"You Ask…I Answer" – If I Know I'm Going Solo What Should I Be Doing During The Summer?

(It’s that time of year…so I resurrected a post from last year for all those law students who want to know what to do this summer to further their solo ambitions.)

The question this week comes from the gifted Anastasia Pryanikova who writes Lawsagna , a blog which provides very valuable information to law students currently navigating through law school, the practical, the spiritual, and the inspirational.

Question: I saw your category of “You Ask…I Answer” posts and thought I’d ask a question on behalf of my readers.  Summer time is when many students try to get practical experience by interning at a firm, government or non-profit.  If students know they would like to go solo after graduation, what would you recommend they do during their summers to prepare for their solo practice?

Answer:

Anastasia, this is a difficult yet easy answer at the same time. So, where to begin.  If you know you are going to become a solo practitioner upon passing the bar then everything you do, from your course selection to your extracurricular activities to your summer internships should be geared towards two things, networking/building professional relationships and gaining ‘practical’ experience that mirrors the life of a solo practitioner.

Therefore, and I know some will give me flack for this….does it make sense to spend your time on Moot Court and taking courses in Entertainment Law, or getting practical experience interviewing clients and working on real cases through your internship and externship programs as well as taking courses in the basic practice areas the average consumer will hire you for?  Should you be burning credits taking philosophical courses or business management courses?  Should you be learning how to interview, negotiate and mediate with your extra credits or just taking irrelevant gut courses?  Should your extra time be devoted to volunteering in a solo’s office (unpaid) or competing for Law Review (unpaid.) You have to map out the course in the law school which serves your ultimate goal.  Some may argue you can’t really know. I say most students do know if they want to be an employee or an entrepreneur

In your three years of law school everything you do should be laying the foundation for your solo practice.  Everything.  And here comes the blasphemy.  If you KNOW you are going out on your own, do not put the extra energy into getting A’s in all your classes.   No client you get is going to ask your class rank or what your grade was in torts.  Only an employer will during the screening process.  Spend your extra energy and time learning the business of law in the trenches.

So, how do you spend your summers?  By getting in the trenches.  Let me preface this, however.  In the trenches is not a summer associate position doing document review at a mid-sized firm where you have no client contact, no opportunity to visit the court house, no exposure to rainmaking or the business end of running a law practice.  You gain nothing in furtherance of your solo practice.  In the trenches is not worrying about getting paid for your legal work…bartend at night if you have to earn money because you can’t get a paid legal position that gets you in the trenches. But, you HAVE to get in the trenches.

Be prepared to give away your time….call it a marketing expense…and then follow these three steps.

Find solos/small firms who do the type of work you are interested in doing.  Ask for a job.

If they are not hiring, tell them you would like to work for free shadowing the attorney and be given the opportunity to learn about the business of running a law firm as well as doing the legal work. 

THEN tell them you would like to practice your rain making skills (that will perk up their ears) and if you bring business to the firm, you would like to work on that case and get paid an hourly rate for the work you do on this particular case.

This three step approach is very important to your solo success.  You will learn the following important lesson:  “If you are not bringing in money, you are overhead.  And overhead is expendable.”

As a solo you have to be first and foremost a rainmaker.  You have to learn to bring in business.  And 62% of all your business will be directed to you from your friends, family and co-workers.  So, whether you realize it now or not, you already have a huge pool of people ready to be leveraged. These same people are very anxious for you to graduate so they can refer business to you.  If you let them know you are working for Attorney XXXX and, although you are not a lawyer yet, you will be able to work on the case and gain experience for your solo practice, they will send business your way.  You will be able to start meeting other practicing attorneys and develop professional relationships.  You will be able to hone your interviewing skills, see how to ‘close’ clients on retaining your services and then be able to do the actual legal work.  It will closely mirror your experiences as a solo.

And you bring value to the attorney without being overhead. This is very important. Having you in their office presents a no lose situation for the accommodating attorney.  The business you bring in is business they would not otherwise have gotten and it is gained at no marketing cost to them.  And if you prove your worth bringing in business and producing quality product, you may be able to parlay this into a regularly paying gig until you graduate and pass the bar.  You bring value to the law office…it is “what you can do for them.”  This is the real selling feature.  And if you can advocate for yourself in this way, you can effectively advocate for others when you’ve passed the bar.

If you can’t get a paid legal job or a position as described above, and you are not working or working part time and have hours left, start acting like a lawyer.  What does that mean?  Spend time at the court house.  Get to know the players meaning the top lawyers, law firms in the area of law you want to practice.  Watch them in court.  Watch the procedures in court.  Learn about court-appointed lists attorneys can get on for appointments to do legal work.  Go to the criminal courts, the family courts, the bankruptcy court, the probate court and watch and learn.  If you find a lawyer who is doing a trial or an interesting case, get a copy of the motions in the file to start building your form file.  Be seen.  Be heard if it is appropriate by introducing yourself as a law student who enjoyed watching the lawyer.  Now for something interesting:

Make up calling cards.  That’s right.  Calling cards.  You are not a lawyer but you can have a card with your name, contact information including e-mail and expected date of graduation to use for introduction.  This is not pretentious. This is smart.  Imagine you meet a lawyer you would like to work with as described above.  You are talking with him about his case and hand him a calling card and say, “I would love to shadow you some time, maybe bring some business your way while I’m in law school. I’m not a lawyer yet but I have a lot people anxious for me to get my degree.  I’d like to be able to refer them to a great lawyer.”  Remember, you have to learn to make rain for yourself, too.  Great way to practice.

I hope this answers your readers’ questions.  And if others have ideas about how to get practical experience during the summer which will help their solo practice efforts, please share.  I know this has just skimmed the surface.

If you’d like to read the original comments this post generated you can do so here.  And feel free to add to the conversation!

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