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The Defense for Starting A Criminal Law Practice Out of Law School

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I’ll admit that I’ve always had mixed feelings on the question of whether to solo straight out of law school. As I explained in this early post, from my perspective, it made sense for new grads with no work history and with significant student loan debt to take a paying job if only for a year or two and begin to build a reputation on someone else’s dime.

Of course, in today’s economy, my preferred employment-to-solo scenario simply isn’t feasible. And if that’s the case, I’ve always endorsed solo practice as a far preferable option to working as a paralegal or leaving the law entirely.

So how do new grads get a practice off the ground? Last week, Washington D.C. criminal defense attorney Jamison Kohler blogged about this topic extensively, offering solid advice on how new grads can find training, mentorship and plain old camaraderie to build a criminal defense practice (though it will take some time).

Coincidentally, just as Jamison was drafting his post, I was at a Tweet-Up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I interviewed Anthony Bushnell as part of the MyShingle SoloCorps Project, who started his now five-year old criminal defense and civil litigation firm right out of law school. Though Bushnell initially intended to work for himself rather than sit around and wait for a job, turns out that by doing so, he wound up creating a job for himself:

SoloCorps Interview – Anthony Bushnell, Minneapolis Criminal Defense & Civil Litigation Solo from Carolyn Elefant

Did you go solo out of law school? Share your advice in the comment section below.

  • I went solo out of law school. I don't think I would have been able to strike out on my own for a long time if I hadn't done it this way. Once you get used to a steady paycheck, it seems harder to make the leap, even if you have a reputation and client base built up. I am lucky to have an incredible support system with my partner and family, but also really glad I went for it.

    I also think I've got a personality that is more suited to doing my own thing than working for someone else, and I have no shame asking other more experienced lawyers for help. I have found that most other lawyers are more than willing to share a few minutes of their time to point you in the right direction, especially if you bribe them with lunch or coffee. Building a solo practice right out of school requires some bravery and a lot of networking skills, but I think it's pretty fun.

    P.S. I really enjoyed your CLE when you were in Portland!

  • Loved the interview – thank you!

  • Carolyn,

    I went out on my own right from law school, and I'm glad I did. I think there's a greater motivation to work hard, and become successful. I think the lack of a steady paycheck also motivates an individual to build relationships and create alliances.

    I caution others to be careful about pitfalls, and especially overhead.

  • guesty

    I don't think new attorneys should be afraid to go solo, so long as they are reasonably smart and diligent. When you've been around lawyers long enough, you sadly realize that those 2 preconditions are not universal among members of the bar. If you have those 2 things in your wheelhouse though, you already have a lot on your side.

  • If you want to practice criminal law in defence in Montreal, Canada, you have basically 3 options: Legal Aid Office, a very few offices that hires (I have too many fingers to count them all) and going solo. Majority ends up going solo by default and lack of options

  • JS Law

    I was criminal defense or bust coming out of law school. I was lucky enough to land a one year clerkship with a criminal judge, but when my year was up the PD's office was on a hiring freeze and there were no employers offering opportnities to practice crim defense. In my jurisdiction, as in most I guess, the criminal defense bar is dominated by solos and small firms without the means or need for a full time associate.

    I was fortunate to have an experienced solo offer me some free office space in return for legal work (briefs, court appearances, etc…) My first cases were referrals that fell off his desk and my practice has grown from there. It was a great way to get experience fast, get my face out there in the legal community, and I always had an experienced practitioner available for questions. Many weeks or months the amount of legal work provided would far outweigh the rental value of the office space, and I would sometimes be doing part time associate hours for no money…but the big picture goal is to become a great attorney, and build a practice. In the long run, the latter is more valuable than any low level salary. Not an ideal start, but better than doing work you have no passion for or signing on for a job with no future.

    The only caveat is that the established attorney has to be trustworthy. It's very easy to get taken advantage of in this type of setup and you have to trust your gut if it says get out. Overall, I think people would be surprised at how many solo practitioners are willing to help out young lawyers and even create a competitor.

  • JS Law

    Agreed, I would also add that some passion and giving a crap about your clients can take you a long way.

  • Joe Brown

    You earned the law degree and passed a state bar exam, and you are ABSOLUTELY capable of competently representing clients on day one. Before I launched my own solo practice six months after becoming an admitted attorney, I read article after article stating that new attorneys were ill-prepared to competently represent clients, and therefore should not start a solo law practice after law school.

    A new attorney may be required to take on fewer cases than more experienced attorneys, merely because there is a learning curve, both with respect to the substantive law as well as procedural matters like…for example…how many copies of the complaint does one provide the process server. However, a new attorney is certainly capable of providing competent representation from day one.

  • Jeremiah Stephan

    As a 2L, I’m constantly told that I will (1) never find a job; and (2) that I’ll struggle with debt for the rest of my life.  It’s really nice to find some positive energy out in the blogosphere.  Thanks for the great post, the video was especially good.  

  • Derrick

    You sound like a bitch

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