Our previous bloggers worked at firms prior to starting their own solo practice. But this week’s writer started his practice the day he was sworn into the Maryland bar. I’ve known Andre for a few years and see him networking away at several bar association events every month. His eagerness to make his firm a thriving success is apparent and contagious.
On Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, I was admitted to practice before the Court of Appeals of Maryland. Later that day, I filed the articles of organization for the formation of McDonald Law Firm LLC. On Friday, Dec. 18, my firm was open for business.
My decision to hang out my own shingle immediately upon my admission to the Maryland bar was not one by design; it was driven by the lack of job prospects. I was unable to secure an associate or law clerk position during the interim period between graduating from law school and my admission to the bar. So when I learned I passed the bar, I concluded hanging out my own shingle was the only way that I would be able to practice law.
Once the euphoria of starting my own law firm faded, I was faced with several monumental decisions. First, I had to decide how I was going to finance the startup of my law firm. Knowing that it was highly unlikely that I would secure a loan from a bank due to the mountain of student loan debt I carried, I turned to my family for assistance. With a loan from family and personal savings, I had the capital I needed.
Second, I had to decide where I would have my office and what type of office arrangement I wanted for the firm. (Renting a suite? Virtual office space? Shared office space with other attorneys?) During a Google search one evening, I was very fortunate to stumble across a listing for a shared office space in Columbia. I secured an all-inclusive, long-term lease agreement, which came with the use of two conference rooms, a fully stacked law library and a legal assistant.
I also needed to decide if I would hire staff immediately or be a true solo attorney. In the beginning I decided to be a true solo; however, with the growth of the firm I have staffed it up accordingly.
Finally, I had to decide what area (or areas) of law I wanted to practice. This was probably the easiest decision I had to make in my journey. My firm focuses on estate and trust law, elder law and business law. I chose these areas largely based on my experience during my third year of law school working for a nonprofit legal clinic practicing in those fields. I found this experience to be very fulfilling and rewarding and knew it was the right fit for me going forward.
Once my preliminary decisions were made, I had one more consequential hurdle that would determine the success or failure of my law firm – where would I find my clients? Not having practiced law prior to hanging out my shingle, I had no idea how to find and retain clients. While law school teaches you the law and internships teach you how to practice law, there is no course that teaches you how to find and retain clients. This is a skill I had to develop over time.
As part of my initial marketing strategy, I joined several paid client-referral services and networked with several financial planners with the goal of gaining client referrals — to no avail. After my first month as a solo attorney I did not retain a single client. I started questioning whether I made a mistake by hanging out my own shingle. With failure not being an option, I came up with a strategy to employ live seminars on estate planning and long-term care planning throughout Howard County. By the end of my second month as a solo attorney, I had retained my first client. Since then, I have employed many other marketing techniques that have facilitated the firm’s growth month after month.
While hanging out my own shingle was not by design, through hard work and persistence, it has evolved to be a natural fit for me.