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In Brief: Thinking of hanging out a shingle? Practical tips on solo practice


If you’re thinking of opening your own practice after graduation, solo lawyer Branigan Robertson has some encouraging words for you—and some practical tips.

Robertson started his firm right out of law school, in a difficult economy and with a contingency fee structure, and now has a thriving practice in plaintiff’s employment law. How did he do that? Here are a few of the tips he offers in a post called “How I started my own law firm right after law school,” a tBusiness Insider (

Plan ahead. While he was still in law school, Robertson wrote detailed business and marketing plans, including financials, market analysis, mission statement, competitive advantages, and a realistic view of how long it would be before the firm could break even. Then he asked a few solo lawyers to critique his plan.

Focus, focus, focus. By focusing, you will develop expertise and won’t be competing with every other lawyer. Pick one or two areas of law, maximum, he advises, and plan your clerkships and other practical experiences around those.

Build a referral network. Tell everyone you know that you plan to start a law firm, and in what area of law. Take lawyers who practice in that area out to lunch. Also get to know lawyers who practice in areas other than the one you’ve chosen—those are potentially the lawyers who will refer cases to you.

Better exams through time management

If you felt rushed during your first semester exams, Lee Burgess at Law School Toolbox ( has two tips that might help you prioritize your time better this time around. No, not during study and prep—during the exam itself.

In a post called “Wasting time on your law school exam?” Burgess advises:

Don’t spend too much time on rule statements. You’ve probably spent hours outlining and memorizing rules, Burgess writes—so it’s only natural to want to wow your professor with how many rules you know. But the problem is, if you spend too long on your rule statements, you’ll have less time for analysis—which Burgess said is much more important. Look for ways to shorten your rule statements, especially if they tend to be longer than your analysis.

Don’t spend too much time on minor issues. Some issues on a law school exam are simple and should be taken care of with fairly quick analysis, so you can move on to the ones that require more time. How can you tell what the major issues are? Look for the ones that have “ambiguous facts and the ability to argue both sides,” Burgess writes. “Those are going to get you many more points than the lengthy analysis of a simple issue.”

Yes, your grades can improve

Now, about your habits before the exam: It’s never too late to work on time management, organization, and other skills that can help bring your grades up.

That’s according to Amy Jarmon, assistant dean for academic success programs at Texas Tech University School of Law. “Some law students get discouraged and settle for being average or below average as though their destiny is fixed after grades come out,” Jarmon writes in a post called “Moving forward for improvement in grades” at Law School Academic Support Blog (

One problem, Jarmon believes, is that you may not have learned good study habits during undergrad or high school. A number of factors, such as multiple choice tests and “spoon feeding” of information to be tested, make it possible to do well in school without learning those habits, she explains.

That doesn’t cut it in law school (as you may have discovered already). But take heart. “Students can improve their grades wherever they currently fall in their classes,” Jarmon writes. “All students can change their strategies and gain greater learning with less stress.”

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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