Do not think of a sole practitioner as a "country lawyer." Avoid assumptions about where the attorney comes from or whether the practice has the "sophistication" of a large firm. It is best to meet sole practitioners as you find them and respond to their stated needs. A sole practitioner might have left a large firm because of a desire for independence and being one's own boss. He or she might have been practicing for the last 30 years and have a client list inherited from a multi-generation law family, or might want to:
- Remain a sole practitioner for his or her entire career;
- Grow to a certain small controllable level, take on several partners, and then stop there;
- Become the biggest law firm in the city and eventually hold the position of senior partner in that firm;
- Re-establish himself or herself after a firm breakup and eventually grow back to a larger size.
While you cannot assume certain things about this kind of attorney, you can still make some very solid assumptions based simply upon the fact that they are alone and have a relatively small number of support personnel:
" The sole practitioner will want support personnel to wear more than one hat.
" The sole practitioner will probably want you to work with clients to a certain degree.
" The sole practitioner will need word-processing support.
" The sole practitioner will hire based upon an array of priorities.
"Find a Need and Fill It." Common Entrepreneurial Saying
This much-quoted saying speaks volumes when it comes to approaching a sole practitioner. When I take job orders for entry paralegals from sole practitioners, the conversation typically goes like:
Sole Practitioner: I need someone to help me out with my practice.
"You know someone who can help me out in every area. I need someone who is willing to answer the phone, handle document preparation, do client interviews, help me with billing, make filings at court-things a paralegal can do. You know, do everything, which I normally do when I can't do it. Do you have anybody like that?"
"Certainly! What's your practice area?"
SP: I handle almost everything that comes through the door, but mainly my practice is personal injury, Workers' Comp, criminal defense, some real estate, some estate planning, and some family law. I need someone who can train quickly, who's bright and enthusiastic, can handle the computer, be good with people, and work hard.
Many a Paralegal Career Started with a Sole Practitioner
Every employment situation has positives and negatives. You will hear paralegals argue until they are blue in the face as to why they hate real estate and love litigation and vice versa. You can hear a horror story about a sole practitioner, and then turn around and hear one about a large law firm. Despite all of the comparing and complaining, the one key point that may get overlooked is: In the quest for that hard to find first paralegal job
, sole practitioners are more flexible and are more likely to give entry paralegals an opportunity if they like the way the applicant interviews and if his or her training and background meet their needs.
The sole practitioner does not have to check with a hiring partner, "run you by" a special committee, or worry about whether the senior partner is going to like you. The sole practitioner is the hiring partner, the committee, the senior partner, and every other management/legal title there is. He or she can pick you because you seem to be the best choice out of all those who have interviewed for the position. Many a paralegal career had its beginning in the hunch of a sole practitioner who thought that a certain someone would be just right for their practice and clientele.
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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
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