Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ready or Not, the World is Going Solo!


So, I've been out of work for a good long while. I can't say that my job search has been intensifying. It's been dwindling. Partially from my own doing, but also because of the type of job search that I decided to do. I only apply to jobs that I'm qualified for. I'm not in the business of wasting my time or an employer's time. I pride myself in honestly saying, "I am the best candidate for this position." Consequently, I am running out of jobs to apply to... after applying to nearly 400 or so. At this point, I'll spend a solid 20 minutes on an on-line application to find out that I have already submitted a resume for that same position. I'm also tired from hours and hours of document review. I'm at a point now, where I need to move on mentally from the idea of finding "full-time employment."

Timing is certainly my forte, so no surprise that I ran into this article which speaks to my point. As the economy tanks, more and more people will find themselves "freelancing" or "consulting"--or in legal terms going "solo."

I know... going solo is the LAST thing that many lawyers want or can do. But this article has some good advice for those that are going to stop putting their lives on hold, waiting for the great job that lurks around the corner, and start to live life from this point forward:

"Too many freelancers see their condition as only temporary—one that will go away as soon as economic conditions improve. It's just a stage between jobs, they figure."

"Some of them may be right. But the odds are that most are wrong. They're going to be on their own for a long time. So freelancers need to think in terms of the long haul, preparing for a marathon, not a sprint."

When I read this, I think about all of the attorneys I know that are doing document review all over the country, waiting for the next best thing when they can be out there establishing a business. You have to stop thinking of this as a temporary condition, so you can free yourself to do what's best for your future. Just think? What if this is your forever? I don't think document review is a horrid existence. It's better than nothing, but do you always want to be subject to the ebbs and flows of the market???

Btw, I know I'm referring to the document review as being synonomous with freelancing. Unfortunately, there are some bright line distinctions; the main one is that you are considered an employee of the temp agency when you do doc review, whereas you are an idependent contractor when you freelance. W-2 verses a 1099. But, like in freelancing, you are moving from one project to another and you have no stability and no benefits. You're not paid for sick days. It's a tumultuous existence. I would argue that doc reviewers would benefit from becoming independent contractors, but alas... the pimp daddy agencies won't have that. In any case, I think that this is the closest to being a consultant that any lawyer gets. And for the purposes of this discussion, they are similar enough.

What if this is all there is???

Why are you doing document review for $28/hour when you can be coupling that with per diem depositions for $50/hour? Or writing motions for $65/hour? This is how you start your business and get good experience at the same time. Don't think that this is something you're doing for the short term. Let's assume that you'll never ever find a full-time job. Throw yourself into per diem work and you will get more and more business--and one day a client will be entirely yours. I know per diem work is elusive, but not so much as a full-time job. I have my finger on the pulse of the legal industry... and I will tell you that small firms are not lacking work. But they are having commitment issues. They need someone to do the work, but they don't want to pay for benefits. So, drop in on some small law offices and tell them that you're willing to help for an hourly rate. You will get the appropriate experience that way, and it may serve as a segue to getting your own clients.

Or, even better, don't do document review and think that you're just one interview away from the ultimate job. If you always dreamt of having a cafe or a child care business, why are you holding yourself up in that dream. Take steps to pursue something else. There are people who have bene unemployed since May 2008 and this time could have been used to do a start-up company. I know it sounds crazy and unattainable. But thinking that you're going to land in BigLaw when this storm dies down sounds just as crazy to me.

But, back to doc review attorneys... the article says:

"Most successful consultants are in a network or community of consultants. These networks are important sources of new clients; most consultants, in fact, say they get as many clients from these networks as they do from client referrals. What's more, an increasing number of consultants share work, taking on bigger projects that require more hands. In this way, teams of consultants can function like a small boutique firm."

Just last week, in my room of doc reviewers... we were discussing our practice areas before the bottom fell out :

Real Estate!



Worker's Comp!


Isn't it apparent the we essentially have the resources of a full service law firm at our fingers? I'm not saying that I'm signing partnership agreements with anyone. But if anyone were to come with me, in search of a will and a trust... why wouldn't I draft the will and send the trust to the estates lawyer to do??? I hate lawyers just as much as the next guy, but this is a case of brotherhood and comradery. I think that we can accomplish much more together than we can apart.

Time to take this bull by the horns and control your own fate. Yah, it sucks to be 100% in charge of what you're paid and when you're paid it. But it's not worse than being subject to the whim and will of inconsiderate partners. They screwed you before. Do you really want to be caught with your pants down if they do it again?

Look. I know we're not going to make a ton of money doing this stuff. I've kissed the American Dream good-bye. I don't look at solos with envy. I think that it's a hard life and very few make it. But, times are desparate, and I'm just looking to pay my bills and make it. It's foolhardy to sit by and watch the legal industry take a new shape... and hope and wish that it has a place for you in it.

That American Dream is looking more and more like an illusion than ever before and I'm trying to hustle to make a buck.


  1. It's called the American Dream 'cuz you gotta be asleep to believe in it.

    Good luck with your solo career.

