Question: Recently I have been pressed into counseling recent grads who are not getting picked up by firms and who are terrified about getting behind in paying back their student loans. A number of these grads don’t feel confident enough to even consider a solo practice because of the pressure of loan repayment. They are also concerned that if they do try their own practice, when the economy eventually turns around, firms still won’t be interested in them as new hires. It seems their thinking is that firms prefer to train their newbies and folks who opened their own firms should be viewed as competitors rather than newbies to the profession.”
While I received this paragraph in the context of a much larger e-mail on a variety of topics, it jumped out at me because there are many career counselors and professors and more seasoned lawyers being asked this very question by soon-to-be lawyers. I’d like to inject some realism into the thinking of these soon-to-be lawyers:
Plan for solo practice, not the Big Law job and the Big Law job opportunity may present itself.
To answer you regarding this particular thinking, the new grads are worrying about the wrong issue and their thinking is incorrect. They should plan for solo practice BECAUSE of the economy and by doing so, they are MORE attractive to the new firm emerging out of this chaos. Why? The new firms are going to be (or should be) more interested in self-starters and someone who doesn’t have to be hand-held through any process, who can make rain independently and reduce the large firm’s initial training costs. The new ‘associate’ will have to be a genuine profit-center in the newest sense, not in the oldest sense of just grunt work and racking up billable hours, but by generating business from the beginning.
The other practical reality is if they are going to start a business it can’t be half-hearted and with the idea they are biding time until ‘THE JOB’ comes along. In a recent Wall Street Journal article on all micropreneurs, they emphasize temporary thinking about your venture is a recipe for failure.
If a(lawyer) views the condition as temporary, it’s almost a guarantee that however long it lasts, it won’t go well. Unless you think about it as a job itself—requiring time, investment, thought—you won’t get much of a return. Waiting for business to find you is not something successful (lawyers) do. Clients know a halfhearted attempt when they see one.
They have to act as if this WILL be their professional future and make it work for them. Then if an opportunity presents itself, which it does often when one is in the self-starter mode, they are more prepared to consider the pros and cons of employment or partnership or ‘of counsel’ opportunities. They are seen as peers in the profession even if there is an experience-gap, because regardless the experience, they can be across the table in an adversarial role representing a client.
Final thoughts: Do not go into solo practice if you see starting your own practice as biding time until ‘THE JOB’ comes along. This will actually harm you professionally as both potential clients and peers will be able to read your attitude immediately. You will be unattractive to clients and those who might have considered you for employment, partnership, referrals or other opportunities.