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Advice to Young Sole Practitioners in a Tough Economy

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Advice to Young Sole Practitioners in a Tough Economy
The legal market has been brutal since about 2008. With larger firms downsizing experienced lawyers and paralegals and smaller firms not hiring, new lawyers have to complete for the same salary against lawyers with multi-years of experience.

I've run my own firm for over four years in the toughest economy in 75 years. It has been tough and stressful, but rewarding. There have been personal loans to the firm. Liquidating of 401k's. No paychecks for extended periods of time. Light paychecks for most of the time. So after all of this stress, I am willing to hire someone that can work with me on salary and invest in the firm as a stakeholder. If you want just money, good luck finding it in this economy.

A young lawyer has to understand that any job beats hanging out on the couch playing X-Box. A young lawyer needs to get to the table to show the firm that they deserve a chance. My advice to any young lawyer is to pick a firm that they are interested in and offer to work there for 2 to 4 weeks as an unpaid legal intern. Doing research, wrangling witnesses at court, making copies, answering the phone or whatever needs to be done. Once that agreed upon time is over, the employer may be able to try to find some form of paying job for you. If not, you at least have a positive working reference and some networking connections.

Anything is better than zero! I usually start a new lawyer as a contract research assistant, then a low paid associate, and once the lawyer starts bringing retainers, I give them a raise. The more they succeed, the more I can afford to pay them. When the firm is struggling to pay bills and salaries and the brunt of that burden is shouldered by the partners and their pay. If the choice is between the rent being paid and a partner getting a salary, the partner will have to sacrifice the pay.

A new lawyer that is starting a new firm needs to rent a small office that has a more successful lawyer in the building. The small office will keep down on overhead costs, which is crucial for a new firm. The experienced lawyer will likely refer a case due to conflicts of interests or client's that cannot afford the higher retainer. A new lawyer's number one client will be other lawyers' referrals. Email, tell every lawyer you meet and go to the local bar meeting and say "I am a new lawyer, please send me the cases that you do not want." Most of the cases will be garbage, but every once in a while, you will get a hidden gem that will pay the bills. If you work for yourself, re-invest your money and do not expect a salary for at least the first year.

Never, never, never, put money into expensive marking and say: "This will pay for itself with two retained clients per month." It won't! Trust me, it won't. Expensive listings and yellow page ads are luxuries for cash rich firms. You are not one! Go with free or cheap internet listings. Always answer your phone. Most lawyers do not. You need to get the business from a Saturday night potential client. Answer it, even when you do not want to.

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About LawCrossing
LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

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.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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