Does going solo mean going alone?
February 6, 2009 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Solo practitioner startup filter: Newly-admitted attorney (this month) seeking advice on professional, technical, & marketing issues about providing freelance legal research & writing services.

There are four issues I think I need to address before starting this business:

1) Do I need malpractice insurance? Can you recommend a provider?

2) What services would you expect from my website?

The ability to upload & download documents? The ability to edit your pieces online? I'm leaning towards a combination of Wordpress, Google Docs, Google Checkout, but I am open to other solutions.

3) What marketing opportunities am I overlooking?

I'm already networking with local attorneys. Should I also institute an online advertising campaign? Craigslist?

4) PLLC or Solo Proprietor?

I'm familiar with the tax and liability consequences, but would like to hear from people who have more experience than I currently possess. Give me your horror stories.
posted by Apollo's Favorite Mistake to Law & Government (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I hope you have already read this. If not, get a copy as soon as possible.
posted by Sheppagus at 9:50 AM on February 6, 2009

Are you providing services to clients directly, or to other attorneys in order to assist them in serving their clients? Different answers to all questions depending upon that...
posted by MattD at 10:00 AM on February 6, 2009

Best answer: Is there a market for this? Don't want to rain on your parade, but I wouldn't hire such a service. If I couldn't handle the amount of business I had, I'd ship out to attorneys willing to reprsent the client entirely with a fee-sharing arrangement. Otherwise, I have a hell of a lot more experience in my practice area than a person who just graduated and it would take more time to explain what I was looking for than would be worth it. How do I know that the writing services you provide would be somehow better than what I could do? If you've never worked a case, you are not going to know how to write for a judge. What they teach you about writing in law school is not very related to what the needs of a litigation practitioner are. However, if you have law firm experience, that would be much better.

I'd always have malpractice insurance. I wouldn't do business with another lawyer who did not have such insurance. Because if you don't have the cash, who will they go after? Me.

Finally, and I'm sure you're really smart and all, but if you're newly admitted, what experience do you have? If you've never worked a case, frankly, I would probably not do business with you.

In terms of Google docs, google checkout and all of that, I wouldn't have any interest in that at all. These transactions get done by paper check usually. I want a big long paper trail leading directly to your door. In terms of documents, I want you to email them to me, not to have them available to anyone who could hack into an account.

Your first thing is to get a tax ID number, then set up a P.L.L.C. or P.C. Then, get two bank accounts, an IOLTA and an operating account. Practice software is next, I suggest Time Matters, perosnally, although I also like Amicus Attorney. Amicus is a little cheaper.

Frankly, I'd suggest a government or small firm job to start out. It works much better.

In terms of online presence, purchasing google ads is the way to go in my specialty (federal employment and labor).

MeFi Mail me if you have any questions.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:21 AM on February 6, 2009

Response by poster: MattD - I would be providing support services to attorneys. They need a brief; I'll write it. They can then review it and claim it as their own.

Ironmouth - You raise some great points and some solid suggestions. Thanks.

I do have experience. I served as a law clerk for my state's Attorney General. I've written briefs, memos, petitions, discovery requests and responses, settlements, and suggested orders on a variety of cases. I'm also a published legal writer.

It's definitely a niche field; but that's the nature of some freelance work. This work would be in addition to my work in legal publishing. This will exercise my skills until the legal hiring picks up again.
posted by Apollo's Favorite Mistake at 11:11 AM on February 6, 2009

OK, if you are doing this on the side, you might as well take a chance. Frankly, I've never heard of anyone using a service like this, but you might as well give it a try. I would not invest much in the business.

I'd also suggest the federal government if you are willing to move. You don't need to worry about what state you are in in those circumstances. You'll get experience immediately.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:17 AM on February 6, 2009

I know there are a few other services like this. There is one I see advertised in Virginia Lawyers Weekly whose web site is

I'm pretty sure they use lawyers as independent contractors because I think I remember one of our friends doing some work for them when he was doing court appointed work and struggling.
posted by Lame_username at 12:26 PM on February 6, 2009

Ditto to what Ironmouth said above, plus a few more thoughts (unfortunately, they're of the more rain-on-your-parade variety).

The company I used to work for (you've definitely heard of them, the name's a homophone of a car company), attempted to get into this business and found it to be a losing proposition. Essentially, you'll have two kinds of customers: those who need you to do research in a jurisdiction/area of law that they don't have resources for in-house, or those that need something produced at the 11th hour. For both groups, they'll usually balk at the costs associated with doing such work... that's typically why there a decent amount of companies in India specializing in exactly what you're trying to do (check out if you don't believe me).

Another consideration for you is what kind of research resources do you have access to? Is there a local public law library that has free access, or are you going to need to purchase an expensive database subscription?
posted by dicaxpuella at 12:27 PM on February 6, 2009

Join the ABA's mailing list for solos, Solosez. There are several attorneys on the list who do the kind of legal research and writing you're talking about, and thousands of others who have good advice for people going solo, including those going right out of law school. It's a great resource, allowing lawyers to be solo without being alone.
posted by katemonster at 12:30 PM on February 6, 2009

On the malpractice insurance question, check your state's rules of professional conduct. Most of the ones I'm familiar with don't require insurance, but require disclosure to clients that you don't have insurance.

Your local bar association should have some good resources on local issues and malpractice carriers, and might even have a "mentorship" type deal. Other solo practicioners in your area might be a decent market for your services but might also be able to provide you with advice on some of the things you asked about. And the best way to find local solos is usually through the local bar association.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:17 PM on February 6, 2009

Nthing Solosez. Awesome resource and this is exactly the kind of question asked by new attorneys on the list.
posted by Jezebella at 7:58 PM on February 6, 2009

In my practice area and area (Bay Area, California), lots of lawyers do this, or something close, but call it "contract work." A lot of the projects are from repeat customers and word of mouth. (You may be talking about a completely different concept, I'm not sure.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:11 PM on February 6, 2009

Not my area, but I do know that folks in similar situations have used "virtual" or "part time" offices and found them useful for maintaining a physical address for mail and client meetings. Some do have video conferencing which might be helpful in determining what your clients need/want. Usefulness depends on your requirements though and if you're simply exchanging documents it may be unnecessary.
posted by unclezeb at 11:01 AM on February 7, 2009

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