WHILE WAITING FOR BAR ADMISSION
Use this time wisely. Sit and write out a business plan, outlining budgets and goals for the foreseeable future. Start networking: Establish a network of lawyers and judges to serve as mentors and advisors. Attend as many recent law school graduate events as you can find.
Interview for attorney positions at other firms. Going on interviews will give you a chance to meet with more experienced lawyers face to face and ask questions about how their successful firm is run. The information gathered on these interviews can prove vital in the development stages of your own firm. It will also keep your mind sharp as you engage in legal debate, and will help you stay updated on the latest legal trends. Additionally, it gives you an opportunity to make an impression on the experienced lawyers so that the next time you see each other at a networking event, or need to place a phone call to each other, they are likely to remember you and take a meeting or a phone call.
JOIN BAR ASSOCIATIONS
Most bar associations, such as the New York City Bar, New York State Bar Association, New York County Lawyers' Association and the American Bar Association are free or heavily discounted for the first year after being admitted to practice.
A newly admitted lawyer should become a member of as many of these groups as possible and take advantage of all the benefits of membership. Most bar associations offer the chance to network with other lawyers, access to their extensive legal libraries, including subscriptions to Westlaw and LexisNexis, and even a place to meet with clients in a professional setting.
LEARNING THOSE SKILLS
The most difficult obstacle to overcome when starting a firm soon after completing law school is learning new practice skills.
In a typical law firm setting, senior associates and partners would train newer and junior associates on the proper methods and standard practices. If you start a firm right out of school, however, you need to be more proactive.
For example, if you want to focus your firm around litigation, spend a few days at the local courthouse. Befriend the employees who work behind the counters along with other courthouse staff; they are usually glad to show a respectful young attorney how to properly fill out and file paperwork. In a few minutes they may show you more about how the court system works than you learned in your entire law school career.
Also observe other lawyers in court, and watch closely as they interact with their clients, judges and opposing counsel. Try to accompany a veteran lawyer to court for an afternoon; there are many seasoned attorneys who welcome the chance to help a young motivated esquire.
If you would like to focus your new practice on transactional work, consider volunteering at a local bar association, which may train volunteer attorneys on certain matters in exchange for taking on a certain number of cases pro bono.
As a recent student you are more likely to be comfortable asking for help from a mentor. Contact your law school's alumni department and local bar associations to inquire about mentorship programs. There is no reason for you to repeat other attorneys' mistakes, so seek out other lawyers who have also started their own firms and don't be afraid to ask for their advice. Having an established attorney mentor can be invaluable.
DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED
Once you, a new attorney, take the steps and open the doors to a law firm, you must not let established attorneys intimidate you. There are lawyers with over 20 years of experience who still get things wrong on a regular basis.
When speaking to opposing counsel, do not feel intimidated by the other lawyer's experience. If something feels out of place and the opposing counsel may be wrong, you must double check and say something.
Newly admitted attorneys are no longer just lowly law students; they are members of the bar and need to act like it. Clients will not see your monthly bills piling up, nor do they care about school debt. By having your own law firm, a client will view you as a successful professional and entrepreneur who has achieved a certain status.
It is your name on the door; you should not feel like a lesser attorney.
For a new law firm to succeed in New York City it must do more than just good legal work: The partners will need to generate business. They must draw attention to themselves and their name.
Become a member of your law school's alumni association. Have an announcement printed about the new firm in the most recent alumni newsletter.
Use all available technologies to establish the firm's presence on the Internet. Consider taking time and starting a blog about an up-and-coming legal subject, offering elementary advice while giving readers contact information to follow up with questions.
Explore all marketing options through social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. These are cost effective ways to establish a brand.
Older attorneys and more established law firms tend to be slow to adopt the newest trends and use them to their benefit. While these tools may not land a Fortune 500 company as a client, it's a great place to start to build a client base.
Do not limit clients to one geographical area. Many established firms are slow to expand beyond their city limits. By traveling to meet a client outside of the immediate area, a firm shows a commitment to that client. As a result, the client will be more likely to recommend the firm to friends and colleagues.
Use all available resources in order to achieve the goal. A young lawyer should not hesitate to call an older family friend for a favor or press a friend for a referral.
Many established attorneys and larger firms routinely turn away clients that cannot afford their fees or matters that to them are small. You can call and befriend established practitioners and see if they can refer the smaller cases and potential clients that cannot afford their fees to you. As a new law firm, you will not have the overhead costs of larger firms and as a result can handle the matter for a smaller fee and still make a profit.
Opening a law firm is more than a job; it is a lifestyle. While you may not always be sitting at your desk or in court, you are always working. Every person you meet should be seen as a potential referral or future client.
ARE YOU DELAYING THE RIGHT DREAM?
If you are a recent law school graduate and certain that you want to open your own law firm right now, then going to work for a different law firm only postpones your dreams.
Most attorneys never achieve their goal of opening their own firm, and as the years go by their careers take on a different path. When they are finally ready to leave positions at larger firms and establish their own, they have families and mortgages and are unable to take the risk.
When considering whether this is the right choice for you, remember the words of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."
If you, as a newly minted law school graduate, have the right attitude, confidence and skills, and put in the amount of work necessary to succeed, you can achieve your goal of opening a law firm directly from law school.
By Adam Seth Turkis, a founding partner of the Manhattan law firm Turk & Davidoff.