Young lawyers face a unique problem: they hardly have any cases to their name to create a portfolio. Also, if you are a recent pass out from the Law School, people may not know you. Still, there are people out there looking for lawyers all the time and not everyone can approach the law firms for obvious reasons. People on a budget usually ask around for lawyers. You can take note of these asking around practices and make your presence felt in various ways.
1. Patience is Definitely a Virtue
This is not stating the obvious: if you are not patient, you are going to mess things up. At the beginning of your career, especially, you are going to have to sell yourself really well. If you appear overeager, people might shy away from you. If you appear to have a disdainful attitude like you don’t really need the client, they might want to get someone who’s interested in them. And if you constantly remind people that you are new at this, they may not be able to trust you to do their job. Don’t go to extremes – believe in yourself and accept that this is going to take a while and then get going.
2. A Mentor or Your Own Practice?
It is common practice to follow mentors or ‘Enablers’ as they are sometimes referred to. They could be anyone – an experienced senior lawyer or a clerk or a particularly well connected law school friend. You just have to choose someone who would be willing to let you be with them in a manner that is going to get you connected to people. They must be willing to refer you, in some cases, but mostly, it is about associating your non-existent image with their well established ones so that people trust you as a lawyer. With the wrong mentor, you will end up going nowhere very fast. With the right one, and if you can establish a give and take relationship, it would be possible to skip ahead pretty fast.
However, some young lawyers prefer to set up their own office as soon as they graduate. This also works. Sooner or later, people will take notice. One advantage is that no client is likely to ask you for your portfolio or bio-data. No one will ever know that you are new unless you tell them. Having an office of your own also creates a good impression and people do tend to trust first impressions more than anything else.
So, should you hang onto a mentor or set up your own office? We’d ask you to do both if you have the money to set up that office. However, you must scrupulously maintain the office hours you have advertised for yourself. Don’t worry that people will get a negative impression of you if they see you sitting in your office alone day after day. People don’t normally look for lawyers unless they are in trouble, so they probably wouldn’t even notice. And you could always opt for dark glass on your door if you feel too self-conscious. After a while, clients will trickle in and when they do, take one case at a time and give it everything you have. After you have done well in a few instances your reputation will grow on its own and things will be infinitely simpler.
3. A Virtual Office
These days, people frequently search the Internet for answers. It is conceivable that people will look up lawyers as well. Apart from enlisting in local directories, set up a small website or blog. This is not a costly affair any longer and you should spend on a paid site rather than opt for a free one if you wish to look professional.
To begin with, you want people to find your site and get to know you from the listings or from the cards that you hand out. Having a personal website does add a certain degree of credibility. At any event, it is better to have a site than to not have one.
Create your profile to include your area of specialization and courts of practice very clearly. Don’t just write ‘Criminal Lawyer‘ or something similar – people may not understand the exact specialization they are looking for. List out the ‘problems’ that fall under your purview. Don’t sound like an advertisement – just list out the details clearly. Mention the hours when you are available at your office (if you have one) or via telephone. Mention the response time (e.g ‘will reply within 24 hours’) if you accept query by email. Put up your photograph in a professional attire (not a lawyer’s gown) that makes you look real and approachable. Once you have done that, move on to the next step.
4. Virtual Networking
Your main work as a young lawyer is to let people know that you exist. Having a social networking profile is a good way to begin. Chances are, you already have one. Let’s say you have around 200 friends (a very conservative estimate) on Facebook. When you put up a Page announcing your practice, you can tag all your friends and ask them to ‘like’ the Page.
To make things interesting, you can begin a series of posts that can help people understand legal terminology better. You can also talk about trivia in your field of expertise. Remember that this is going to be a social interaction. You want to appear helpful yet professional. You do not want to look like an out of work lawyer who has nothing better to do than post on Facebook. Check your account everyday for queries that might require replies but take care not to post everyday. One useful post a week is probably enough and that too, on a Sunday.
Pretty soon, you should be getting some attention from your friends’ friends and that should be the beginning of a very successful social network campaign.
5. Other Essential Steps
Be friendly with rival lawyers in a professional way. If you do this right and ask for pointers (and stoke their ego) and especially if they are senior to you, you can look forward to quite a few referrals coming your way from them.
Be nice to your clients – send them a note or a card or an email – whatever you consider appropriate. Just let them know that you were happy to work on their case. Good lawyers are not easy to find and if you made an impression, your satisfied clients will save your contact info. Even if you don’t find cases from them that you can handle, you can always pass them on to others who would be happy to return the favor when the time comes.
Get a part-time job doing Doc Reviews. Yes, this is a boring job, but it will get you in touch with even more people at law firms and if you show your diligence, tendency to put in a lot of hard work and a good attitude even when doing menial jobs, don’t be surprised if a lot of extra work that the firm can’t handle get referred to you.
Finally, we’d strongly advise you to join groups and associations that are not connected to the legal community. Doubtless, you are already a member of some kind of association for lawyers. Now it is time to network outside the community where you could well be the only lawyer. And you do know what they say about the one eyed man (read: young lawyer) in a kingdom of the blind, right?