by Gabriel White
Practice in a Flash is designed to support lawyers moving into solo or small firm practice because of economic circumstances that block traditional avenues of legal employment. It is an electronic platform that will provide new lawyers with basic practice forms, entry level CLE, and other helpful information on how to start and manage a law firm. Once the electronic program is released in the spring of 2012, it will give new lawyers advice on topics such as how to rent and open an office, hire staff, and market themselves to public. Adapted from a similar program in Texas, Practice in a Flash will give young attorneys important resources that can bridge the gap between a law school education and advice from colleagues and mentors.
Many students choose to study law because it is a safety net. At least part of the reason that many of us decided to go to law school was the promise of a high-paying, high-demand job in an interesting and challenging field. However, in this economy, yesterday’s promise is today’s fantasy. Reports of layoffs, hiring freezes, and even the occasional law firm implosion have radically changed the appearance of the legal marketplace. Law firms are reluctant to hire due to economic pressures, and new lawyers are at a disadvantage, often competing for entry level jobs with experienced lawyers laid off from larger firms. Even highly qualified graduates from good schools may face a debilitating job search stretching from weeks to months.
Faced with such bleak prospects, many young lawyers are turning away from traditional employment avenues and choosing to open their own firms. Some lawyers hang out a shingle as a temporary way to make ends meet; others are pursuing dreams of independence in their working lives. Whatever the reason, going solo is a scary prospect for many new attorneys. Small business ownership carries serious risks, and law school doesn’t train businesspeople. Torts and property classes don’t cover marketing, fair hiring practices, or how to manage client expectations. With a few exceptions, modern law schools are still largely academic institutions that do not provide the practical experience that a student needs to pick up a diploma, don a suit, and open for business. With its unwritten rules, special regulations, and fiduciary duties, entering the solo practice of law is intimidating.
Similarly, there is only so much that mentors and colleagues can do to help. Colleagues at new firms are competitors, and may be reluctant to hand over advice in critical areas. Anyway, if the blind lead the blind, both may fall into the proverbial ditch. On the other hand, mentors are required to have at least seven years of experience, and thus are far removed from the plight of the recently graduated lawyer. Even if they accurately remember the harried and frenetic days of the newly-minted lawyer, most qualified mentors haven’t recently opened their own solo law practice. With a few exceptions, mentors who have experience with getting a business license and opening a trust account did so in a vastly different business environment. Concepts like the virtual office, online research platforms, and pay-per-click advertising were unknown even five years ago. These sage advisors can provide invaluable information to young lawyers, but their ability to help with the practical problems of opening an office is limited.
Practice in a Flash overcomes these limitations. Its advice is drawn from a wide range of business professionals, attorneys, and service providers. New lawyers will get advice on malpractice insurance from insurance companies and attorneys who defend legal malpractice claims. The program will include marketing advice from advertising professionals and direction from lawyers who have recently gone out on their own and made it work. Perhaps most appealing to young lawyers, the program includes video CLE that provides a basic, step-by-step approach on how to handle types of cases that are conducive to small firm practice, such as family law and DUI defense, and a guide on how to avoid the Office of Professional Conduct. Ultimately, the Practice in Flash program will provide a lifeline that young lawyers can use to make their practices successful even in difficult economic times.