For breakfast, I had a plea deal and four billable hours. For lunch and dinner, I'm having an eight-hour shift of blogging. Why do I do both? My day job allows me to watch Justice Scalia lose his mind and to express outrage at Georgia's attempts to execute a mentally disabled man with bootleg-ish lethal injection drugs. My law practice allows me to help people who otherwise couldn't afford counsel and gives me practice experience.
It has its drawbacks. When cases hit critical states, I can find myself working eighty hour weeks. Billing and collections can be a massive pain, though that is alleviated quite a bit by using modern cloud-practice management software.
If you're practicing for the right reasons, and your day job is amenable to the occasional schedule-shift, practicing part-time is completely feasible. Here are some tips I've learned along the way.
It's all about having a very accommodating boss. You might have to take a phone call in the middle of the day. There might be a last minute hearing. If your boss needs you to be chained to your desk from 9 to 5, you won't be able to practice any area of law that requires court appearances. There's always estate planning, however.
This is the most difficult part. Prepare for the occasional long night or wasted weekend. If you are already experienced in a practice area, stick to that, as it'll keep the marathon practice guide perusals to a minimum. If you are entering a new practice area, prepare to give up your social life for as long as it takes to "catch up" to competency.
One more tip: have friends in the business. There are no manuals on local court procedures. You can save a lot of time by calling a mentor.
Openness With Clients
My clients know that I work a full-time research-and-writing gig for FindLaw. They know that sometimes, I won't be able to answer their midday calls (though I'm quite good at texting or returning calls in the afternoons). They accept my busy schedule, in large part, because I charge very reasonable rates and because I do the small things, like meeting them near their workplace and providing both flexible payment options and detailed, easy to understand bills.
Practicing law is a service industry. Customer service should be your top priority. If you treat them right, they're not going to care if you can't answer their phone call at 2:00 p.m.
Picking the Right Clients
Some matters aren't amenable to part-time practice. Felony cases or a contested divorce with child custody issues are bad ideas. Smaller issues, like debt collection defense and misdemeanor DUIs, handled a case or two at a time, are better.
Also, avoid high-maintenance clients! If you have a staff to parry the incessant phone calls and emails, they might be worth the pain, but I'm solo and my docket is constantly full.
If you're practicing law on the side to get rich, think again. Most solo attorneys will tell you that, even as a full-time lawyer, you'll probably be "comfortable" at best.
Part-time practice has to be for the right reasons. Maybe you want practical experience. Perhaps your plotting a new career path. For me, I simply enjoy helping friends-of-friends, who cannot afford the market rate in Silicon Valley, with their relatively minor legal issues.
- Handling Difficult Clients: Three Strategies (FindLaw's Strategist Blog)
- Small Firm Startup: Straight Out of School? 4 Tips (FindLaw's Strategist Blog)
- Beating Billing Blunders: Former Bar President's Cautionary Tale (FindLaw's Strategist Blog)