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Contrary to the advice of my editor, I am going to give you the number-one secret to success as a solo practitioner right here in the first paragraph of the first chapter. Once you know this secret, you might simply close the book and never buy it. But, here it is, and it's free: you have to really, really, really want to be a lawyer.
Most people I know went to law school because they could. They had the brains, the money, the time, no other option, no easier option, or were bored at their first jobs as teachers, accountants, or doctors. Few people I knew in law school, if anyone, had the foresight to know what exactly they were working so hard to become. Ask yourself the following questions and rate your score on a scale of 1–10; 1 = Don't Agree and 10 = Totally Agree:
1. I like to help people. ______
2. I like to spend hours reading. ______
3. I like to work in a very stressful environment. ______
4. I am willing to work night and day and weekends and holidays. ______
5. I like to be in contentious and adversarial relationships with people. ______
6. I like to work under deadlines. ______
7. I like to multitask. ______
8. I like to win. ______
9. I can handle losing without losing it. ______
10. I like to follow rules, even those I do not agree with. ______
While these ten questions are by no means an exhaustive list, I can assure you that there is probably not a law school in the country that has these questions on its application. If there is, please let me know. One reason for this is that the people who make the decision as to who should attend law school have never been lawyers, or they practiced so long ago that whatever they once knew has been erased by time and the reserved parking spaces given to law school administrators.
Let's take a minute to consider just the first statement. "I like to help people" might seem like a no-brainer and an obvious yes. Really, Spencer, how could you even ask such a dumb and obvious question? Okay, let's see how dumb it is. Get your pencil out and fill in the blanks below:
I have demonstrated that I like to help people in the following three ways in the last year:
1. I have _________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
2. I have _________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ 3. I have _________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
If you are struggling to complete just the first sentence honestly, then consider this: you can still be a lawyer and make a living—maybe even a great one and one far more lucrative than my own—but will you be happy?
Rosa Romero was my secretary for almost six years. I learned a lot from this lady, who had only a high school diploma and no legal skills when I hired her. She told me often, as I complained about this or that, that for me, being a lawyer was never really "work" since I loved doing it. And she was right. So if you are looking for work or a job or a get-rich-quick scheme, close this book now. I will not be offended. (In fact, I won't even know!)
I say this in seminars I give and see people squirm in their seats. I have seen them close their laptops and walk out. They are doing themselves and their clients a favor. If you were a client, would you rather have a lawyer who was brilliant but hated being a lawyer and did not care for you, or a lawyer with average smarts who loved being a lawyer and really cared for you?
Why does caring for people matter so much, anyway? What if you care only about money or watches or cars? If you care only about money or cars, you should be in the business of business, not the business of providing a legal service to people. For me, that is what being a lawyer has always meant. Being a lawyer means trying to help people who cannot help themselves for whatever reason. My practice has been limited almost from Day One to helping the injured (or those who at least thought or convinced me that they were injured). Most of my clients in Miami do not speak English, have little or no formal education, and just happened to be in the wrong place (at least, as far as I was concerned) at the wrong time.
The same applies to those charged with a crime, going through a divorce, or filing for bankruptcy. These people need to be cared for.
So you want to be a lawyer? There are many different types of attorneys. Do you know what type you want to be? First, do your homework. How many lawyers do you know, and what do they do? Answer the following questions:
I know a lawyer named ______________ who practices ______________ law.
I like/dislike this lawyer and do/do not want to live like him/her. (Circle as appropriate.)
Keep answering this question until you find a lawyer whose practice suits you.
I guess I was lucky that I found my calling, but many are not. The streets are lined with unhappy and unemployed law school graduates, and the towers of offices in our cities are filled with lawyers who feel stuck in their jobs. Once you have dependents like a spouse, partner, kids, and parents, the ability to get yourself out of your mistaken career choice is even harder, if not impossible.
