Practice Strategies:
Stepping Out on Your Own

Part Three: The Importance of a Good Professional Development Plan

By Gretchen Otto


Good mentors are essential to developing excellent business prospects and staying out of malpractice trouble. Joan M. Schulkers reiterated the old law school adage that law practice is a group effort. She urges new lawyers to set up a network of senior lawyer advisors to rely on when seeking advice on legal issues. When submitting important legal memoranda, for example, Schulkers feels it is often crucial to have “another set of eyes.” But how does one set up such a network? Try following the practices below to set up a network and to begin to develop as a professional.

  • Your bar association may sponsor a program that allows you to consult, free of charge, with a lawyer who is experienced and specialized in your area of inquiry.
  • Form informal mentoring relationships with more experienced lawyers you meet at court.
  • Join Inns of Court or other organizations that foster relationships with you and the senior bar. Many experienced lawyers would be most happy to help you deal with a new legal issue.
  • Call upon senior alumni from your law school who live in your area.
  • Stay in touch with your law professors, and get to know your local bar leaders. They will soon learn they can count on you for referrals in your specialty area, too.
Good Results from a Good Plan

Joseph Borman and Schulkers now have a thriving practice that includes family law, estate planning, general litigation, securities fraud, consumer law, and intellectual property. Borman’s schedule is flexible enough to accommodate staying at home two days a week to care for his three- and five-year-old children, and he enjoys traveling with his wife. He now benefits from the monetary rewards of a successful practice. Schulkers also enjoys a similarly rewarding and satisfying career. The combined overhead for the two partners remains minimal, allowing them to concentrate on offering high-quality legal services to their clients.

You, too, can achieve this level of job satisfaction with some persistence, advance planning, and creative thinking.

Gretchen Otto is a lawyer and freelance writer living in Northern Virginia. She can be reached at
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