Hello friends and followers! I apologize for the lack of posts lately, but this crazy thing called life happened and I welcomed my second son into the world. He is a happy, healthy little darling, and I have loved every moment I get to spend with him.
I have also been in the process of reinventing my firm. I have decided to emphasize my passion for helping fathers in family law matters. Fathers tend to have an uphill battle in family law matters, and I want to focus on helping them navigate the legal process in custody, divorce, child support, paternity, and other family law matters. Check out my new and improved website for more info: http://www.sarahdemerslaw.com/.
I also have started a new blog that will continue to have updates about my practice, but will also have resources about fathers' rights in family law. I hope you all will continue to follow my story at http://fatherfriendlyfamilylaw.blogspot.com/
Good luck to any begining solos out there, please feel free to email me or Rita with any questions. We love to hear from you!
Launching Our Law Firms
Follow the adventures of two recent law school graduates as we launch two solo practices. We're Rita J. and Sarah Demers, and, although we have the generous support of family, friends, and colleagues, ultimately we are each flying solo.
This is an interactive ride! Email us with any questions you're dying to ask at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
I had my very first hearing yesterday, which went even better than I expected. It was against a pro se mom who was asking for a modification to child support. The magistrate was very nice to me (I think she either sensed that I was brand new, or saw that I was 9 months pregnant and didn’t want to upset me and send me into labor).
I am amazed at the amount of information that has been shoved into my head in the last three weeks! I knew I would need to learn both procedure and substantive law very quickly to survive as a new solo practitioner, but I don’t think I really understood how different family law would be from the civil litigation cases I was much more familiar with. I feel like the next time I deal with a motion to modify, I’ll have a much better idea of what’s important, what to do, and how the procedure works.
One thing both Rita and I have gotten some questions about is fee setting. To share with the group, I set my hourly rate based on asking at least half a dozen attorneys in downtown Minneapolis what they thought the rate should be for a brand new attorney. My hourly rate is $150.00/hour, which is actually lower than most of them suggested. But I feel comfortable with it until I have more experience under my belt.
I have also done a few cases now where I’ve set a flat fee. To do that I ask the more experienced attorneys in my office how long it would take them to do the task the client needs, then multiply that by my hourly rate. Then if it takes me three times as long as it would take an experienced attorney, at least the client is only paying for the amount of time it should have taken me. Since flat fees are dangerous, especially in family law where things seem to be more volatile than some other areas of law, I only do them when it’s for a single motion, or a single appearance. I draft the client agreement so they know I only will be writing this one motion, making this one appearance on a specific date, etc. Then we both understand if there are more issues afterwards, they will either have to renegotiate with me to help or they may be on their own. So far, this has worked well, because the clients are just happy to have someone helping them and to know up front what the cost will be.
Everything with the practice is about as expected – I have some clients but not a lot. I have about four active cases I am working on currently, and two people I am waiting to get confirmation on that they would like to retain me. So I’m still doing some contract work to make sure I stay busy. Assuming I can keep the pace that I’m at, getting 3-4 new clients a month, the practice will be growing at a pace that I am comfortable with. And I definitely like my boss, we get along well.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Last week I filed my very first motion with my name on it! It was very satisfying to sign my name, and have my law firm information on a motion.
Then I walked out of the court house…and the worrying began. What if they rejected it? What if I didn’t serve the parties correctly? What if the judge hates everything I said, and passes it around to every clerk, judge, lawyer, and janitor in the building as an example of what not to do? I can take being denied on the merits of my claim, but the idea of ridicule was not something I had really thought hard about before and now I’m very nervous.
One of my mentors who started a solo practice right out of law school said she lived in absolute terror the first two years that she had screwed something up. Then, as everything worked out and she got more comfortable with the procedures, she calmed down. I am definitely in the stage of panic and terror: no one is looking over my shoulder, no one is correcting my work. It’s just me. But it sure is fun advising my own clients. Even if it takes me longer than other lawyers to produce a result, it is a result that in the end I’m proud of.
I have worked on a handful of cases now, and I also find it frustrating to have no idea what to do procedurally with a good case. I can recognize right away that there is something I must be able to do for the client; I just don’t know what that action is yet. I look forward to the day when I can say “Not only do I know that you have a good claim, but I know exactly what to do to help you!” Until then, I am relegated to spending vast amounts of time researching statutes, rules, and procedures, and then asking other attorneys what actions to take. Although I was aware starting my own firm out of law school would involve asking a lot of questions, it’s still frustrating to know the law but not the procedure.Happy New Year to everyone! I’m ready to rock 2012 – bring it on!
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
This has been an exciting week! I have at least one client for sure, two that are almost for sure, and one I’m still waiting to hear back from. I’m definitely feeling like a real lawyer, giving legal advice and the whole 9 yards!
For anyone who is really thinking about opening a solo practice, the way I’ve gotten almost all my first clients is referrals from lawyers who know me and really want to see me succeed. So having existing relationships with people who have some business to refer to you is absolutely essential. These types of referrals are not enough to sustain a business on, however, and there are other things I’m doing to try and grow my client base. But getting people to know, like, and trust you – and remember your name and what you do when they need legal help – takes time and patience. So while I’m waiting for my efforts to get my name out to the masses to bear fruit, it is essential to have established connections to lawyers willing to give me contract work and referrals.
