An Immigration Lawyer Stands Out...Overseas
Here's a story about Maria Celebi, a U.S. immigration lawyer with an interesting niche: she works outside of the country. After ten years of immigration practice in the United States, Celebi, along with her husband and two young children, moved to Turkey after an economic downturn in Silicon Valley.
Celebi's husband used the move to launch a new technology business. And three years later, Celesi has established a law practice in Turkey. And as the only certified U.S. immigration lawyer not just in Turkey, but also in Greece and the Middle East (with the exception of Israel), Celesi has cornered the regional market.
Granted, moving to a foreign country to practice law is an extreme way to build a practice. But Celesi's story shows that if you're committed to building your practice, you can find a way to make it happen...anywhere in the world.
Real Sisters In Law
Sisters don't have to marry a pair of brothers to become sisters in law to each other. As this article, Sisters in law: Siblings Keep legal matters all in the family (Arizona Business Gazette 8/24/06), sisters Hope Kirsch and Lori Kirsch-Goodwin became sisters in law (or sisters at law) when they decided to hang out their own shingle together.
We're all familiar with law practices comprised of parent and son or daughters and there are other sibling firms as well, such as this one I mentioned years ago. Any other readers involved in a family practice (not counting spouses). Send your comments below and let us know whether it's something you would recommend.
You Can Take It [Biglaw Practice] With You
Many large firm lawyers think that if they hang a shingle. they'll have to throw away their biglaw specialities, like securities regulation or merger practice and trade it in for more general practice fare, like family law or criminal practice. But at least one solo attorney, Walter James, of the newly created Environmental Crimes Blog shows us that it doesn't have to be this way, with a post about how some of the best environmental work (traditionally regarded as the domain of biglaw) is being handled by solos and small firms.
The benefits of going with a small firm? Lots of expertise for a lower price.
So if you're toiling at a large firm, dreaming of the solo life, think of ways that you can take your $400/hour expertise (of which you may see 25 percent, if that much) and transplant it at your own law firm.
Tips for Family Law Practitioners
Though not every family law case ends up like this one, nonetheless, family law cases are often fraught with more emotion and problems than any other type of case. Clients often come with misinformation about the process and unreasonable expectations about how much the case should cost.
While trends such as collaborative lawyering may address some of these problems in the long run, this article, Enlightening Family Law Clients (National Law Journal 6/26/06) has some ideas for the short term. Authors Mary Kay Kisthardt and Barbara Handschu advise that you provide clients with as much information as possible on family court proceedings, to keep records of client communications in writing, return phone calls and draft a retainer that allows you to withdraw from the case if the client fails to pay.
What other tips do you have for making family law cases more manageable for lawyers and their clients?
Why Solo Practice is Like A Box of Chocolates
What I love most about solo practice is that, to quote Forrest Gump, it's like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get. And as this article, Big Case for Fledgling Lawyer, Don Thompson, AP (3/19/06) bears out, you just might get the case of your life eighteen months out of law school. That's what's happened to Wazhma Mojaddidi, a young Muslim lawyer of Aghan descent, who's now representing Hamid Hayat, on trial in U.S. District on charges that he attended a terrorist training camp and lied about it to investigators.
From all accounts, Mojaddiddi is holding her own, though the judge "is impatient with her for her evident inexperience in cross-examinations and rules of evidence, frequently schooling her on how she should phrase questions to a government witness." But that kind of on the job experience is the best way to learn, far better, than Mojaddiddi's peers at large firms buried under stacks of documents. And Mojaddiddi isn't entirely on her own - her client's father is also standing trial for similar counts and represented by a more seasoned attorney who shares his substantive experience while Mojaddiddi brings her familiarity with cultural and Muslim issues to the table.
A Niche for Lawyers Who Want to Get AHead (of lettuce, that is!)
Here's an article, Lawyers' ads seek to grow ag business, Silicon Valley (March 10, 2006) about a firm with an agriculture-based practice that's embarking on a new marketing campaign that brands the firm as Lettuce Lawyers - Together We Grow. It's a neat name, with lots of potential for other taglines, such as Lettuce Help You Get Ahead or Our Firm Can Help You "Leaf" Your Legal Problems Behind. Seriously, I am always amazed by the number of potential lawyer niche opportunities that you never heard of in law school.
