New Lawyers Practice of Law Starting a Law Practice

You’re a Lawyer, Not a _______! 5 reasons Not to Work Another Job While Starting Your Law Practice

162308562The following is a guest blog post by Benjamin ScottBen 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Related CEB blog posts:

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5 replies on “You’re a Lawyer, Not a _______! 5 reasons Not to Work Another Job While Starting Your Law Practice”

These are all really good points. Really helpful article and sounds like it has come from experience. Really like that last point about people taking you serious. I don’t know how you can be a part time lawyer as it is.

I respectfully disagree. My firm has helped hundreds of lawyers start a successful law practice. In my experience each of the points listed above can be mitigated by proper planning and with the right law firm management processes, policies, systems & procedures.

Unfortunately, they don’t teach us anything about this in law school. And so most lawyers wind-up having to reinvent the wheel without the benefit of generations worth of law firm management, marketing, sales, staffing, financial controls, pricing strategies, etc. etc. experience. Which to make-up for that lack of proper due-diligence and preparation, I grant you that it becomes necessary for most lawyers to go full-time.

ON THE OTHER HAND, just a few months worth of planning, preparation and attention to putting in place the appropriate infrastructure should enable most lawyers to hold down a “day job” while getting their law firm up & going. This enables that lawyer to take their time with many important marketing initiatives, decline cases from clients they really shouldn’t be taking and many more benefits.

I’m certainly not saying one has to go part time or full time. But I don’t think it’s necessary for someone who wants to transition into full time running a law firm to think they are somehow necessarily at a disadvantage. Because with proper planning you needn’t be.

I agree and disagree. I worked part-time for another attorney for two years while I built my own practice. I think this is different than working in a non-law job, but I appreciate your points about being at the mercy of your employer’s schedule. From day one, my boss knew I was building my own practice and told me to feel free to call off (unpaid, of course) if I had something pressing to handle for my own practice. I only had to do so once (for an emergency ex parte); most other part-time jobs — even with other lawyers — wouldn’t offer that much flexibility.

I earned valuable experience from that job, including basic law office management, how to do electronic filing in Federal court, and crucial time management. But there came a time when, as an office-mate at my own practice put it, “my part-time job was starting to interfere with my career.” That part-time job paid my office rent while I built my own practice, though, so by the time I quit that job, I was past all my start-up costs and had the momentum in my own practice to hit the ground running.

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