Please welcome Rachel Rodgers, the intellectual property and business lawyer for digital entrepreneurs, to the blog. Rachel has three tips for what law students can do NOW to start building a future solo practice.
She has excellent advice, which she will also share at the Catapult Conference – where she’ll be a speaker!
Setting yourself up for a successful virtual law office (VLO) doesn’t have to wait until you graduate from law school. You can begin to build a solid foundation for your future VLO, right now!
Here are 3 things you can start today to lay the groundwork for a successful solo practice.
1. Develop Your Knowledge of a Particular Area of Law
The sooner you choose an area of law, the easier it will be to gain a foundational knowledge in that area on which you can build when you start your practice. Some law students are very lucky and instinctively know exactly what area of law they are excited about and want to build a career around. Others, like myself, are not so lucky.
I struggled in law school to find the right fit.
By taking classes on a variety of legal subjects, attending various events around different practice area and taking advantage of clinical and volunteer opportunities, I was able to discover various areas of law that I did not want to practice.
Eventually, my practice area of business law and intellectual property chose me.
When I was launching my practice I had a lot of friends who were getting laid off from their jobs due to the recession and decided to use their severance pay to start their own businesses. They came to me for assistance with contracts, securing IP and other matters related to their businesses. I eventually realized that most of my clients had the characteristics of being relatively young entrepreneurs building businesses in the digital space, so I devoted myself to being a business and intellectual property lawyer serving digital entrepreneurs.
If you’re like me and have not found a practice area that you are excited about yet, keep experimenting.
Pay attention to the cases that you get excited about and think about the type of people you want to serve. You can also build a practice around your personal interests — if you’re obsessed with sports, than maybe sports law is for you, if you loved growing up on a farm, maybe you want to consider agricultural law, if you are passionate about the environment, then green law might be right for you.
If you don’t figure it out right away, don’t worry. Keep exploring the law and the right practice area will emerge.
2. Get Practical Experience
If you think you might want to go solo soon after you graduate, get as much practical experience as humanly possible.
Clinics and judicial internships will help you develop your lawyering skills and build your self-confidence.
These are also an excellent way to get exposure to a lot of different areas of law and discover what gets you excited. If you’ve already decided on your area of practice, then focus on building those skills above all others. Get an internship or clerkship in that area of law and then learn everything you possibly can.
Also, start building your business skills. Starting a virtual practice means you’ll have to wear a lot of different hats. Some days you’ll be focused on legal work but some days will be all about marketing or accounting. So the more you know about running a business the better situated you’ll be.
Once you grow your practice, you’ll be able to get more support in the areas you don’t enjoy or excel at but when you’re just getting started being a jack of all trades will be a requirement.
When I was starting out I took a great class on entrepreneurship from the Kauffman Foundation called FastTrac which walked me through the process of developing my business model. As a solo practitioner, you will continually need to expand your knowledge of marketing, finance, and other essential aspects of running a profitable business.
3. Start Building Your Online Presence
A huge part of building a VLO is having an online presence.
So while you should never represent yourself as a lawyer or give legal advice until you’ve been admitted to the bar, you can still start building your online brand while in law school.
One way to do this is to start a blog on a legal topic in the practice area you have chosen. There are some very well known law blogs such as winelawonreserve.com and thefashionlaw.com that were created by law students.
This is a great way to build credibility and gain expert status as time goes on. By starting a blog, you are gaining an audience that will eventually be a great place to start looking for clients. If you’re not into writing, think about doing a podcast series on iTunes or a video series on YouTube.
The idea is to build a consistent presence in a medium you enjoy.
You can also start frequenting forums in your practice area and join in on the conversations.
In addition to blogging, you can start connecting with other lawyers, industry leaders, and communities via social media. I established my Twitter account before going solo as way to connect with other solo practitioners and business owners. Some of the people I “met” via social media became instrumental mentors and referral partners when I launched my practice. Years later, my social media presence continues to contribute to my business growth.
I once heard an Oscar-nominated actor give advice to aspiring actors, he told them to act.
That is the same advice I have for law students and recent grads: start lawyering.
If you’re thinking about starting a practice, get started on obtaining practical lawyering skills as soon as you can. In law school, participate in every opportunity available to develop those skills. Don’t wait for a firm or other organization to choose you.
Choose yourself and see where the road takes you.
If you are just flirting with the idea of going solo with a virtual law office, you may be wondering how this all works. I’ve been where you are and back then there wasn’t much useful information on VLOs available (and, honestly, there still isn’t it). Which is why I created a free e-course, Virtual Law Office 101: An Introduction to Building a Lucrative VLO. I encourage you to check it out!
Thanks, Rachel! Great advice on building your career early in law school.
You can meet Rachel in person in San Francisco at the Catapult Conference on March 1st. Don’t miss it!