Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.
If you find yourself unemployed, like so many do right now, and you have the opportunity and desire to take on clients of your own, then you shouldn’t let nay-sayers get in your way. Handling cases on your own gives you confidence and the much-needed experience that employers desire in candidates. I do advise you, however, to really think through your game plan before hanging out your shingle. There are a lot of mixed feelings out there about attorneys in transition taking on clients, but I think it can be done if you have a plan in mind.
Your first steps:
Your first steps should include setting up your IOLTA and operating accounts with your bank and buying a malpractice policy. These are very important aspects of any law practice. If you are planning to have a small, temporary practice think about renting virtual office space so you aren’t tied to a lease. These arrangements allow you to have an actual Chicago address and access to an answering service. You can also rent conference rooms by the hour. Some lawyers have a mobile practice and meet clients in coffee shops and restaurants. I don’t necessarily recommend this because it compromises your client’s privacy, but it is done.
If you aren’t interested in having a large practice, keep your marketing efforts small. Focus on one or two areas of marketing instead of casing your net wide. I recommend making business cards. For cheap cards, try checking out vistaprint.com. You may want to set up a fairly simple website, but keep in mind that there are associated costs. Websites give you authenticity, but word of mouth can be a very successful tool as well. Attend as many networking opportunities as possible, with your business cards in hand, and tell everyone that you are taking clients.
There is a risk that if you take on clients, their cases will involve a great deal more work that you initially thought. This is the main reason that starting a practice while looking for employment is difficult. In my opinion, this is a very important issue to think about when you are starting a practice and searching for full-time employment at the same time. As you know, litigation can take years. What if you take on some clients and score a full-time job a few months later? Is it ethical or even permissible for you to just drop a case that involves ongoing litigation? No. Think about the types of cases that will allow you to move on once they are completed. If you write a will for a client or handle a real estate closing, this can take less time than handling a divorce or negotiating a settlement.
Working with another attorney:
Having a relationship with someone who already has a law practice can be another great way to get experience and make some money. Explain to the attorney you are working with that you are looking for full-time job opportunities. The attorney may ask you to do some light work like handle a court appearance or do some research for him or her, but you will be getting experience without having to worry about leaving a client high and dry. If the attorney has more complex work for you to handle, think about your level of commitment before you accept the opportunity. Remember, if you take on a case, you should not take a job opportunity until you have fully assisted your client.