The Advocate, February 2012
The Chair's Comments
Business 101: One Number You Need to Know By Erik Mazzone
Ask Atticus: An Advice Column for Young Lawyers By Ted Lewis Johnson
CYA Corner: The Zen of Risk Management By Camille Stell
Rhymes with Yum Yum: NC LEAP Assists Maker of Num Num Sauce By Russell Rawlings
Legal Myths on Trial: Foreclosures By Tyler J. Russell
Lawyers in Service: Judge Albert Diaz By Luke A. Dalton
Overheard in Committee Compiled by Tyler J. Russell
Basic Lawyering (Or, What To Do When Someone Asks You To Practice Law): Drafting a Business Contract By Matthew A. Cordell
Pro Bono Spotlight: Michael Wells Jr. By Amy Walker
Call 4ALL: Pro Bono Made Easy By Blaine Mays
Are You Kidding Me? A Humorous Look at the Law By R. Lee Robertson Jr.
Committee Spotlight: Bar Exam Committee By Lucy Austin
To access the newsletter archives, or to download the PDF version of the current issue listed above, please visit http://younglawyers.ncbar.org/newsletters.aspx.
The Chair’s Comments
By Bradford Williams
Two new law schools, a weak economy and a rapidly changing legal marketplace have conspired to create more recent law graduates in North Carolina than there are available legal jobs. The result: more young lawyers are opening up their own law firms. It is a challenge to be a solo practitioner even when you are an experienced lawyer. It is doubly so for those in the first few years of practice. However, young lawyers who are solo practitioners don’t have to feel isolated and alone. There are resources available from the North Carolina Bar Association (“NCBA”) to assist young lawyers as they build their practices.
When the NCBA established its Center for Practice Management in early 2008, the focus of the Center was to help attorneys with technology and practice management needs and to provide guidance on law firm start up strategies. According to Erik Mazzone, the director of the Center for Practice Management, during the Center’s first few months in existence it received a mixture of calls from attorneys relating to all three of the Center’s focus areas. Then the effects of the economic downturn began to take hold in the North Carolina legal market.
Since late 2008, Mazzone has estimated that 50 percent of the calls to the Center for Practice Management have come from attorneys looking for assistance to start their own law firms. These calls have not been exclusively from young lawyers, but Mazzone has seen a groundswell of new lawyers who are opening up their own practices soon after passing the North Carolina Bar Exam.
Recent circumstances have led more young lawyers
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The Chair’s Comments
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to begin their legal careers as solo practitioners. The Great Recession and the economy’s tepid recovery have caused legal employers to shed jobs. In North Carolina, Mazzone has noticed that the state’s largest law firms have been slow to restore associate attorney positions since these firms have learned as a result of the recession that they can be smaller and still be profitable.
While the number of associate positions at North Carolina law firms has been stagnant at best since late 2008, the number of law school graduates in the state has increased with the opening of two new law schools. The result is an oversupply of law graduates for the number of available associate positions at the state’s law firms. In other words, there is a new normal for recent law school graduates.
The legal job market in North Carolina now includes young lawyers who would prefer to start their legal careers at law firms, but are working as contract attorneys or are opening their own law practices while searching for a full-time legal job elsewhere. Some recent law school graduates are working full-time at non-legal jobs in order to pay the bills while practicing law on the side. As Erik Mazzone noted, for many new lawyers the first few years of practice will be a combination of paid legal work, paid non-legal work and at times volunteer legal work just to get a foot in the door.
To better understand the challenges facing young lawyers who have started their own law practices, I recently spoke with three young lawyers from the Raleigh area, each of whom has opened a law firm within the past several years. Two are recent law school graduates who started as solo practitioners soon after passing the bar exam, one in 2010 and the other in 2011. The other is a more experienced young lawyer who opened his own firm about four years ago, which has since grown from a true one-man shop to a firm of four full-time employees, two of whom will sit for the North Carolina Bar Exam in July.
In talking with these young lawyers, I was reminded of the Staples commercial that has been airing recently on television. In the commercial, “Dave”, a small business owner, walks into the office and is greeted by look-a-like “Daves” who are dressed differently and are performing various jobs that are needed to keep the business running. The tag line to the commercial is “In a small business, it’s all you”.
Though in different ways, the “In a small business, it’s all you” tag line applies to each of these three young lawyers. The more experienced lawyer is in a different place than the other two because he has a more established practice and has a payroll to manage. “It’s All You” in his case means that he is ultimately responsible for his firm’s information technology needs, for managing human resources issues, for meeting payroll, and for making the firm run operationally. More of his time is consumed with management issues than it was when he was a solo practitioner with no employees. And, oh by the way, he also practices law.
