Some Things Nobody Can Teach You

As the end of the year approaches it’s natural to reflect on the past year. Did you reach your goals for the year? What have you learned in the last twelve months?

Of course, this year has seen me leave a full time job to open a two-person law firm. Since February I’ve learned that keeping overhead low requires a balancing test; an office is a great investment; how to deal with senior attorneys; and that sometimes you can lose a hearing without being in the courtroom. I’ve contemplated why I became an attorney, and what it means to help people.

I’ve learned a lot this year. A lot of it was intentional, sought after, or planned. But a lot was not planned. Many lessons, learned the hard way, were not sought after. Because there are some things you cannot learn from a book or a mentor. You have to experience them first hand.

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Telling Clients Bad News

The first time I had to tell a client that the government would not let her see her son on his birthday was an unforgettable experience. I had read about breaking bad news to clients. I went in with a plan of what to say. But looking in someone’s eyes as you relay that kind of information is tough. A book or a blog can’t adequately prepare you for something like that.

Waking Up in the Middle of the Night in a Panic

Did I file that response? Is there a transport order to bring my client from the jail? Did I review everything I need to for this hearing? Will I ever get paid? All of these questions have caused me to wake up in the middle of the night. Some nights I went right back to sleep, but others I got up and had to turn on the computer before I could sleep again.

This type of panic, I’m told, never goes away. Terrific. On the up side, it is a good motivator. It keeps me on my toes and keeps me double-checking things. This middle-of-the-night feeling is something people tried to tell me about. But until I experienced it the first time, I couldn’t really appreciate how difficult it is to rack my brain at three in the morning for the answer I need.

Going Without Pay

When we decided to open a firm, my partner and I set aside enough money to survive without income for several months. Given the choice, I would recommend that anyone opening a firm have at least 4-6 months of expenses put away. Even with this preparation, that first month without a paycheck is rough. Especially if you’re coming from a regular salary, it can be unsettling to go without income for that long. And it can lead to depressing thoughts or second-guessing your current business plan. But it’s important to stay positive. There will be blips and slow months.

What lessons about lawyering did you have to learn first hand? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

  • http://wlk-law.com WLKahagi

    Josh, your blog has been so helpful to me as I started my practice shortly after yours and I read all your postings which precisely describe the experience of starting your own practice. Just this Monday, I lost a DV case to a self-represented client . It was painful. In my “post mortem” of the case, after going through everything I could have done “differently”, I learned that no matter how well you prepare your client, you cannot control what he/she says in testimony. I knew going into the trial that it would be a difficult one, but I felt I could not, as a matter of strategy, ask my client to drop the restraining order, to essentially wait until she had better proof. Ultimately, the client still wants to work with me because she thinks I really listened to her and helped her see how she needs to change her situation, (the power and control cycle in Domestic violence). Fortunately, these lessons are coming early on in my career. It can only get better, right?

  • http://FishtownLaw.com Leo Mulvihill, Jr.

    Two rules that every young attorney should know by heart:

    Rule 1 — Cash up front. Otherwise, assume you’ll never get paid.

    Foonberg’s Rule — It’s better to not do the work and not get paid than to do the work and not get paid.