The following is a guest blog post by Benjamin Scott. Ben is a solo estate planning attorney, a graduate of Concord Law School, a former high school physics teacher, and a father of three.
There are advantages of working another job while starting a solo law practice, but after a year of trying this experiment, I see the mistakes of trying to work two jobs.
As I discussed in my previous post, there are some advantages of working another job while starting a solo law practice. For a year, I worked as a teacher by day and a new lawyer by night, holiday, weekend, etc. Although it was wonderful to have a steady paycheck and great benefits, I experienced some significant drawbacks to dividing my time and attention this way.
Here are my 5 reasons not to work another job while launching your solo practice:
- You won’t have time to become competent. One of the biggest struggles of being a new lawyer is the realization that I actually knew very little about the practice of law. It takes time to learn everything you need to know, and having another job eats away at that time. I couldn’t regularly take days off of my other job to attend CLE conferences (such as those provided by CEB) and local bar association lunches. Because of my limited schedule, it was harder to meet with more experienced lawyers when I needed their help on a matter.
- It will be harder to work with other lawyers. New lawyers need to rely on a solid network of experienced lawyers who can help them out or give them meaningful work to do. Many lawyers that I spoke to said that I should come watch them in a trial or deposition, but this never worked well with my teaching schedule. When your schedule is determined by your other job, it will be harder to make time to learn from and network with other lawyers.
- You will severely limit your practice areas. The biggest disadvantage to keeping another job is that you’ll limit your practice areas. Because the hours of my other job were the same as the court’s hours, I couldn’t seriously pursue a practice that involved actually going to court. This ruled out family law, criminal law, personal injury law, products liability, bankruptcy, immigration law, or any other type of litigation. For anyone interested in a practice area that involves going to court, a part-time practice is probably not for you.
- You won’t have much time to spend with your family. I suppose that this problem isn’t unique to lawyers working two job, as many lawyers work long hours and have little time for their families. But I found that this problem is exacerbated when working both jobs. I taught an early class at school, showing up 6:30 a.m., then usually wouldn’t get to my law office until 3:30, working there until late at night. With so many things competing for my time, I realized I would never be happy if I sacrificed time with my family just to work two jobs.
- People may not take you seriously if you’re only a part-time lawyer. As lawyers, we need to be able to tell our clients that we have the time and ability to represent them well. If our clients see our work as a lawyer as a side-job, it will be more difficult for them to believe that you can really dedicate all your time to their case. You also have an ethical obligation to represent your clients diligently. When potential clients come with a time consuming case, you won’t be able to ethically accept it if you can’t devote enough time.
After working two jobs for a year, I’d had enough with the drawbacks and decided to choose one of them. I am now working full time in my law practice and still learning what it takes to be a lawyer.
Client communications are vitally important and often suffer when you try to practice part time. CEB’s California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms makes these communications so much easier with over 65 sample forms to help you effectively communicate with your client from initial contact to the conclusion of the case. And if you’re taking the plunge, don’t miss CEB’s popular program Launching a Successful Law Practice, available On Demand.
For attorneys in their first five years of practice in CA, CEB offers a free year of OnLAW and other discounts!
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