Starting a Law Practice Without Experience

How does an attorney acquire clients and build a reputation without experience? It is an all too common conundrum! 

Embedded in this quandary are other questions.  How does a newly licensed attorney get experience practicing any area of law?  How does an attorney wanting to change career paths get experience in a new practice area?  I just reviewed the State Bar of Texas Career Center’s posting for the eight featured legal jobs and all of them require some experience in the job’s practice area.  The requirements varied from 1-2 to 5-7 years of experience.

One confidential posting for a real estate attorney piqued my interest.  The featured posting is for a transaction attorney with 1-2 years prior experience. While this does not address the conundrum, it does provide an excellent summary of what it takes to be hired.

The posting sets out a job description with the kind of work involved.  It then describes the required skillset and personal characteristics – excellent writing skills, diligence, independence, and time management skills. 

Finally, it provides a call to action for the job seeker:

“This position is ideal for an attorney with a long term interest in developing their [sic] own practice, and the firm offers a fast partnership track for productive associates.”

I found this last element most intriguing.  It addresses the value of hiring associates who understand the importance of developing their own clients and who will stay with the law firm as a partner representing those clients.  This is “where the rubber meets the road.”  Every attorney seeking a position should market her or his understanding of the importance of developing clients for the firm.

Is the conundrum resolved?  I submit that only rarely does an applicant have all of the stated qualifications.  An applicant who doesn’t apply for a position because of the inability to check all the boxes is selling herself or himself short.  Why shouldn’t an attorney with no prior experience in the practice area who (i) is interested in assisting in transaction matters, (ii) has excellent writing skills, and (iii) is hard-working, independent, and responsive with excellent time management skills, apply for this position, especially when that attorney can make a strong case for valuing client development skills?  While I am not the hiring partner at this or any law firm, I think most hiring partners will entertain a cogent pitch on an attorney’s understanding of, and interest in, client development.

Another suggestion for law students and attorneys is to get experience any way you can—seek internships or other related employment opportunities at, in this particular case, banks, mortgage companies, title companies, or real estate brokerage firms.  

Lastly, ask for help and advice from established lawyers. You can pay it forward later.

Signature of Sara Dysart.