Attorneys who start their own practice immediately or shortly after receiving a license to practice law are sure to turn some heads, especially from other recent graduates. In a job market where attorney applicants outnumber available jobs, newly barred attorneys will naturally consider starting their own practice. When considering starting a practice, the majority of questions can be categorized under three major questions: How to get started? How to get experience? And how to get clients?
Planning and goal setting are very important when deciding to start a law practice. The Maryland State Bar Association Law Office Management Administration website is a great place to start. There is a wealth of information and resources on the website to educate any new attorney about how to begin planning and preparing to start a new practice. Attorneys should use checklists to help guide them in their preparation.
Before attorneys start practicing law, they should establish a process and procedure for their practice. The administrative and business aspects of running a law practice are extremely time consuming and will take away time that could be otherwise spent doing legal work. Attorneys should have procedures and template documents prepared and available for use before accepting clients. Once the procedure and process are established, attorneys will find that they are able to spend more time doing legal work that can generate income.
Newly barred attorneys lack experience, which makes it difficult to obtain employment and gain the requisite experience many job opportunities require. Organizations such as the Pro Bono Resource of Maryland and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Services provide free legal and practical training in various areas of law in exchange for an attorney commitment to provide pro bono services for a client. The organizations will train you in a particular area of law, assign you a mentor, provide you a client, and cover the professional liability insurance for that particular case.
If you are a new attorney starting your own practice, you should be aware of some pitfalls that you will want to avoid. New attorneys should refrain from accepting complex litigation cases on contingency. A new attorney is likely to make the mistake of determining the merit of a case without contemplating whether or not pursuing the case is economically justifiable or whether or not the new attorney can afford the cost of litigation. If you do receive a potential client with a complex litigation matter, seek out a reputable experienced attorney to help evaluate the case. Reputable experienced attorneys will at times agree to a fee sharing arrangement whereby you, the new attorney, can learn and gain valuable experience, and the experienced attorneys can be compensated for the work and supervision they provide.
Other helpful advice for new practitioners looking to gain experience on their own include joining various bar association e-mail lists where you can submit questions and receive feedback from other practicing attorneys. New attorneys should attend networking events and develop relationships with attorneys who practice in the same areas of law. Continuing learning education (CLE) courses are a great way to meet attorneys that are authorities in particular areas of law. Attorneys who teach CLE courses are typically willing to field questions and sometimes offer to answer other questions in the future.
Networking is a great way to get clients and build your physical presence. New attorneys should join and become involved in various bar associations and attend social and networking events. Building a network of attorneys can help build your referral source. New practitioners should attend functions of other professional organizations as a way to meet potential clients. As a new practitioner, you should tell everyone you know or meet what kind of work you do. Volunteering to do community service work is a great way to meet people in the community and get additional exposure. New attorneys should send thank you cards to anyone who refers them a case. Being active and getting plugged in to organizations and communities helps to build your referral sources.
Marketing and advertising is a great way to get clients and build your virtual presence. As a young, newly barred attorney, you should take advantage of the most current media marketing trends. It is important for new attorneys to build a virtual presence on the Internet through a website, attorney listings, blog, and other social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter. You want to make sure that you are staying current and relevant by continually updating your social media sites. New attorneys should start building their attorney identity because many potential clients will conduct a web search of their name to learn more about them. You want to build your credibility by boosting your online resume. When you have an opportunity, submit articles for publication or volunteer to provide presentations. You should also start looking at the criteria to be nominated or selected for various attorney awards so that you can begin to receive them. Awards, publications, and presentations are all ways that attorneys can help to build their credibility. Other ways to generate buzz or hype about your law practice is through announcements and press releases.
The best way to build your reputation is to provide quality legal representation and quality customer service. If you treat your clients well and you do a good job for them, they will tell others about their positive experience. If you don’t treat your clients well and you do not do a good job, you can be sure that they will tell others about their negative experience. As a new attorney, client reviews are helpful in helping to market your practice, so ask clients if they would be willing to provide feedback that you can use to improve the quality of your service, but also to attract other potential clients.
It takes time to build a law practice. If you are a new attorney and you plan on starting your own practice, be patient, be persistent, be connected, be confident, and follow the advice and guidance of other successful attorneys with thriving practices.
Julius M. Blattner is an attorney at The Law Office of Julius M. Blattner, LLC and an Assistant Staff Judge Advocate for the Maryland Army National Guard. He practices criminal defense, DUI/DWI, and traffic cases.