Going Solo With Little Experience

by Joshua Wallace
YLS Futures Committee
 
"We are sorry to inform you that you do not have enough experience for this position." It's the ultimate Catch-22. How does one get experience when firms will only hire people with experience? After months of being unsuccessful in finding a fulltime position or steady contract work, and seeing many of my young colleagues in the same boat, I recently decided to take the leap and hang a shingle. Now in my second month of having my own firm, it was a decision I am glad I made.

I decided that if no one will give me an opportunity to get experience, that I will make my own experience. That being said, opening your own office takes a lot of work and sacrifice, and is scary as well as exciting. You must make sure to do things the right way from the beginning to minimize having problems in the future.

For example, one of the first things that I learned was a lot of attorneys are improperly handling their clients' money when payments are received via credit card. Most credit card merchants upon the swiping of a card will put the funds in and take their percentage fee out of the same account. In this scenario, if you have credit card payments going into your IOLTA account, you are letting the merchant take their fees out of your IOLTA account. According to the PLF you are essentially taking out client funds for a payment before the funds are earned. Luckily, there are companies that will allow you to put credit card payments into your IOLTA account and withdraw the merchant percentage from your operating account.

Something else I have found is that although many older practitioners are either not hiring or are only looking for attorneys with significant experience, it has been surprising how friendly they can be if you reach out for help. As a young solo, one of the most nerve-racking things is wondering if you are handling everything correctly, from drafting, to filing, to procedure. Fortunately, Oregon is full of helpful and friendly older and experienced attorneys.

Most important, if you decide to go solo, make sure you have a realistic budget. Have enough in savings to sustain yourself and your practice for at least the first few months. Know yourself and your work habits in making important decisions such as whether to work from home or rent an office. Personally, I knew that even though it was an extra expense, I needed to rent an office because I can't work efficiently from home. However, I have met other young solos who have no problem working from home and using satellite locations to meet with clients.

The best decision I made in setting up my office was to reach out to other young solos who had hung a shingle shortly after passing the bar. They shared with me invaluable information about how to start my own practice. Without them, I would have struggled far more in trying to put everything together.
 
So for those who are struggling to find work and gain experience, I highly recommend getting out there and finding your own clients. You have all the knowledge you need and the support of the community. All of the older and successful attorneys once upon a time started out with no experience as well. Have confidence in yourself and know that with hard work, you can do it.

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