Monday, February 06, 2006

Advice to Myself

Here's some things I wish someone had told me when I decided to go solo right out of law school. Some are culled from my own experiences thus far, and others are from my observations of other new lawyers:

Don't overpromise. Being a new lawyer is exciting, and yes, you'll want to help people. But there is a fine line between giving the client confidence that you'll zealously pursue his claim, and guaranteeing results - which I'm pretty sure is unethical, and probably borders on malpractice.

Give some thought to how you are going to deal with your family as potential clients. You are now the legal expert in the family, so no doubt you'll get questions. When I was waiting for my bar exam results a lawyer friend of my father's offered me this advice: "Charge 'em double." Not sure I'd say the same, but thought I'd pass that along for whatever it's worth. Family can be a great source of business or referrals, but there are a ton of potential traps you can fall into, like conflict of interest and undue influence for starters. Also, if things don't turn out well, do you want to be the one responsible? After all, you have to see these people during the holidays. How would you like to invite your disgruntled former clients to Thanksgiving dinner?

You don't have to take every case that walks through your door. If something about a matter (or more to the point, a prospective client) makes you uneasy, follow your gut. God gave you instincts for a reason. Remember that it's far, far easier to turn down a new client than to get out of an existing attorney-client relationship. Make sure to have a good "disengagement" letter.

Print up some nice business cards and carry some with you wherever you go. You never know where a networking opportunity or potential client may turn up (like a child's birthday party, believe it or not).

Spend some time making up your fee agreement, even if you will be working on a flat-fee basis. The agreement is your contract with your customer and will set the ground rules for your working relationship.


Update on the Westlaw matter: the regional manager notified me that he has filed paperwork to get me out of my contract. I'm not out of the woods yet, though, as he hinted that Thomson-West may want me to buy books in lieu of the database subscription.