In this week’s edition of Young, Hungry & Committed, solo lawyer Liz Johnson shares her experience of selecting a practice area for her firm, and gives advice on how other solo lawyers can do the same.
Deciding which practice area you want your solo practice to specialize in can be a difficult decision. It took me a while to come to a solution in my own practice. I had some challenges along the way and there wasn’t a quick solution.
But hopefully, I can shed a little light on how I went through the process of choosing a practice area, and help other lawyers who were in the same boat as me.
Never Stop Learning
First, always be on the lookout for learning opportunities. You never know what might spark your interests while studying or researching a new topic.
While I was waiting for my bar results, I was taking classes on homeland security. After getting my bar results and being sworn in, I was still taking classes. I went to an “Introduction to Guardianship” seminar to learn more about that type of law. I was joining in any MSBA CLE opportunities available, and going to all free events.
Now, because I started my firm without really knowing what I wanted to practice, I was open to countless possibilities.
Unfortunately, I have no additional money to spend for events that aren’t free. But I have an alternative solution, it’s called a library!
Make friends with the law librarian. Librarians are some of the greatest people in the world, like a universal jack of all trades. They may not know everything about every topic, but rest assured they’ll know if they have something in their libraries about the topic, OR in this day and age they will be able to show you how to use a specific database or how to best look it up online. For example, I’ve had a hard time with certain keyword searches, and it’s been a simple fix. More often than not, I was simply looking in the wrong spot.
One of my unique challenges in determining what law I want to practice is that I enjoy learning about everything. I have the curse of being a professional student.
When I first started to try taking on cases, I didn’t wait around and jumped in head first. First, I started as co-counsel with an elder law case. Then I tried taking a family law pro bono case. Then I took a probate pro bono case. And I also have a paying client for deeds. To top it all off, I’m helping with a criminal law defense case.
As you can imagine, I quickly got overwhelmed. I’ve been trying to learn everything all at once.
And in case you were wondering, I think this falls under things of what not to do. Anyone else agree with that assessment? I’m thinking there are many hypothetical hands raised right about now.
Finally Choosing My Practice Area
But long story short, I’m going to back off, regroup, and start focusing on one thing at a time. I want to become really good with a couple of things, and then start branching out again. Only this time, I’ve got a better idea of what I’d like to do. Estate planning.
I suppose it’s a good sign when I’m drooling over the possibility of drafting a will for a neighbor who has six old cars. Not just old and decrepit, but those antiques you see in black and white movies. Or my neighbor who is a beekeeper. Should he be accounting for his hive in a will? After all, hives, it sounds like, can be moved. You know you’re on the right track when you think about these things simply walking down the street.
But someday I’d also like to help small businesses get off the ground. Now that’s something I don’t have experience with, so first I’m going to focus on getting better at estate planning. THEN I will start reading on what’s involved in helping small businesses with their legal issues.
Learning new things is great fun, but there are also realistic boundaries that need to be set. I learned this through trial and error, but I think this is something every solo should be aware of before jumping into their practice.