How to Get a Job in a Small Law Firm
By Richard Mitchell, ABA GPSolo Law Student Committee Member
I had the opportunity to attend the ABA GPSolo National Solo & Small Firm Conference in Los Angeles from October 15–17. Hundreds of attorneys from across the country attended this event. Having attended the ABA Annual Meeting this summer in Chicago, I found this event to be another example of the ABA’s excellent programming in support of attorneys. In this case, the event focused on solo and small firm practitioners.
Working with the ABA GPSolo Division, I had the opportunity to develop a preconference workshop for law students at Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles entitled “How to Get a Job in a Small Law Firm.” There were 30 students registered for the event the day before the workshop; however, 70 students showed up for the panel discussion. With five attorney panelists and a moderator, the students had the opportunity to hear about the pitfalls and highlights from experienced attorneys as they went about setting up their firms, breaking away from large firms, and a host of other issues that concern solo and small firm practitioners. One of the attorneys who participated in the panel was the defense attorney for Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber), and the moderator was the former executive director of the State Bar of Texas Association. The panelists’ stories, both during the panel and one-on-one afterward, were inspiring.
The high attendance at the panel discussion was indicative of law students’ concerns about career opportunities. The panelists confirmed their fears. It is a very tough job market, but not one that attorneys haven’t dealt with before. In the early 70s, in the early 90s, and now in 2009, serious downturns in the economy affected the ability of law firms to hire and of law students to find work. The panelists were exceptionally positive, however, about the opportunities available for entrepreneurs to enter the marketplace in this environment. As the economy continues to be in distress, consumers head to traditionally less-expensive attorneys—who are frequently found in towns and cities as solo and small firm practitioners. As opportunities constrict in larger firms, the opportunities for creative entrepreneurs to enter this field grow. Because of the interest of law students in this area, the ABA GPSolo Division would like to bring this workshop to your school. If you are interested in coordinating a similar event, please contact Justin Silverman, ABA GPSolo Law Student Committee Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those of you who have never considered running your own business, you might wish to give it some serious thought. The panelists spoke of the many benefits of self-management, setting their own schedules, choosing their own staff, and investigating and implementing new technologies without going through layers of corporate bureaucracy. In terms of feeling connected to your colleagues, I highly recommend joining the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division. The division is exceptionally friendly, very professional, yet far more laid back than the ABA in general. Best of all, law student membership to the GPSolo Division is free for current ABA law student members! Just go to http://americanbar.org/groups/gpsolo/resources/law_student.html for more information.
Attending the conference made me confident that, even if I practice law on my own, I’ll always have very easy access to many other professionals within this organization who share my concerns.