Unless you’ve managed to bring existing clients with you when starting a new firm, it can take some time for cash to start flowing through the door. Don’t despair – there are lots of creative ways to drum up quick cash to tide you over as your practice gets off the ground. Although most quick cash solutions won’t match your hourly rate, ideally, they’ll give you enough breathing room to spare you from having to take an undesirable client because you need to make rent.
That said, quick cash is what the name implies: a quick fix to get you through a rough patch. In most instances, quick cash infusions won’t provide a solid foundation for a sustainable practice. What’s more, quick cash, like all quick fixes can be addictive. You may find it easier to just say yes to defending a couple of depositions a month for a colleague at $350 bucks a pop guaranteed payment instead of digging in and doing the hard work to find clients who will hire you at $350 an hour.
Some other thoughts about quick cash options:
What’s the opportunity cost? Even if you need the money, realize that time spent doing work for others is time taken away from building your own practice. Ask yourself whether you’re better spending 20 hours drafting a summary judgment motion for $100/hour or devoting that time to blogging, social media posting, podcasting or other networking that could yield higher paying work.
Is the quick cash solution “in and out?” Sometimes, a quick cash opportunity might involve knotty, brain taxing work that drags on for weeks, tiring you out and distracting you from your work for clients? The best quick cash solutions are in and out – like handling a deposition or writing a pack of five blog posts.
Will the quick cash solution advance your firm? Quick cash solutions work well when they align with your long-term goals. For example, if you’re eager to build a litigation-based practice, doing appearance work for a colleague will familiarize you with local court practice. Likewise, handling court appointed criminal cases or serving as an appointed fiduciary in a probate case are a complement to a criminal defense or estate planning practice.
Can you make them an offer they can’t refuse? Lots of times, lawyers need on demand work but they don’t know exactly what they might need. So don’t just let attorneys know that you’re available to handle work on a contract basis, but present them with a menu of tasks that you might perform.
With these caveats out of the way, let’s talk about options for generating quick cash. Here’s a quick list:
1. Court appointments – Court appointments are the most obvious – and therefore, often the most competitive quick cash solutions. Most courts have panels to appoint criminal defense attorneys to misdemeanor and felony cases. Jurisdictions vary widely on the level of experience needed to take cases and some may require additional training. Keep in mind that court appointments aren’t limited to criminal defense, but may also encompass probate (fiduciary appointments), family law (guardian ad litems) or appellate work before state and federal courts.
2. Hearing Officers- Occasionally, local agencies or boards need hearing officers to preside over or rule in administrative proceedings. Hourly pay varies and positions may require subject-matter expertise – but it’s the kind of gig that can enhance your firm’s resume. Hearing officer opportunities are often advertised on local bar or trade association websites as well as on Indeed.com.
3. Adjunct Faculty – Working as an adjunct professor entails a large amount of work and doesn’t pay much — as I learned back in the day when I taught contract law at a paralegal studies program. That said, an adjunct position has side benefits; it carries some prestige and can give you access to commercial legal research tools that you might not otherwise be able to afford
4. Freelance work – As I alluded earlier, freelance work for other lawyers is another quick cash option that most attorneys starting out have done, including me. Freelance work can range from low level tasks like depositions or document review, to contract drafting or specialized work. You can find freelance work directly by connecting with other attorneys, or by joining platforms like lawclerk.legal Rates for freelance work vary from anywhere at $25/hr to fifty percent of your billable rate (so $125 if your customary rate is $350).
5. Daylongs for Legal Adjacent – To me, one of the most intriguing concepts for quick cash work is the “daylong” for legal adjacent services like blog posts, implementing legal tech, cutting video or setting up systems. With a daylong, you would come up with a task to take off a busy attorney’s hands – such as setting up document automation or developing a yearlong instagram campaign – and complete as much as you can within a daylong period. Daylongs work for other lawyers because they get the job done – but they’re also ideal as quick cash because they take place within a confined period and don’t prevent you from tending to your other work. To be sure, you don’t have to be a lawyer to offer a daylong – but if you have a skill like legal marketing, or workflow systems, many lawyers would prefer to buy from another lawyer.
6. Selling subject matter expertise – If you’re an expert on a subject matter like employment law or immigration, or an experienced attorney, you could update practice guides for Westlaw or grade bar exams. And with many legal tech companies automating processes, you might even be able to offer services on a consulting basis.
7. Sell your stuff: Don’t overlook the possibility of selling used furniture or old clothes to fund your law practice. Sites for selling online abound – and it makes sense to get rid of the old to pave the way for your new practice.
8. Non Legal — Some lawyers sell real estate or insurance or jewelry starting out. Nothing wrong with that either and it’s another way to flex those entrepreneurial muscles.
The bottom line – when you start out and need money to pay the bills, do what it takes to get by. So long as you’re strategic about the approaches you take to bring money in the door and avoid addiction to low end work that doesn’t advance you to your next goals, you’ll find that in no time, you’ll have quickly outgrown quick cash solutions.