New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Law Practice


August 19th, 2009

10 Tips for Laid Off Lawyers

It may be a long time before the legal field recovers from the massive layoffs from this past year. Some folks could be out of work longer than imagined, and it appears that some may need a bit of help on what to do. As you can see from this utterly miserable description of life as a cast-off lawyer coding documents in the basement of BigLaw firms for $28/hr. (via ATL), there are some people with big time degrees that are trapped into thinking that BigLaw is all the law that exists.

‘Taint so.

So, without further ado, here are 10 tips for lawyers without a job, from a guy who started from scratch:

1. Make business cards. You are not unemployed. You are self-employed. Big difference.

2. Don’t tell people you don’t have an office. You do. It’s your home office. All you need is an address and a computer to do research and writing.

3. You never know where business might come from, except you know it won’t come from sitting at home watching Oprah. So get out of the house and talk to people. The waitress, the cabbie, the dog-walkers, the people in the supermarket. The doorman of your friend’s building. Maybe you’ll meet someone who needs legal assistance, or knows someone who needs legal assistance. Or you’ll get a date. Who knows? You might find that extricating someone from a bad marriage, representing an abused child, saving someone from an overly aggressive district attorney, or helping an immigrant get a green card, to be one of the most satisfying things you’ve ever done with your law degree. But you won’t know if you don’t try.

4. Tell people you’re an attorney. That doesn’t mean you scream it from the top of your lungs, but it comes naturally when meeting new people (see #3) when they say, “So what do you do?” You’ll have your card in your pocket. Because they might know someone, who knows someone, who needs you. In a big, bad way.

5. Start a blog. Or offer to guest blog for an existing one. Or write an article for a legal publication. Or an op-ed for the local paper. Most lawyers love to write. A few even do it well. Now is your chance to write like a human. You must have an interest in something legal or you wouldn’t have picked law for a career. You can write about anything. Except how wonderful you are an as attorney. That would suck. Because that’s an advertisement. And people hate self-promotional clap-trap. Everything else is fair game. Get your name out there. And claim your Google reputation while you’re at it.

6. Dress nicely when going to the grocery store. That doesn’t mean a suit and tie, it just means looking neat and clean. Because you don’t know who you will meet. You can’t open doors if you push them closed by looking like a slob. And you will, of course, have your card in your pocket. Just in case.

7. Join listservs. These are not only great places to swap ideas on the law, but other lawyers often run into temporary overflows. They need someone to handle a court conference. Or draft a memo of law. Or help with an appeal. And when that happens they will turn to their listmates for help. And you will be there. Of course, your new friends will also be there when you start to wrestle with questions of where to file something and other picayune procedural stuff that BigLaw never taught you.

8. Don’t be proud. My first job out of school was high end medical malpractice cases at a prominent personal injury firm in New York (Fuchsberg & Fuchsberg). Then I went out on my own. My first stationery was a business card taped to a piece of white paper and xeroxed onto good paper. I had a Mailboxes, Etc. address for my office. My first regular client argued parking tickets for commercial businesses. I started making appearances and doing depositions for $75-$100 a pop. With overhead near zero I turned a profit. I got by till the better stuff came in.

9. Keep your ears open for other business opportunities. These opportunities might be outside the law, or closely related to it. After all, if there are too many lawyers, well, I’m sure you understand that old supply and demand thing.

10. Don’t stop looking at the traditional avenues of employment. The above tips were not designed for you to start a new practice. It just might lead that way. Or not. No one has a crystal ball. All you are doing is creating opportunities. And with that comes the potential that some firm, some where, gets some big business and needs to staff up. Your resume is ready. And when they Google you they will find a few things you’ve written while you were self-employed. And you might have a really interesting story of how you changed someone’s life.

Links to this post:

true solos have true grit, but law school rewards the ephemeral
got grit? you do if you’re making a go of it as a solo. as much as many of the law practice gurus tell you that earning gobs of money as a solo is easy as pie (particularly if you’re using their thousand dollar “recipes”),
posted by [email protected] (Carolyn Elefant) @ August 21, 2009 8:45 AM

11 thoughts on “10 Tips for Laid Off Lawyers

  1. What if you live with your parents? Can you still tell clients that you have an office?

    Why not? It’s basically a mail drop.

    If you need to meet a client you can go to the client’s place, to a friend’s office, to a diner or Starbucks, or to a rent-an-office place, all depending on what is needed.

