Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Flying Solo

How bad is the job market for new attorneys? According to this press release from NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, the class of 2010 "faced [the] worst job market" since 1996. NALP Executive Director James Leipold stated that

The tail of the "Great Recession" is long and there are few bright spots in the employment profile for the Class of 2010 ... Most of the structural weaknesses in the job market faced by the Class of 2009 intensified for the Class of 2010 ...
The press release accompanied the "Employment for the Class of 2010--Selected Findings," which was published on June 1. The full report, Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law School Graduates, will be published in August. It is highly unlikely that the employment situation will be any brighter for the Class of 2011. According to Leipold,
There is likely more bad news to come ... we can expect that the overall employment rate for new law school graduates will continue to be stagnant or decline further for the Class of 2011, with the curve probably not trending upward before the employment statistics become available for the Class of 2012.
So what is the new attorney to do? Some attorneys are deciding to start solo practices, eschewing offices with high overhead and instead practicing from home with a laptop and a cell phone. NALP reports that the
[N]umber of recent law graduates going solo increased from 3.5 percent in 2008 to 5.5 percent in 2009, the biggest one year jump since 1982. ... That percentage increased to 5.7 percent of all private practice jobs for the class of 2010, the highest it's been since 1997.
This trend is discussed in a recent article which describes how new attorneys are hanging up "virtual shingles" by taking advantage of technology. One important task when setting up a solo practice is to build a website which can be used to attract clients. Blogging and social networking are also efficient ways of connecting with potential clients. Most of these attorneys are maintaining paperless offices and doing without staff support. The solo attorneys interviewed for the article were extremely dismissive of law schools and their focus on placing "graduates in government, public interest or corporate law firms." There is little to no attention paid to set up and maintain a solo practice. Even worse, according to the interviewees, is that the

[M]ajority of law schools continue to focus on how to interview for jobs or submit resumes for job postings, rather than honing the skills needed to be a successful business person.

A good resource for solo practitioners is the MyShingle blog, which describes itself as "the most comprehensive online resource for solo and small firm lawyers with thousands of blog posts and an impressive stock of free e-books, checklists and forms on starting and running a law firm." Another good resource for solo practitioners is Solo Practice University, "a subscription-based website founded in 2009 that offers video, written and audio tutorials for prospective or current solo practitioners."

I was surprised to see that the article did not mention access to legal research databases, such as Lexis and Westlaw, and less costly alternatives to them, both free and fee based. One of the best services my law school provides its graduates is free lifetime access to the law library. As a private institution, we are closed to the public, but our alumni do not have to pay the usual access fees. Many of our alumni have set up solo practices in the area, and they are coming back on campus regularly to use the library. Not only are they taking advantage of our public-access Lexis subscription, but also they are using other databases and the print collection. We have also created a research guide on free and low-cost legal resources, and this is extremely popular among both current students and alumni. It is great to see our alumni again, and to feel that we are contributing to their professional success.

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