J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Pro Serve PR, a public relations firm serving law and professional service firms. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition based on his experience in legal marketing, public relations, and practice management. Nick shares career growth experience and innovation with legal job seekers.
Here’s the problem: there are no jobs for recent law grads and many are hanging shingles right out of law school; without co-counsel support, many risk failure and malpractice. The solution is a concept I call “secured solo practice.” This collaborative practice model satisfies the needs of solo practitioners along with their senior counterparts.
The equation: new solo attorney + affiliate counsel = secured solo practice. What secures it? Money.
Newly licensed and practicing solo practitioners are frequently advised to negotiate of counsel relationships. This seems easy in theory, but the practical application presents some roadblocks. Why would senior counsel be motivated to stop their billing clock to help the new attorney who may not be aware of errors and omissions in their client representation? The answer: secure the relationship with a mutually beneficial business relationship.
The secured solo is secured, in part (not to ignore professional liability insurance) by the engagement of “affiliate counsel.” I suggest that the affiliate counsel have a minimum of 10 years in their practice area. Often, the senior set of eyes will spot issues a less experienced practitioner might miss.
Secured solos compensate their affiliate counsel by paying them a reasonable monthly or annual fee. Knowing the affiliate counsel will be available to field calls and questions, the secured solo has backup and can take a client inquiry and get up to speed on issue spotting before meeting the client. I suggest limiting the practice area exposure in these relationships – general practice can backfire.
The affiliate counsel would agree to bill their time at the same rate as charged by the new solo. Full disclosure of the secured solo practice relationship is important. The secured solo could pass on affiliate counsel charges directly to the client as a cost. Clients should be aware of the scope of this of counsel format. In the event the affiliate counsel wishes, and the secured solo agrees, assistance could be delegated to an affiliate’s associate or partner.
By attaching compensation to the relationship, the workflow process is prioritized. Think of this concept in terms of paid mentorships. The affiliate counsel benefits from professional good will. To the extent the secured solo practitioner has an extensive social network; there might be an opportunity for both to take the next big case. Certainly the parties to a secured solo relationship must be knowledgeable about professional responsibility and applicable legal and liability factors.
What do you think of the secured solo practice model? What concerns would you pose? What additional benefits to you see? I am keen on further development of this concept.