This is your first case: figure out in which area of practice you want to work. If you have no idea, answer the following questions with either yes or no:
1. I would prefer to spend my day in the courtroom in front of a judge and jury battling it out. _________ 2. I would prefer to spend my day in the library, never seeing anyone but doing a lot of research and writing. _________ 3. I would prefer to spend my day helping people who make and build things. _________ 4. I would prefer to spend my day crunching numbers. I like math. _________ 5. I need a nine-to-five job and have other things to do with my time. _________ 6. I like law and order and would like more people to just follow the rules. _________ 7. I have a strong background in finance and accounting. _________ 8. I have no idea what I like or what kind of lawyer I want to be. _________
9. I want to do it all and would get bored doing just one kind of law. _________
Here is a brief list of the areas of practice that are out there (in no particular order):
1. Criminal defense—the representation of those accused of a crime. 2. Criminal prosecution—the representation of the government enforcing the violation of a criminal law. 3. Family law—the representation of individuals seeking divorce, child custody, or adoption. 4. Bankruptcy law—the representation of corporate or individual debtors or creditors. 5. Immigration law—the representation of individuals seeking to live or work in the United States or defending their deportation or corporations seeking to employ a foreign employee. 6. Personal injury law—the representation of plaintiff (the alleged injured party) and defendant (the alleged responsible party) in accidents, defective products, and medical malpractice. 7. Intellectual property law—the representation of individuals or corporations seeking protection of ideas, patents, and trademarks. 8. Bioethics law—the representation of individuals or corporations in the development and use of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and procedures. 9. Environmental law—representation of individuals and corporations responding to or defending natural or manmade disasters or compliance with governmental mandates. 10. Appellate law—representation of individuals, corporations, or governments seeking a review of lower court rulings and findings. 11. Governmental law—working on behalf of the state or federal government for governmental entities such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, or Homeland Security. 12. Sports and entertainment law—the representation of individuals and corporations in the areas of sports, music, theater, fashion, and the arts.
The list goes on, and within this list are many specialties and subspecialties.
So here's the plan: Open up your computer and Google the terms, find out who the players (not advertisers) are in your community, and make a list. The list should contain the following information:
Name: Specialty: Source: Address: E-mail Address: Phone Number: Date of Contact: Docket Date for Response to Contact: Follow Up: Follow Up: Meeting: Thank You: Follow Up:
After you have compiled your list, contact the career planning and placement director at a nearby law school. (Start with your local one, even if it is not your law school of choice.) Contact the bar association for your state. Make sure it is the bar association and not one of the voluntary membership clubs that each state, city, and ethnic group has. Most states have a board certification distinction. These are usually given to those lawyers who have demonstrated some kind of distinction and honor in their specialties. Here is a partial list of links to many of the preeminent organizations:
American Bar Association: www.abanet.org The American Association for Justice: www.justice.org The American Trial Lawyers Association: www.theatla.com National Bar Association: www.nationalbar.org National Board of Legal Specialty Certification: www.nblc.us Aronfeld Trial Lawyers: www.aronfeld.com
Then look for the national organizations for each legal specialty. You might try contacting the American Bar Association. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I joined the ABA in 2009 and attended my very first annual convention.) For personal injury lawyers, the preeminent group is called the American Association for Justice. Each state has a local representative or someone you can contact in the membership office.
Download the events calendars for these organizations. Many of the events are open to the public, or you can simply pay a minimal charge to attend. Find out if you like hanging out with lawyers in one group more than in others. Most lawyers, like most people, seem to fit into similar groups. Tax lawyers seem to be a certain way, just as environmental lawyers tend to be similar to each other in other ways.
I really do not like socializing with lawyers, especially (for the most part) plaintiff's personal injury lawyers. They seem to be very egocentric and competitive. These are two traits that are without a doubt valuable to our craft, but I often feel like I am swimming in a small pool with a lot of sharks. Naturally, that makes me uncomfortable.
You might also try checking out the local bar lunch or cocktail hour. You can often find these listed in the business section of your local paper or the bar news for your state, or just ask your newfound lawyer friends.
Now that you have the list, you will probably see that some names pop up more often than others. Isolate those names and send a letter or e-mail like the one below. (Helpful hint: lawyers have huge egos.)