This more experienced lawyer remembers the challenges of being a new lawyer with a solo practice, of developing a caseload and learning how to work competently on these matters. For the two young lawyers who just opened their law practices within the past year to two years, “It’s All You” means putting in long hours to develop business and marketing plans, to network, to find cases, to maintain the business side of their firms, and to grow their reputations in the community by volunteering their time and talents at organizations such as the NCBA. And, oh by the way, practice law.
Even though the current economy is challenging, especially for young solos, Erik Mazzone has observed that the legal landscape is not hopeless for recent law school graduates. There are many resources available to young lawyers in general and young solo practitioners in particular, including many provided by the NCBA. I urge all young lawyers, but especially those who have opened their own law firms, to take advantage of the following resources:
Center for Practice Management
The NCBA’s Center for Practice Management should be the first stop for young lawyers who are opening their own law firms. First, visit the Center’s website at http://cpm.ncbar.org to get more information about the Center and to review the online resources that are available to attorney start ups. After that, call Erik Mazzone to schedule an appointment (free if you are a NCBA member) to discuss the specifics of starting a law firm. Young lawyers will find Mazzone to be both knowledgeable about start up strategies and to be incredibly approachable. Most importantly, he will raise issues about law firm management that most young lawyers would never think of on their own.
The Center for Practice Management has previously organized one-day law firm start up boot camps. These seminars have been well-attended and well-regarded as opportunities for solo practitioners to gain information about starting and operating a law firm while networking with other solos. The Center will be organizing another law firm start up boot camp later this year. Periodically check the NCBA’s website at http://www.ncbar.org/ to see when the next boot camp will be scheduled.
NCBA Mentorship Program
Being a solo practitioner can produce feelings of isolation even among the most experienced of attorneys who have a wealth of contacts and connections in the legal profession and in their communities at large. This sense of isolation can be overwhelming for young lawyers who have yet to build such connections. However, young lawyers who are solo practitioners do not have to go it alone. The NCBA offers a mentorship program, including traditional and situational mentoring, that is an absolute must for young lawyers who have opened their own law firms.
In registering for the NCBA’s mentorship program, prospective mentees have the opportunity to participate in a traditional mentorship pairing as well as in situational mentoring. Situational mentoring does not involve an on-going relationship between mentee and mentor like in traditional mentoring. For example, a participating young lawyer with a specific, substantive question can call the NCBA, which will match the young lawyer with a situational mentor who has volunteered to answer questions by telephone on that same, substantive topic. The mentoring is completed once the mentor answers the young lawyer’s specific question.
For more information about the NCBA’s mentorship program, including program guidelines, go online at http://www.ncbar.org/about/ncba-mentorship-program.aspx, where the on-line registration form also is available.
NCBA Sections and Divisions
Become an active member of the YLD. The YLD has over twenty committees that perform community service work or assist the legal profession in some form or fashion. Join a YLD committee and show that you are a hard worker who is interested in making the committee’s projects successful. By working hard on committee projects, you will do two things: First, you will get noticed by other young lawyers, including YLD leaders, who will remember you as a motivated go-getter. Second, you will develop relationships with these young lawyers, who will be more likely to refer cases to you because they know you as a competent and hard working attorney. I urge all young solos to go to the YLD webpage at http://younglawyers.ncbar.org/, look up the names and contact information for the YLD leadership, contact these YLD leaders and volunteer your time to do the work of one or more of the YLD committees.
In addition to the YLD, join an NCBA section that fits your practice area and contact the leadership of that section. Just like with the YLD, volunteer to perform the work of the section. Not only will the section leaders appreciate your help, but they too will remember you as a hard working young lawyer who is committed to the practice of law. Referrals will follow as your reputation grows. These same section leaders also will be more likely to serve as informal mentors to you because you have taken the time to get to know them. To learn more about the various NCBA sections, including contact information for the various section leaders, go to the NCBA website at http://www.ncbar.org/.
Also, do not forget about your local bar. Join in the work of your local bar association for all the reasons that it benefits you to join in NCBA Division and Section work.
For young solo practitioners, the above resources from the NCBA and the YLD are good starting points. However, do not limit yourself just to the NCBA. Get out in the community and volunteer at other, local organizations. Above all, work to develop your reputation in legal circles and in the community at large as someone who can be trusted to handle a legal matter well not only because of your legal abilities but also because of your willingness to perform the work necessary to serve your clients. It is not easy to build a law practice. But through hard work and active community involvement, including the NCBA, young solo practitioners can develop a book of business through referrals. And whenever you need assistance along the way, the NCBA and the YLD are here to help. •