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Run Solo Run: Does Running for Office Jumpstart or Stop A Legal Career?

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With Election Day less than a month away and the public tiring of hearing about Obama or Romney, the media has turned its attention to local and lesser known candidates.  Moreover, many of those capturing the spotlight are either solos or younger lawyers just starting their careers.

For example, up in Maine shingler Cynthia Dill, who took on big law in her civil rights and employment practice running for a U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe.  Granted, Dill (now in the state Senate) isn’t polling that well, lacks support of the national Democratic party and is running on a shoestring budget – but that hasn’t kept her from nabbing media attention.
Meanwhile, over in New York, Mindy Meyer, who’s still in law school,running as the Republican and Conservative candidate for the state senate.  Although Meyer’s been mocked for her Elle Woods style campaign and lack of command of the issues, I thought that for a 22 year old, she’s reasonably poised.

So these articles got me thinking: can running for public office enhance a solo lawyer’s career? For starters, you can’t buy the kind of publicity that these candidates have generated at no cost through press coverage.  Moreover, the types of coverage that lawyer-candidates receive – not just in print media but presumably in televised interviews and debates – shows off skills important to lawyering, most notably, issues analysis, persuasion and brevity.  Whether you think Mindy Meyer’s campaign is over the top silly or not, in my book, it beats  these kinds of lawyer ads.

Solo lawyers are also familiar with a broad range of issues.  As lawyers, they can speak  intelligently to the workings of the judicial system, and as business owners, they have hands on experience with issues like tax policy, employment law, immigration, health care and others that impact small business.

Logistically, running for office isn’t all that difficult for solos either.  In small communities, many solo lawyers are well known because of participation in networking functions and community activities.  And solo lawyers have the infrastructure in place — website know-how, newsletter templates and social media communities – to run a solid campaign inexpensively.

On the other hand, solos shouldn’t just run for office if they don’t expect to be able to handle the job.  For example, a solo running for a law-related position like district attorney or judge should have the substantive knowledge and skill to be able to handle the position like Defending People  criminal defense blogger Mark Bennett who is running for the Texas Court of Appeals .  Similarly, many elected positions are part-time and pay poorly, which can make it difficult for solos to balance their obligations to their clients while carrying out the responsibilities of public office as described here.

It’s probably too late to declare for this years race, but what say you fellow solos?  Will you elect to run for office next time around?  And if you’ve run for office or currently hold a position, please share your experience below.

  • timsj

    As a young solo, it’s definitely crossed my mind.  I’m well connected in my tiny town, and many of the positions offer healthcare benefits.  But I’ll stick to non-legal positions like City Council, as I have no interest in being a prosecutor or judge.

  • In the old days before lawyer advertising, running for office to build a law practice might have made sense. Now it’s smarter to use the time and expense of running for office in direct promotion of a legal practice. I was the Democratic nominee for the House of Representatives in Missouri’s seventh congressional district in 1990 and 1992. It did not help my law practice. I was too busy campaigning to practice law full time. If a lawyer runs for office to promote his law practice, the voters will figure that out eventually.

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