Choice.

    Solosez is the ABA’s most active email listserv, with approximately 3,000 solo and small firm e-mail subscribers discussing everything from tech tips and legal opinions to what to wear to court.

    Solosez is sponsored by the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. Anyone can join, even those who aren’t ABA members. You can find out more about Solosez, and sign up, at http://tinyurl.com/85rycwd.

    (While you don’t have to be an ABA member to join Solosez, if you’re not already a member, you might as well join now, while a trial membership is free. You can sign up at http://tinyurl.com/7jmgt5x.)

    Solo By Choice (now in its second edition) is the definitive “how to go solo” manual by Carolyn Elefant of http://myshingle.com.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Solosez is horrible. Getting anything worthwhile from it is like trying to take a drink from a firehose.

      • Robert Switzer

        I disagree, actually. I find Solosez to be pretty handy. The amount of posts can be overwhelming, however, and the vast majority won’t interest you. But if you post a general question about solo practice you’re bound to get a bunch of good responses.

        Also, Solo By Choice is an awesome book. If you have questions about starting a practice, don’t wait for it from a newby’s blog. Buy that book.

      • http://questionoflaw.net Lisa Solomon

        Sam, it’s no different than Twitter: you have to listen to the right people.

        Oh, one big difference: because posts aren’t limited to 140 characters, much more detailed information can be shared (granted, not all of it is worthwhile, but much of it is).

        Many frequent posters have participated on the list for 10 years or more. They are deservedly well-respected, not only online but also in their own states and local communities. By participating on a list like Solosez, they can have a significant impact on new/young lawyers.

        Some lawyers (like Brian) use fora like blogs twitter to make an impact. But not everyone wants to blog or use Twitter. For them, Solosez – which was around before blogs or any any other kind of social media – is just the right speed.

        I can understand why Brian doesn’t care for the list: everyone is expected to use a civil tone, even when disagreeing with a prior poster.

        Oh, and Brian, how do you expect people to learn if they don’t ask questions (yes, sometimes what you might call moronic questions)?

        • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

          Lisa,

          What you fail to disclose is that you are one of the mother hens of solosez. And yes, you’re right, its a collection of very civil and nice morons.

          • http://questionoflaw.net Lisa Solomon

            Why should it matter – to you or anyone else – that I’m one of the “mother hens”? That puts me in the same group as people like Carolyn Elefant (another longtime list member and frequent contributor) – company I’m happy, and honored, to be in.

            • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

              I’m sorry Lisa if you felt that comment put you in the same category as Carolyn. Nothing could be further from the truth.

              • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

                I’m happy to post your comments when you are staying on-topic and being at least somewhat constructive, but this is just being nasty. Cut it out.

                • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

                  I understand, and I forgot, there are places on the internet where people should be allowed to freely self-engrandize without the fear of being called to the carpet. That was my fault. Sorry Sam

  • http://mylawlicense.blogspot.com BRIAN TANNEBAUM

    Sam,

    Lisa was kidding about SOLOSEZ. She has a wicked sense of humor. She would never recommend a listserv like that where every email should beging with “hi, I’m a complete moron and am about to say something to prove this to you.”

    That Lisa Solomon, such a jokester.

    • http://www.constitutionaldaily.com BL1Y

      I found solosez to be incredibly useful.

      …For learning how much time lawyers spend doing collections work.

  • Betsy Munnell

    Hi Josh and Sam,

    I’m going to bypass the stuff going on in these posts–I think everyone’s points have been made and understood. I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts, and reiterate one piece of advice in particular.

    First–my explanatory take on the self-identified “curmudgeons” who have posted above–not to be interpreted, please, as a response to anyone who participated in that conversation:

