Job Search Strategies: specialist or one-stop-shopping maven?

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

When I started out as an associate at a medium-sized law firm, I had no choice but to be a generalist. All cases that were not criminal or personal-injury cases ended up on my desk. This included all types of civil litigation, which no one in the office wanted to handle.

So I became a generalist by default. I had to research new cases heavily, consult the other lawyers in the office and generally make a significant effort to make sure my clients had competent representation no matter what their issue was.

I worked excruciatingly long hours and was either in court, meeting with clients or drafting motions and other pleadings at 2 in the morning. The experience was invaluable in that I learned how to be a good lawyer with lightning speed and I was involved with complex cases and first chaired several trials in my first two years as a practicing attorney.

When I opened my first law office, I continued to be a generalist. My clients came to me for any and all issues they had and, out of loyalty, I felt that I needed to represent them in any and all of those issues where I was competent to do so. I felt I understood them and could serve them better than by referring them to another lawyer. When I referred them to another attorney, some clients felt they were being handed off to a stranger they did not necessarily trust.

This way of practicing was not the best way to use my time or to be compensated fairly, really, because I spent time getting up to speed on many legal issues and did not always bill for time I thought of as my own “prep” time.

So this time around, after lots of analysis of the past, reading and thinking, the business model for my second law office is predicated on strict specialization. I will only take on a specific type of client, I will not take on clients’ overflow matters, no matter how sympathetic I feel about their dilemma, and I am on track to become a total expert in only a couple of specific related areas of law. Definitely going for depth over breadth this time.

But no sooner had I come to that decision than my attention was drawn to multiple trade articles, blog postings, and expert advice by legal practitioners that indicates that the best way to develop a successful practice is by being a “one-stop-shopping” type of law office, where clients feel comfortable bringing most of their legal issues and trusting that they will have one lawyer they know well handle them. This implies a sort of cradle to grave idea as well.

An alternative I see to the last mentioned model is that of working with a tightly controlled referral group of attorneys, where you would stay closely involved in the case you referred for the duration of the case. But I believe most attorneys I would refer cases to would not want to have me remain closely involved with the work they are doing for “my” client.

It is difficult to decide how to handle this issue. Maybe as my practice evolves it will become clearer how to handle clients who expect me to be their sole provider of legal services. Alternatively, maybe I should stop reading and listening to so many different opinions.

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