Volume 18, Number 7
October/November 2001

The Chair's Corner

A Fulfilling Gig

By George R. Ripplinger

This issue I'd like to extend a special welcome to our law student members. Law students are the fastest growing segment of our membership. It's encouraging to see the interest from law students in what we as solo and small firm lawyers believe to be the most fulfilling and largest segment of the bar.

Most of you are going to end up practicing in a solo or small firm setting, according to available statistics. You just may not know it yet. Hopefully, our Section's publications and other member benefits will help you get ready for that experience and get you through it in the years ahead.

It's been a long time since I was a law student. I left the law building across from the cemetery in Champaign, Illinois, more than 31 years ago. The building itself has changed so much I wouldn't recognize it if the cemetery were not still there.

And yet, I imagine many law professors there and at most other law schools are still encouraging law students to aspire to be an associate in a large law firm. I'm sure that the carrot of $100,000+ starting salaries is an even greater motivator. Let me for a minute espouse a different career path for you, dear law students. The best job in the world after graduation, in my not-so-humble opinion, is as an associate for a solo practitioner or in a small law firm.

You probably won't represent General Motors, although some small firms do have mega clients if they have a narrow specialty area. You will, however, know most of your clients personally, and will experience the satisfaction of building long-term relationships with people who not only like your work but also like you. They won't dump you to save $.50 an hour on the work you're doing for them either-usually.

You probably won't get paid $125,000 per year to start, but you also probably won't be expected to bill 2,000-plus hours a year or to work 60 to 70 hours a week to keep your job. You might even recognize your spouse at the end of the first year of practice and see your children when they are awake.

You will be given responsibility in the firm immediately. You won't be locked in the library for the next five years. You'll get to go to court and have your name on the letters and documents that you draft. You will have a relationship with the other lawyers in the firm. They'll even know your name.

I can still remember the day my bar exam results arrived. The senior partner in our small, four-person firm was in Springfield, our state capital, on that day. He called to find out if I had passed the bar exam. When I told him I had, he told me to bring my parents and my wife to Supreme Court Justice Crebs' chambers the next day to be immediately sworn in. The day after that, I was in court with a client, on my own. Three months later, I tried my first jury trial, on my own. That sure beats spending years in the library or being a go-fer for a junior partner.

One last word. You generally won't get a job with a solo or small firm by just sending out your resume. Okay, you might if you're in the top 10 percent of your class or one of your parents is a judge or the mayor of the town where you're looking for employment. But most solo and small firm lawyers hire an associate because, after sending his or her resume, the young lawyer follows up with a phone call or a visit to our office for an informational interview.

Generally, it's a relatively easy thing to get in to talk to the hiring partner of a small firm or a solo's office even if they're not in the market for a new associate. Most of us are happy to talk to young lawyers and give them what advice we can in their search for employment. It is usually a good source of information regarding who's looking for work and who to stay away from. There are some places you really don't want to work-for all sorts of reasons.

So, welcome to the Section. I hope you'll stay. I hope we'll meet some day and if you decide to go into solo or small

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