A Supreme Solo No More
As more law firm bloggers turn solo (including this one), Supreme small firm lawyer Tom Goldstein, bucks the trend with his recent announcement that he's moving on to join a large firm. I've got mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, Tom's move is testament to my belief that solo practice can take you anywhere and create opportunities you'd have never had. Prior to founding his firm in 1999, Tom worked at a large, then midsized firm where chances are, he'd have been lucky to argue one case before the Supreme Court. On his own, as of May 2005, Tom has argued forteen, which has bought him unparalled experience that he's used to write his own ticket at a large firm. No reason why Tom's model can't work for any other lawyer toiling at biglaw - you can leave, develop a niche practice area and return on your own terms.
On the other hand, after reading Tom's analysis of trends in Supreme Court litigation, I couldn't help but wonder about the prospects for solo and small firm lawyers to ever achieve the dream of a Supreme Court argument or whether a phenomenon like this one is really a once-in-a-blue moon event. There's almost no way that a solo or small firm lawyer can compete with either biglaw or clinic law Supreme Court practice - the clinics, funded by law schools and powered by super smart students, can afford to take cases for free. And with competition among large firms for a Supreme Court practice, they can also afford to offer bargain basement rates (or work for free) for clients who can't pay just to add another Supreme Court case to their roster. (As anectodal evidence of this predatory trend, a solo colleague of mine is representing a client whose case was granted cert at the court and within hours, had received two calls offering to take the case for free, so long as the firm would argue it).
None of this would be so bad, except that in most situations, many case wouldn't even be in play at the court were it not for the solo or small firm attorney who took it and pursued it to begin with. Seems that there should be some options - like reasonably priced consulting or second chair service - that a solo or small firm lawyer can use if he wants to take his case to the next level. I know that Goldstein's firm originally carved out this niche; I'm just not sure who's going to replace it.
Counsel on "Of Counsel" Agreements
Frequently, either in emails to this site or on my listserves, I see questions by lawyers asking about "of counsel" arrangements, from how to find these relationships to what kind of contract should be used to memorialize them. So I was happy to see that
Dennis Kennedy has done the work for us with this recent post on resources for an of counsel arrangement. Thanks Dennis - this will surely be indispensable to many lawyers.
Two More Niche Practice Ideas
On the surface, the two articles that I'm linking in this post have nothing in common or nothing to do with solo practice. But if you look deeper, you'll see the obvious connection: both offer ideas for niche practice. This article, Lawyer's specialty: Advice for gay, unmarried couples, Pittsburgh Post Gazette (2/27/06) describes a biglaw attorney who specializes in "non-traditional family law practice," while this article,
Senate discusses DS, legal services (2/27/2006), reports on a University of North Dakota student meeting that discussed the possibility of allocating $40,000 to retain an attorney to deal with student legal issues.
Serving students or non-traditional families are both niches. Would they work for you?
Kevin O'Keefe of Lex Blog has a post on niche blogging, summarizing tips by Darren Rowse on choosing a niche topic. The tips include selecting a topic that interests you, where there's not yet much competition and which will offer enough content. These tips are particularly important these days in starting a law related blog, where many of the larger subjects like federal appeals, Supreme Court, IP (too many to list) and others are well covered by other bloggers.
One great example of a new niche blog is Andrea Goldman's newly created Home Contractor v. Homeowner, focusing on home improvement and construction law. What a home run! With housing pricing increasing, home improvement is becoming more and moe common and it's an area where so many things can go wrong. Legally, home improvement is interesting, allowing for coverage of a wide range of issues like like contracts and consumer law, bankruptcy and real estate.
By the way, here's my own personal suggestion for selecting a niche blogging topic. After you come up with an idea, run a couple of google news searches to see what kinds of articles generate. If there are at least two or three on your topic in a week, then you'll probably have enough content to keep you busy.