    When I first discovered these guys crawling all over Adrian Dayton sometime in 2009, I thought them merely mean spirited. ( ‘So if you don’t like what he writes don’t read it’, right?) I was then discovering a fascinating world of gutsy, articulate, ambitious young law students and lawyers, who appreciated the advice, connections, support and promotion I so enjoyed offering. At first I thought the watchdogs should back off—a predictably maternal response. (None of you need protection–as you demonstrated in fielding the comments above.) But now it’s 2012, I have sobered up a touch and I now believe these guys serve an important purpose in the blogosphere: as “scouts”, if you will, in the lawyer’s version of the wild west– a place where solo and virtual law practices are multiplying at a rapid pace (exhilarating to some, ominous to others), in some cases at grave risk to their intended clients, and to our profession. I am concerned by the growing crowd of tweeters and bloggers who celebrate the efficiencies and freedom of solo legal practice with insufficient attention to the crucial role of training and prior experience. The internet is especially hospitable to the proverbial call to arms, however emotional, but the appeal and utility of a “shingle” varies dramatically as a function of its owner’s qualifications, none of which can be willed into existence by courage and optimism alone. Newly minted lawyers are encouraged to attach themselves, at first at least, to one or more other practitioners, rather than going it alone on the questionable strength of a law degree and lots of heart.

    It is next to impossible to predict–based on an internet bio or blog post–which of so many young lawyers should not be practicing law unsupervised. So Scott, Brian and their brother soldiers cast a wide net, patrolling the ether for those they believe are using social media primarily to self-promote or to offer advice (whether or not “disclaimed”) not supported by experience–or the law. Do I wish they could do so without condescension and the occasional vulgarity? Of course. But I am not unhappy they are out there.

    It strikes me that since neither Scott nor Brian can watchdog the entire online profession (and no Person–corporate or human–has stepped up to do so) their scorched earth approach may be strategically justified. In these increasingly “desperate times”, perhaps a lot of bad publicity (i.e. being viewed simply as “haters”) is better than too little notice. Measured, gracious advice would be vastly preferable. But they’re in a hurry (OK, they prefer the bad boy thing anyway); ever more so each time a young lawyer ignores more measured, avuncular warnings and uses the internet’s bully pulpit to offer inaccurate legal advice, cloaked solely by a disclaimer. I am myself deeply alarmed by this trend, and by the ethical crisis it presents. Frankly, I am also angered by the damn the torpedoes arrogance of th4ose who shrug off fair warnings as the mutterings of nasty old lawyers determined to chill innovation and quash the bold enthusiasm of youth. I am not a scout, or a watchdog, yet. But I am glad someone is doing the job.

    You and your contemporaries are facing a rotten economy and a contracting job market, burdened by crushing debt and with few of the practical skills necessary to practice law without the (albeit limited) supervision otherwise available at a firm, in house or in a government position. I encourage all the young lawyers and students I advise to exploit–with caution– the networking, learning and reputation building opportunities offered by the internet. On the other hand, I feel strongly that hanging out a shingle directly out of law school, without substantial supervision and mentoring, is terribly risky for all involved, and that the internet is not the appropriate forum for client development (not your agenda here, I know) at this early stage.

    So here, finally, is the part where I reiterate advice–

    I have no quarrel with a blog tracing your efforts to learn about the business of law. My advice is simply to maximize the information and advice you can gather “in real life” before offering it to your readers. The people you meet “live” are the ones more likely to be reliable sources of counsel, now and in the future.

    The internet can never take the place of a robust in-person professional network (again, I don’t hear you saying it should). On the other hand, Twitter, Linked In, Facebook and other social media platforms are wonderful places to do the initial networking, especially with other professionals in your city or region. Get to know them online, as well as you can, but let that be a preface to meeting them, if only on the telephone. Search out the resources that are a walk or a subway ride away and learn from them–at bar association and CLE training sessions and new lawyer and practice committee meetings and through your law school and college alumni networks, informational and job interviews, your family friends and referrals, the community and other organizations of which you are a part and the pro bono legal work you do to increase your skills and so on. There are full service websites and blogs formed solely to serve young practitioners, and you should ask your personal contacts how to find them. (I’d like to recommend @MassLOMAP, which you can also access by following @jaredcorreia and @rodneydowell on Twitter–for information and advice useful in most cases outside Massachusetts as well.) And internet networking is a wonderful thing–I have benefited greatly from time spent researching, reading, declaiming, blogging and engaging with colleagues on line. But the real stuff happens in person.

