Saturday, January 11, 2014

Yes, Starting Your Own Firm is Realistic

Hosted by the business savants at Business Insider, 29-year old Branigan Robertson tells all how he started his own firm out of law school.  Branigan is a 2012 graduate of Chapman University and he has started his own employment law firm in Orange County.
1. Ignore the People Who Say You Can’t
The reason why this is number one is that 98% of your law school classmates, lawyers, and professors honestly believe you can’t. Ignore them. Many attorneys are pessimists by nature and love to tell people what they can’t do. They never tried it so they don’t know. If you believe them, there is zero chance you’ll succeed. I’ve done it, and I know you can do it, too.
Branigan understands that differences is personality, connections, and financial support are irrelevant.  He did it.  You can do it.  Anyone who says you can't - like the people who tell you not to go to law school - are all pessimists.

When I tell you that you should not jump off of a six-story building because there's a good chance you won't be around for awhile, I'm really just being a pessimist.  Ignore me.

Likewise, it's essential that you pick the right area of law:
[T]he clientele in plaintiff’s personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, employment law, and family law (to name a few), are, for the most part, individuals who have never worked with a lawyer. They are not extremely picky. They are simply looking for someone who cares, who is competent, and who believes in their case.
You don't need to be an excellent attorney, or take the time to train with excellent attorneys.  You just have to be like Jesus and get people to believe in you.  Just open a church, and you'll have contingency clients ready to tithe their compensation.

And you need to believe in yourself:
You can do it. You can do it even if you have mountains of debt, a growing family, a low GPA, or a dwindling bank account. Trust me, you can do it.
Especially if you have a growing family and a dwindling bank account, starting up your own business in a saturated and narrow field selling little more than your inflated charisma seems like a grand idea.

Oh, by the way, you'll need a little bit of money:
You also need to save up a small nest egg. Depending on the area of law you choose (see below), it may be 4-6 months before you start seeing any revenues
Emphasis added, so that no one misreads and thinks he's talking about "profits."  But I'm sure if you look around, you'll see that you have 4-6 months worth of funding lying around, as pretty much everyone does if you just cut going out to eat and don't buy a new television set and car every year.


  1. Somebody in the world must have borrowed a fortune that he or she had no ability to repay, then gone to the race track and bet it all on a long-shot horse known for losing race and race. And then said horse, defying all reasonable expectations, actually won the race, paying off big-time!

    What is needed is for that person to come forward and write books and articles telling EVERYONE ELSE to borrow a fortune they have no ability to repay, then go to the racetrack, and bet it all on a long-shot horse known for losing race after race. The person can modestly say some variant of: "If I can do it, anybody can."

  2. Well said. I love how the money thing is thrown in at the end, as if it is irrelevant to starting up your own business and not determinative. I once had a similar discussion with an individual who was insisting I could start my own law firm. I emphasized that at the time, I did not think it was financially feasible, as I had absolutely no income in my bank account and of course, due to student loans, would not qualify for any additional loans. (At that time, I had $24 in my bank account and was working a temporary job making $9.50 an hour and all my income was going to staying alive.)

    This individual emphasized that you did not need any money to start a law firm if you focused on starting small - he admonished me for thinking too big and insisted that that was the problem with all new graduates today: they believed that starting your own business meant you had to rent office space in a highrise.

    He then proceeded to tell me that if I started small I could find office space for as low as $900 a month. He then proceeded to tell me that with just as little as a few thousand dollars, I could open my own law firm - he didn't understand why I didn't do it tommorow! He and I, I guess, had differering opinions on what it meant to have absolutely no money in one's bank account. For him, having a stash of several grand meant you had no money in your bank account (but could still open a law firm), where for me, no money in my bank account meant just that: I had less than I needed to pay for food that week.

    For some people, no money in the bank means they really have several thousand grand lying around and simply just don't want to make the effort to invest it in their own business. He couldn't actually fathom that when I said I had no money in the bank, I meant just that. It's amazing how privilege changes your attitude and viewpoint on things.

    1. To be clear, the money thing is thrown in randomly in Branigan's 2nd point, and I moved it to the end of my piece.

      But it's buried in the article and the tone makes start-up cash an afterthought, when, in reality, it's one of three reasons why this simply isn't feasible for 95+% of graduates.

      Particularly in contingency work. Let's say you start a firm with 5k seed capital operating out of mom's basement. If you file a contingency suit, you're paying the expenses. That $5k will probably be gone before any of your cases pay out.

    2. Damn, I wish I had a mom with a basement! Even a moldering basement...

  3. The sad part of Mr. Robertson's advice is that those who follow it will be offering the naïve and needy incompetent legal representation. Most law school graduates have very little practical experience. My personal estimate is that it takes about five years of practice under the supervision of a competent mentor to gain the expertise to represent a client solo. A person just out of law school doesn't even know enough to know what they don't know: form books don't help the new graduate screen for potential problems, "uncontested" divorces rarely are, "simple" wills are land mines, and even "clear cut" cases of personal injury or medical malpractice require the financial resources to withstand the for-hire experts and skilled tactics a typical insurance company can readily bring to bear to fight a claim. Further, the cost of malpractice insurance, CLE training, and basic office necessities (rent, paper, postage, computer, phone, access to on-line research, etc.) cost thousands a month. Hanging out a shingle is VERY, VERY different that actually practicing competent law.

  4. His referral network idea seems to be not terrible advice. If Bob the PI lawyer's client all of a sudden has a rental law issue Bob might refer the client to another lawyer. Why the other lawyer would be this recent law school grad I don't know exactly, but some other lawyer may get the case.

    I'm not going to hate too much on Mr. Robertson because he did teach me something. That something by the way is never retain a lawyer from a new firm that has only one lawyer.