Law Schools like to publish how many of their graduates find employment in "law firms." Thanks to improved information transparency, the truth is that many, many of these "firms" are small shops of just a handful of attorneys, or even less. Yet small-firms and solo practice are often touted as a realistic option for new graduates. We've all heard the old canard, "Well, if things don't work out like you planned, you can always hang a shingle."
Of course, the majority of recent graduates don't have the skills and experience (and thanks to tuition, the finances) necessary to just open up a shop, especially in this increasingly competitive market. Thus the flurry of "Practice Ready" activity the law schools have been advancing in the last five minutes. Many ScamDeans and LawProfs, who often have barely seven years of practical legal experience amongst themselves at any one institution (and BigLaw at that, not solo practice), whole-heartedly endorse solo practice as a legitimate option for the newly-minted lawyer.
Let's consult the experts, shall we?
New lawyers have this bizarre belief in their exceptionalism, that they are special, that their experience will be different from that of the thousands who came before them. How many times can old lawyers say that the practice of law is hard work, a tough business? It can be soul-crushing. It goes from high-flying to crash and burn in a blink of an eye. Marcus assumes that by getting out there, doing all the things that let the world know he’s available for purchase, would get him back on track. Even that isn’t reliable, though he will never find out.
• If you’re thinking about becoming a lawyer in any of the top ten growth states, you might want to reconsider. These states likely have their fill of lawyers.
• If you’ve never considered of going to any of the states with low growth and practicing law there, maybe you should.
• Massachusetts was seemingly hurt the hardest by the economic decline of the past few years (go figure). It’s actually the only state to have a decrease in the percentage of lawyers over the past ten years.
• While US Territories are included in main chart, I disqualified them from being in the running for the two breakout charts.
• UPDATE: Was going back through the data today and somehow I totally missed Rhode Island’s precipitous decline in lawyers (they are the smallest state in my defense). They’ve seen a -19% change in the number of lawyers over the past ten years. Yikes.
So why would a good, experienced trial lawyer like Charlie get out of practice? No clients, apparently. Despite what you may have read on Solo Practice University, solo practice is hard. Real hard. Not everyone makes it. There are only so many paying clients, and lawyers to serve them.
But increasingly, [Law Schools,] I am finding that many of your students are, quite frankly, useless to me; lacking the basic skill set necessary to incorporate them quickly and seamlessly into a busy and frequently resource-constrained practice like mine. Sure, I can understand having unformed research and analytic skills right out of law school. Over twenty years in, I still improve my skills with every brief or motion that I write.
Yet what I can’t fathom or tolerate is the utter lack of curiosity that many (but not all) new grads bring (or don’t bring) to the table when they hit the job market. I know that times are tough and it’s hard to be optimistic and proactive about the future when hope is dim. And certainly law school squeezes a lot of the natural inquisitiveness out of even the most hearty of students. Even so, how can today’s students not be excited about the cornucopia of riches at their fingertips — from free caselaw, free online legal briefs and memos by top attorneys, substantive analytic blogs galore, and an endless stream of news items on Twitter curated by experts in every field? Back in the day, I’d have been all over these tools, and yet like monks at a peep show, many law students simply avert their eyes and continue on their way. Nothing to see here — or so, they’re taught.
Field is a solo practitioner in Austin, Texas, who advises no one to follow his path, at least not right out of law school. In the Texas Lawyer, Field writes:
I have practiced in firms of all sizes, from 700-plus attorneys to four attorneys to one. The solo practice . . . is not a practice for those with a low tolerance for stress or a weak constitution. And, in my view, it is not the optimal form of practice for a recent law school graduate. . . . [M]y first suggestion for recent law school graduates considering going solo is: don’t.
But Field, seemingly a reasonable fellow, understands that in light of the job market more recent graduates will try the solo life than might otherwise. For those, uh, lucky souls, Field offers a handful of tips.
Critics try to dismiss the Scambloggers and their going on about the half-truths and false claims of the Law School cartel. We are often lambasted for trying to tell people that they should think long and hard about law school, that we discourage people from "following their dreams", how we need to be more positive and less negative and more "ethical" and "professional", clearly we're bitter and couldn't cut it, we're just downright mean, blah blah blah.
But look! The quotes above are from strong advocates for solo practice! You mean people who actually do the job, who are 100% behind the idea yet have fought the hard fight of making it on their own and have built a practice, say "don't do this lightly - while I love what I do, it's a lot of hard work and you might fail anyway" to folks who want to get in on the business? You mean the Law School cartel isn't telling you the whole story? Say it ain't so!
Friends, who are you going to believe? People who are actually doing it and have the battle scars to prove it, or a bunch of ScamDeans who say their ever-increasingly-costly programs makes you "Practice Ready," when No One Cared about that for decades prior?
These solos, like the scambloggers, don't get a dime for giving you honest warnings. The Law School cartel, on the other hand, is more than happy to tell you more about their "new" programs, and the implication that these programs will set you on the path to success for a paltry $150-200k.
For those who are fully INFORMED and want to be in private practice more than anything, God bless. For everyone else, think twice. Or three times. When evaluating the claims of the Law School cartel, always follow the money.