I’m also doing low flat fees for people who otherwise would not be able to pursue their claim, or would have represented themselves and would really prefer not to. This is great because they can pay much less than they would for most other lawyers, a more experienced lawyer would be hard pressed to take their case since it would not be economically advantageous for them, and I get the legal experience I need as well as some incoming cash to sustain the business. It’s all around a winning situation.
So hopefully things keep building up. At this point I’m hopeful, and less nervous than I was about succeeding. I think it will take more time than I originally anticipated to have the income I want, although if I keep going at my current pace of bringing in 2-3 clients a month (and get some clients that are paying a full rate) I should be right at my income goal. So here’s hoping this keeps up!
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!
I’m finally comfortable coming into the office every day, and working a full work week. And while business is not exactly booming, I do have a few client leads that I’m working on turning into paying clients.
One issue I’ve run into is clients expecting that you know the answers to their questions immediately. They seem to think it’s strange that you don’t know the answers to questions like how long a process will take, how much money they are likely going to have to spend, and whether their claim is a good one to even bring into court or not.
As a new lawyer, I find myself scrambling to do preliminary research on very basic questions before talking to clients, which is time consuming and generally doesn’t yield specific enough answers to clients’ questions anyways. So I look forward to the time when I at least feel comfortable answering basic questions about procedure without having to dig the information out of the library, or ask another lawyer what I know is a really stupid question.
Luckily, experienced lawyers seem to like being asked stupid questions. I think it makes people feel good that you think they know their area of law well enough to ask them questions. Most everyone I’ve talked to has been more than willing to talk to me about anything under the sun, law related or not, and share encouragement as well as knowledge. My advice would be to have several people you can ask questions of, however, because eventually anyone will get tired of you no matter what a nice, cute, new lawyer you are.
So new lawyers, ask those questions! Experienced attorneys want you to be able to competently represent clients, because we all represent the same profession. And what lawyer doesn’t like to talk?Rita is opening this week, so send happy, successful thoughts her way!
Thursday, November 10, 2011
- Sarah -
I've had my shingle out for a week and a half now, and it’s been very busy. Not that I’m constantly meeting with potential clients, but there is a lot to do in these beginning days just to make sure my firm can survive. I’m marketing like a mad woman, attending some CLE’s to get practical knowledge, and doing enough contract work to bring in some funds to keep things going.
I think I have my first client! I’ll have a better idea next week after we meet in the office and I tell him that I do actually charge for my fantastic services. If he doesn’t run out when I turn my back, then I will have my first paying client!
I’ve been trying multiple marketing techniques, from the standard to the bordering on pathetic and desperate. Marketing as a beginning solo feels a lot like job searching, but instead of trying to convince a firm they should hire you to give legal advice to the clients they already have, you’re trying to convince your friends, family, neighbors, other lawyers, and anyone stuck in an elevator with you for more than 30 seconds that you’re a fantastic lawyer who they should tell everyone they know about. (Here, take a business card.)
This idea scares the bejesus out of most new lawyers – trying to find new clients when you have nothing to start with. And I think if one were to sit on one’s hands and stare at their shiny new business phone, and assume the clients will be beating down their door in no time, they will be playing a lot of computer solitaire. I am prepared to have new clients trickle in for the first few months. My plan is to continue the contract I do now in order to keep my doors open while waiting for that trickle to turn into a steady stream.
I think something you absolutely need to start your own firm is faith – faith that your marketing efforts will eventually turn into clients, and that the business will grow as you’ve hoped over time.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Rita and I both graduated from law school this May. Law school taught us many things, but did we learn how to be fully operational solo practitioners? We’re about to find out.
I am opening my own solo law practice in Minneapolis. D-day is October 31, 2011. I will focus on family law (hopefully building an adoption practice), ERISA/employee benefits, and appellate practice (which is something I hope to grow over the course of the next few years).
I am sharing an office with Rita, and we decided to write this blog to let other new practitioners learn from our successes and pitfalls, and see that it really is possible to open a solo practice out of law school and be successful.
We invite you to come along with us as we struggle through the tough learning process we know is about to occur. I have been told by multiple people that opening a solo practice out of law school is doomed to fail, because I lack the experience to both run be a lawyer and operate a business. Most of the resources available to those of us brave enough to start a solo law practice also tell me that it would be best to join a small or mid-sized firm for a few years in order to get the guidance and experience of writing someone else’s memos, briefs, and motions, pay down my law school debts, and find out what areas of law I am really interested in.
However, I have the same education and license as other lawyers, and am fully competent to perform my duties as a lawyer. As a solo practitioner I will decide every aspect of my practice, from what cases to take and what strategy to use, to what color my Post-It notes will be (multi-colored, for variety). I plan on jumping in the deep end, and am nervous and excited. Wish us luck, and check in to see how we’re doing!