Dear Lawyer Smith: My name is Aspiring Lawyer Jones. I have a strong desire to become a lawyer. In researching the different areas of practice and those who are leaders in those areas with the State Bar, Law School, and National Association, I repeatedly came across your name. I have read with fascination about your career and your cases. I would be greatly honored if I could meet you. I promise I will take no more than ten minutes of your time, as I know and greatly appreciate how valuable your time is. I am available any morning before 11:00 am or any afternoon after 4:00 pm. I would like to come to your office and meet you in person. However, if that is impossible, perhaps we could just speak on the phone. [Give options and remember this person is doing you a tremendous favor.] If there is a person with whom you would prefer I coordinate, please let me know. My phone number is 305-555-5555, and my e-mail address is email@example.com. With sincere appreciation, Aspiring Lawyer Jones
I also suggest that you spend the five dollars to have some very simple and professional business cards made which clearly display your name and a permanent e-mail address. Many of you reading this book have e-mail accounts at your college or law school that you will most likely lose or abandon upon graduation. Use an e-mail account that you can keep forever, and make sure that it is a very professional name.
Here is a sample:
Aspiring Young Lawyer firstname.lastname@example.org
I have inserted an example of my own business card here.
I change my card colors or layout on occasion, but you will note that they are oversized, contain a logo, and have a short list of what I do on the backside in both English and Spanish. Allow me to explain:
1. The oversized card is a conversation starter and will inevitably distinguish your card from the thirty other cards the other lawyer or recipient receives in a given day or week. 2. The logo also differentiates me from the herd of other personal injury lawyers out there, though it is far more common now than when I first start using it in 1996. I strongly urge you to hire a skilled graphic artist and design a logo that will be your trademark and brand. Select something that is unique, legible, and professional. Try several different logos and show them to friends, strangers, and loved ones. Ask them, based upon the logo itself, which they would most likely hire as a lawyer. And for god's sake, please do not select a logo with your three initials—it will look not only like many other lawyers but like the monogram on a pair of Brooks Brothers cufflinks. Unless, of course, you like that kind of thing. 3. The backsides of business cards are valuable and often wasted space. If you are already a lawyer, print there what kind of cases you handle and if you speak another language. Remember that the name of the game is to differentiate your face, firm, and card from the herd.
If you change your cell phone number often, do not include it; simply handwrite the current number on the back of the card. That sometimes will make a potential client feel special. If your cell phone number will remain the same, print it on the cards. These cards can be made at any print store or online. Do not state or imply that you are a lawyer. Do not put flowers or kitty cats on the cards. Opt for off-white paper with simple, clean, legible fonts.
While you are at it, buy some nice paper to use for your thank you letters (do not spend the money on the preprinted kind) and their envelopes. I suggest that you mail and e-mail the letter, as either or both may never make it into the hands of the lawyer.
At this point, you should go back to your contact list and write the date you sent the letter and docket. (See? You are learning legal terms just reading this book!) Follow up with this person within five days. If you find this kind of effort either tedious or risky, you may not want to be a lawyer. After all, you are your first client right now, and your first case is to find out if you want to be a lawyer.
Now, here is what is probably going to happen: You will likely get one of three responses. One response is no response at all. Welcome to the practice of law. Sometimes lawyers simply will not respond. He never got the letter, or whoever filters his mail delivery thought your letter was some kind of junk mail or job application and threw it away (out of service to the lawyer or to protect that person's position in the firm from someone so bright and passionate about being a lawyer that they would write such a letter!).
Excerpted from MAKE IT YOUR OWN LAW FIRM by Spencer Marc Aronfeld Copyright © 2011 by Spencer Marc Aronfeld. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted February 21, 2012
First of all this book was a quick and easy read. Since it is based in large part on the authors own experiences it makes it fun to read, and it gives you some insight into the real problems that facing someone starting a new firm.
This book does not replace Solo by Choice, or How to Start and Build a Law Practice, nor does it intend to. I think anyone considering hanging a shingle should read both of these books, but I think both of them overly optimistic. This book makes you consider some of the real problems that one will face when starting a firm. I think this book should be added to the library of anyone considering starting their own firm.
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Posted October 1, 2011
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