About a dozen years ago, I spoke to 3L’s at a prestigious Midwest law school who were planning to go solo when they graduated. I offered some advice, based on my experience as a solo, on setting up their practice. Additionally, I gave them advice on how to start marketing their practice, since unlike their classmates who were going to larger firms, the work was not going to magically appear on their desks.
That experience got me thinking about how inadequate law school training is in preparing solos and small firm attorneys for the business side of law. Over the years I have argued that law schools have done a horrible job for the approximately 40%-44% of solos (the figure for the class I spoke to) in preparing them for the real world of running and marketing a law practice. In fact, I would proffer they have an obligation to do so. Moreover, it’s as if law schools are saying, “thanks for your $100k, good luck, go get ’em.”
I know a few schools have made small attempts to help by holding clinical skills-type classes or seminars occasionally. That has hardly made a dent in the problem.
This all came back to me when I saw the article by Susan Cartier-Liebel entitled “Law School Learning Leaves Solos in Cold” which appeared in Small Firm Business yesterday. Susan, who teaches such a course at Quinnipiac University School of Law, asks the question “if more than half of all lawyers in private practice are solos (Susan cites 51%, and 72% in firms of 4 or fewer people), why don’t law schools teach how to hang a shingle?”
Why not? indeed! And professors, why not throw in a little effective, tasteful, ethical marketing training while you are at it, so those lawyers can keep the doors open long enough to pay back their loans.

  • While I am not an attorney, I have spent many years working with and for law firms. I was the marketing and business development manager for two large firms, and have counseled many attorneys on basic sales skills, etc… Your point about law schools not preparing students for the business side of the practice of law is very true. I created a seminar on building real business relationships (which has now become a book that will come out in July 2005. “Some Assembly Required: How To Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships”)…. but the law schools I approached had no interest in my presenting the topic. In fact, while the lawyers who have participated in the seminar have RAVED about it….the Texas Bar would not approve it for CLE credit because “the topic is not important, and I did not have a JD”. I found this to be very short-sighted, as the the ability to sell your services is the ability to survive in the ever more competitive legal world.
    Also, I really enjoy your blog…it is always full of good advice.
    Thom Singer

  • Tom,
    I want to thank you for referencing my column in the CT Law Tribune. Ironically, they asked me to be a monthly columnist in an effort to attract the thousands of solos out there who felt their paper was currently not relevant to their solo/small firm needs.
    I have been teaching my course at QUSL for 6 years with a full 20% of my students hanging a shingle shortly upon graduation…very successfully, I might add! And they came into the course not knowing what it was about because it was and still is inaccurately named and described as “Law Office Management” My web-site http://www.buildasolopractice.com is currently underconstruction. In the interim if someone would like to reach me they can e-mail me at SCartier_Liebel@softhome.net. I look forward to imparting much more instructive information in an effort to celebrate and encourage this very wonderful group of entrepreneurial lawyers who believe in themselves, their personal ambitions and goals and living a balanced and fulfilling life as their own boss!
    Susan Cartier-Liebel