    And more than anything, your first priority must be to find ways to learn the law itself and to observe more experienced lawyers developing and offering sound legal advice. This process can be enhanced through the online community, but with the greatest of care. The internet can be a misleading place, where innovation and guts are sometimes valued more than cold hard experience, and where optics often trump truth. When we build relationships, all of us, we have to look extra hard for earned wisdom and demonstrated experience, and for those who offer useful facts and information, not simply speculation and opinion.

    One more thing: I am awfully wary of encouragement and advice offered in the form of inspirational soundbites and tweets. Boldness works wonderfully, but usually not unless it’s paired with knowledge.

    I wish you the very best and will continue to read The Lawyerist with interest.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      Thanks for the well written comment Betsy. I agree about the importance of real life networking and mentors. A huge benefit of my job as a clerk is meeting almost every criminal attorney in my area. I’ve reached out to a good number already, and plan to meet with more in the coming weeks and months.

      As for my first priority, don’t worry, I know that’s the most important thing. I’ve already started exploring some very valuable CLEs and publications, and plan on posting about using these types of resources to supplement a legal education that doesn’t fully prepare us to practice law.

      • Betsy Munnell

        This is great Josh! I look forward to your posts.

  • http://brucegodfrey.com/ Bruce Godfrey

    Josh, I have been practicing 17 years, none of them in PA where I have no license. I wish you and your clients well.

    Here are some questions to take to your Pennsylvania mentors, who are, I hope, numerous, wise and generous.

    1) What is the maximum exposure that I/my clients can realistically bear in my criminal practice at this stage of my knowledge? I refer not to insurance but to ethics: what cases constitute morally and ethically responsible practice for your level of competence?
    2) Does applicable malpractice coverage include the costs of defense as part of the deductible or do you only pay out if there’s a claim or settlement?
    3) How do PA Bar authorities opine on the issue of handling criminal flat fees, both the black-letter rules and case law of interpreting same? This is important because some client will eventually fire you and if you have taken the whole fee (even if permitted with informed consent waiver if allowed there), how will you make your bills when you have de-cashed your operating account? Conversely, when it is commingling?
    4) How many and what sort of other mentors do I need?
    5) Do I want a carrying permit to protect me from my clients’ friends? This is not a joke if you take cash payments and you do hard-core criminal defense work. I got robbed at the point of snub-nosed .38 in my face a month ago from someone who is now being held no bond and being represented by private counsel; if he and his friends would rob me they will rob his lawyer, why not?
    6) How corrupt is your local prosecutor’s office and bench? I know that judicial corruption in PA has been a real problem for a long time, from traffic court judges to Supreme Court justices to juvenile judges going away for life.
    7) Can you prove that you know how to comply and do comply with the escrow subaccount recordation procedures in your jurisdiction? Hint: Quickbooks is pretty awkward in its handling of escrow subaccounts.
    8) How much do you and your new partner (stockholder/member, etc) have to coordinate your calendars, and can you sub in for each other if you get the mother of all stomach flu? Who is your third backup if you give each other the Black Plague at the coffee machine?
    9) Do you know the difference between an IOLTA account and an escrow account, if one exists in your state? (In MD, IOLTA accounts are a subset of escrow accounts, required for substantial balances held for multiple clients.)
    10) Will the PD’s office be available to you in any way for guidance? I ask because in MD, PDs are often very generous with advice to new attorneys.

    What do I as a reader want to read about? How grateful you are to your army of mentors in PA, preferably within 20 miles of your office, for all the advice and Dutch uncle treatment they are giving you while you earn and do great work. Good luck to you.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      Thanks Bruce. Some great things to think and write about here. Some I’ve already discussed with my mentors, but I will definitely address the rest.

  • http://www.4laborlaw.com/ Chuck C.

    I will definitely follow the life and times of this new firm. A series of postings which include the words curmudgeon and .38 snub will have to offer something to my day even if it is just a little entertainment. By the way, even if this new firm has trouble on take-off I hope to learn a lot just from the corrections they receive even if they have a little sting to them. I really wish everyone the best of luck in everything. With times being what they are I hope we are all wishing each other the best of luck.

  • Avera&Smith LLC

    Go for it man.. Follow what your hearts desire.. It might not be easy, but it will all be worth it.. Good Luck!

  • http://www.avera.com/ Avera&Smith LLC

    Go for it dude..Good luck!