  2. I like that this is one of the few articles on the subject that sounds credible. The “just get off your butt and apply to 100 jobs already!” crowd has no credibility. The author seems to know what he’s talking about, and he restrains himself from attempts to profit by other’s misfortune via some bs consulting business.

    The one problem is the phrase, “with overhead near zero…” This is the problem. My loan payments, rent, and the little I spend on food, are quite far from zero.

    At 75 a pop, I would need to do 50 depositions in a month, and that still won’t cover taxes or health insurance. I think this is an excellent plan for getting by while living with the folks, or living off an employed spouse. I’m not sure it works all that well if not. But thanks for not condescending, or lecturing. It’s a nice change.

  3. The one problem is the phrase, “with overhead near zero…” This is the problem. My loan payments, rent, and the little I spend on food, are quite far from zero.

    I was referring to the additional overhead of having a separate office.

    At 75 a pop, I would need to do 50 depositions in a month

    Well, it’s a bit more today, but my thought was that some income is better than no income, and that this is better than the brain-dead basement of BigLaw coding documents (assuming that that position is even available).

    And these relationships might lead to new clients that come directly to you. You will have at least created opportunities for yourself, and if you can score some brief writing gigs from busy small and solo firms, you will keep your brain engaged and your sanity intact.

    Just as importantly, if you do interview for another job, you can honestly tell them that you have been working and representing people. Instead of having a gap on your resume, you’ll have the name of your “firm,” even if it only brought in a few bucks.

  4. Great post.
    I want to take your advice about the business cards, but I am not admitted yet (awaiting results on NY bar exam). Do you recommend I put “paralegal” on my business cards or something else?

  5. I am not admitted yet (awaiting results on NY bar exam). Do you recommend I put “paralegal” on my business cards or something else?

    You could just put your name and address on it.

    Or you could put J.D. and then indicate you are awaiting admission. I think that was the way I signed letters for the firm I worked for during those few months.

    It’s a crappy spot to be in as far as identifying yourself, and I don’t really know what the standard is. But I know you should be careful not to do anything misleading.

  6. “Practicing the law” while between opportunities seems more daunting (in my ignorance) than you present. What about things like client trust accounts and malpractice insurance? There must be more to it than printing out business cards and doing odd legal ends for people in the local law library.

  7. What about things like client trust accounts and malpractice insurance?

    Client trust accounts are only needed if you have clients (as opposed to doing per diem work for firms with overflow). But if you do get those clients, and you do need that trust account, it shouldn’t cost anything to set up beyond the price of the checks.

    As to legal malpractice insurance, work for other firms is likely covered under their policies. (Do all those contract attorneys who are coding records have their own insurance? No.)

    But if you get your own clients, then you should get your own insurance. It shouldn’t cost much, maybe 2-3K, since they aren’t insuring anything that happened in the past and your biz is so small. As the years go by, if they do, the price will increase to account for the acts that you have already undertaken.

    Thus, neither trust accounts or insurance are a barrier to entry for getting the biz cards and getting yourself out there while still looking for full time work.

  8. I liked this post. I wanted to throw in my few cents.

    Malpractice insurance is only necessary after you have a client base. If you only have a few clients, you would be devoting all of your time to their cases, and the chances of really messing up should be pretty small.

    As you get a few clients, you can use a virtual office. For a monthly fee, you can receive mail at a prestigious address, and rent conference rooms there by the hour if you have a client meeting.

    A client trust account costs nothing to open. HSBC let me open a business checking account and an IOLA account for free with a bunch of checks thrown in for free.

    If you’re not admitted to the bar yet, put your JD on your business card. If you passed the bar and are waiting for admission, say “Pending Admission.” If not, say “Law Clerk.” Don’t take cases though. That’s unethical.

    Buy yourself a nice laser all-in-one. I have a Brother MFC-8860 that’s served me pretty well.

  9. As a lawstudent, I think its sad that people just stop and cry about it, start your own office if you have to. People just like to cry as they drive their new car to their 2 car garage home to see their wife that dosnt work and kids. 🙁

  10. This is a great article. For real. Make it happen. Keep pushing and pushing and pushing until you make 600k a year. You can do it. All of these attorneys that have a big book of business are where you started here and now. Don’t get discouraged. Make people feel your success when you speak to them. Stop complaining. People your age were cut in half in Normandy beach. It is not so bad.