How I Started My Own Law Firm Right After Law School
If you can’t find a job, create your own.
That’s the advice of Branigan Robertson, a 29 year-old attorney who runs his own employment law practice in California. A Chapman University School of Law graduate, Robertson admits that “starting a law firm is not for the faint of heart.” Wisely, Robertson began laying the groundwork for this decision early in law school, writing business plans and building a network. As a result, his practice is “thriving.”
How did he do it? And what can you learn from his example? Here’s Robertson’s advice (in his own words):
1. Ignore the People Who Say You Can’t: “Many attorneys are pessimists by nature and love to tell people what they can’t do. They never tried it so they don’t know. If you believe them, there is zero chance you’ll succeed.”
2. Plan Ahead: “I spent the majority of law school obsessing about how to start a firm right out of school. I wrote a detailed business and marketing plan. Then I had lawyers who have started their own firm critique it… I had full-blown financials, market analysis, mission statement, competitive advantages, etc. I knew how much it would cost to start a firm in my area of law…and I knew how much money I needed to earn in my first year to break even…You also need to save up a small nest egg. Depending on the area of law you choose… it may be 4-6 months before you start seeing any revenues.”
3. Pick Only One Area of Law: “…Pick one or two (max) areas of law and focus your practice exclusively on those select areas. If you try to do everything you won’t get good at anything. You’ll also look like a competitor to everyone, making it extremely difficult to build a referral network… It also goes without saying that you should try to get some experience in that area of law.”
4. Pick the Right Area of Law: “Some areas are harder than others to break into. For example, it is difficult to start a solo practice firm and immediately get a Fortune 500 corporate client. To get those clients, you usually have to have a prior history of success, a lot of gray hairs, and great relationship with in-house attorneys. On the other hand, the clientele in plaintiff’s personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, employment law, and family law (to name a few), are, for the most part, individuals who have never worked with a lawyer. They are not extremely picky. They are simply looking for someone who cares, who is competent, and who believes in their case.”
5) Build a Referral Network: “Tell everyone you meet that you plan to start your own firm and what area of law you’ll practice. Take practicing lawyers in that area out to lunch… and ask them where and how they get their cases. Once you’ve… developed a real relationship with them, ask them to send you work when you get started. Most of them will be happy to do so. You also need to network with people who don’t practice in your chosen area of law. This is where most of your referrals will come from… Also, if your jurisdiction permits it, pay a fair and reasonable referral fee to incentivize people to send work your way.”
6. Build a Website Immediately: “Prospective clients judge you if you don’t have a website. People looking for a lawyer don’t use phonebooks, they use Google… This is powerful because [my website] is my largest lead generation tool by far and costs about as much as a steak dinner.”
7. Join Organizations and Listservs: “When I settled on employment law as my chosen area, I found out about a fantastic organization called the California Employment Lawyers Association. This group of lawyers exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. They have a listserv, which is basically an email address that you can email and every single member immediately gets your email… This is powerful because sometimes you need a question answered and don’t have a mentor who can answer it. The community almost always has an answer… [and can] connect you with individuals you can co-counsel with. When you are fresh out of law school, it is good to work a case with an experienced lawyer whom you respect. The relationship is beneficial because you split the fee with the experienced lawyer, but you also get to learn from their experience. It’s a win-win.”
8. Remember That Clients Don’t Care About Your GPA, Law Review, or Age: “…No potential client has ever asked me what my GPA was in law school. Nobody has ever asked me if I was on Law Review. Nobody has ever asked me what my class rank was. Nobody cares how old I am. No one cares about that stuff except for other lawyers. None of that matters once you actually begin practicing. The only thing that matters is your work product.”
To learn how another law grad found work, check out the story of Jacqueline Young, who went from waiting tables to cover $100K in student loans to generating $250K in annual sales from launching a sports apparel business.
For additional advice on landing a job out of law school, check out Finishing Law School? Here’s How to Find a Job Post-OCI.