Guest post by Maggie Green
Starting a law office can be a daunting and sometimes unmanageable task. As a new attorney starting a solo law practice, you’ve likely reviewed your bar association’s start-up guides and found no shortage of DIY books to help hang your own shingle. As you get closer to realizing your goal, be sure to keep the following three tips in mind: (1) find a mentor, (2) participate in volunteer activities, and (3) narrow the focus of your practice.
A good mentor can share invaluable insight, which will help you early in your solo career. Developing positive relationships with mentors who want you to succeed creates a support structure so that you are not completely alone in your solo venture. You will discover that having a few talented people on your side increases your confidence and inspires you to continuously improve your practice. These positive relationships can also provide introductions to new mentors — and you can never have too many mentors.
Volunteer activities provide the opportunity to practice law in a controlled setting. Organizations that facilitate legal services for low-income individuals provide training, resources and advisors for volunteers assisting low-income individuals with legal issues. You will no doubt benefit from the experience. Exposure to real clients with actual legal issues will vastly improve your professional skills and you can feel good about helping someone in need.
Narrowing your practice will allow you to develop your practical legal skills so that you are an efficient and effective attorney. This will make clients happy because it reduces the cost of your legal services. A narrow focus will allow you to spend more time adding to your knowledge base and you will invariably have more energy to put toward marketing and networking efforts.
Find Meaningful Mentors
All attorneys considering solo practice should direct their networking efforts toward mentor-seeking activities. Networking can be wonderful, fun, and rewarding, but the ability to succeed as a new lawyer is heavily dependent upon the development of relationships with individuals whose insight you can trust; this is especially true for solo practitioners. With the right mentor, the steep learning curve that new lawyers experience can be decreased substantially.
Of course, you don’t have to wait until graduation to seek out a mentor. Many schools provide access to alumni who are willing to meet with law students interested in particular practice areas. My alma mater, the University of St. Thomas, has a wonderful and innovative mentoring program that introduced me to numerous talented and experienced lawyers who continue to provide their support, time, and advice. If your law school has a similar program, I encourage you to take full advantage of the program and develop relationships with the attorneys and other professionals involved in the program.
If you do not have access to an established mentor program, you can create your own “mentoring” opportunities by contacting old classmates, law school faculty and staff, or other peers in solo practice. I strongly encourage you to seek out an attorney with experience in a practice area of interest to you and ask if you can observe at an upcoming hearing or client meeting. You can also take them out to coffee or lunch to develop a connection or build rapport.
If you are recent grad and considering a solo practice, do not hesitate to contact a solo practitioner with general questions. The advice that they can give is invaluable. It will prevent you from spinning your wheels through common startup problems and help calm any anxieties or insecurities that are restricting your path to success.
You should definitely volunteer with a legal services organization. Volunteering will not only help you develop practical legal skills, it will also open doors for you to create positive relationships with attorneys and non-attorneys alike. You will find numerous ways to create connections with people and I can guarantee that when you put some effort toward developing these relationships, you will learn new ways to improve your solo practice and provide better service to clients.
Narrow your focus
For the new attorneys considering solo practice, I also suggest narrowing your focus to one or two areas of law. Taking every case that comes to you means you are constantly skimming the surface of each area of law. This isn’t only frustrating (and scary) for new lawyers, but it doesn’t allow for a full development of the legal skills that are necessary to have a successful practice.
Narrowing your focus at the beginning will give you the time and energy to gain competence in an area of law that interests you. In addition, building upon that knowledge base will lead to a natural broadening of legal skills, expertise, and success.
My experience as a solo-practitioner has been challenging but also very rewarding. I have developed many wonderful relationships with attorneys and clients alike, which makes my work fulfilling and worthwhile. I wish you the best of luck and success as you open this chapter of your career.
Maggie Green practices estate planning & probate at Donohue Green Law Office, PLLC in the Minneapolis Warehouse District.