  2. I certainly agree with this but it is T-O-U-G-H. Even if you work from a home office (which I do), the $800 in bar fees (2 states), $3000 in mandatory malpractice insurance, and worst of all, $1300/month for family health insurance are a huge huge huge stumbling block. Every non-starving solo I know has a spouse with a health-insurance-providing job. I work half-time at a ridiculous law school administration job *only* for the health insurance benefits. (And because I enjoy being treated like shit by our faculty, who seem to think they will get 2nd tier cooties from me.) And if you don't like dealing with the junkyard dogs of the profession, solo litigation might not be for you.

    If you want to get really depressed, ask me about my Coif certificate, federal appellate clerkship, or number of years in Biglaw. It is just tough tough tough.

    But I'm not bitter. : )

  3. I wish you the best of luck brother. I'm hoping it doesn't come to choosing solo law or abandoning my fiancee, but the day might come, and its scary. Try getting criminal appointments if possible, it's a start.

  4. Angel is a girl. She's got pink and puppies all over the place.

  5. There's a lot to be said for being your own boss and not having to deal with office politics.

  6. Great Post, Angel.

    Go kick some butt!


  7. Thanks Guys! But I'm not going into the abyss here. I'm actually going to continue to do document review and with take on cases on the side. It may be against the rules of some of the firms that employ me... but I don't see any other way of making it work. I can't survive on the several cases I have now, but I want to do good quality, low cost work so that I keep the clients coming.. so the only way I can do that is continuing on document review projects as needed. Hopefully, the clients on the side will outweigh the money to be had in the basement of this shithole firm.

  8. Hi Angel - You go girl! Here's another thought - you obviously have great computer skills (I don't know how you do half the stuff in the right hand column!) have you given any thought to maybe setting up some kind of local solo referral network? Maybe a web directory for solos to refer work to each other easily? The bar association may have something similar, but usually it is 1) cranky, 2) not user-friendly, and 3) not personally verified. Would there be value in setting up a referral network locally made up of solo lawyers (that would be interviewed and verified by you or another member) so that they could immediately turn to this network if they had a client needed a skill beyond that which they provide? (Basically being able to provide any client with all of the skills of a law firm). As far as monitezation, you could start for free with some ads and maybe add a small monthly fee at a later time. You may also want to work something out with regard to compensating referrals - in accordance with your state's bar rules.

    Why would local solos list on your site? Well, as you mentioned, they want to pass business to other solos. Also, they know that the solo rates are lower and they are less likely to lose a client if they pass a piece of work to another solo than if they pass a piece of work to a firm that might replace them. Also, as opposed to mere advertising, all of the lawyers on the list would have the Angel seal of approval - and that aspect of trust really helps differentiate this from advertising. Finally, having a ready network to refer other client work to makes them look more confident and competent in the eyes of their clients. Just an idea.

    Once you get it up and running, you may want to approach your local bar association and see if they are interested in allowing you to consult in improving their system. You would not contaminate your solo listings with their info, but it may be a way to get additional paid consulting work from them.
    Most likely their info could really, really benefit from your skills. If you need additional programming skills, maybe you could hook up with a freelancer - or maybe another local solo already has programming skills.

    Other ways to leverage this include repositioning yourself as a web-marking specialist for law firms and selling your services to law firms. You would have a great advantage over most of the competition because you have a law degree and experience and thus know more how lawyers think and talk. You could help design and maintain law firm web presences - or at least write copy. You might want to do this solo or see if there is some company that might want to hire you.

    In this regard, I note that my firm pays stupid amounts of money to people who really can't write or edit copy because they don't have insight into the practice or the language. At the same time, I don't have time to write copy all day - and the associates are billing, too. The main value of the marketing people we hire seems to be 1) they have a list of the magazines that might be interested in article placement (but you could easily duplicate that by calling the magazines - they are always interested in another source), and 2) they periodically remind us that they exist and we should be sending stuff to them (which you could easily do). The marketing people are just terrible when it comes to creating any writing. For example, you win a big case but don't have time to write articles - it would be great if someone could just read the opinion and give a rough draft. However they don't know and they don't want to know or are too timid to try. With your legal background, you could certainly give me a reasonable draft, thus saving me time and furthering our marketing efforts. Just another "need" that I thought that I would highlight.

  9. Angel, have you been out of law school/do you have adequate contacts to do research-and-writing type contract work? That's what I do when my caseload isn't too busy (like right now!) -- it pays far, far better than doc review, can lead to referrals (my best client right now started off as a referral from somebody for whom I occasionally write briefs), and does not require spending working hours in a basement. Just a thought, YMMV. There's still the little problem of health insurance and other overhead, but it's been a great fallback for me.

  10. Thanks for all of the help, MP. I am definitely going to work on getting that done... don't want to say more for now.

    Jadz... yes. And that is what I have managed to get my hands on so far. So, I see how it can lead to more work. I'm okay with Cobra for at least another 11 months. Maybe a year. Who knows.. maybe I'll have to get married to get insurance.

  11. There are worse reasons to get married. : ) I cannot WAIT for my husband to finish school (3 more years, sigh -- but no student loans) so he can get a job with health insurance and I don't have to sell my soul to the law school anymore. At that point I might just stick with research-and-writing work entirely, because I've given up/have burned out on the real practice of law.



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