What my first year has taught me.
It has been quite some time since my last (and umm, first entry) entry on here. Looking back it has been a whirlwind first couple of years and I thought I would just put down some of the lessons learned as a new attorney in the Eastern Maine area.
Opening my own practice was not easy, but it was doable. It required lots of forethought and planning to make it happen - especially as a new attorney coming out of law school. Having your ducks in a row with all of the administrative and logistical aspects of operating your own law office did not just happen. It required countless conversations, dare I say to the point of being annoying to peers and guru type practitioners. Thankfully almost all were very willing to help and offer nuggets of wisdom. Having mentor type persons in any field is a huge benefit and precursor to survival as a new attorney. Many thanks to those whom I have been able to ask questions of and bounce ideas off from.
Finding the right office space is another pretty important step that I was lucky enough to overcome. I could not have asked for a better location, office and landlord than the one I have now. It was very important to me that the space be professional and located in an area that was somewhat private. Check to both conditions!
Be prepared for a roller coaster ride in terms of clients and free time. My first few months were a snails pace. This was nice in that it allowed me to dip my toes in the legal water slowly and take in the process without feeling like I was being thrust through a meat grinder of the professional legal system. What happened since that time is and has been surprising. If anyone doubts how important referrals are, let me tell you that if you work hard, are honest and provide quality services to your clients, they will pass your name along to others. I have been seeing more and more former client referrals in the last 6-8 months. It is pleasing to have someone come in and say that I was recommended by a former client whom they know. So from the quiet lull of my humble beginnings I am now confronted with the problem of "Do I have enough time?"
Some new attorneys, I have heard tell, feel as if they have to take all cases that come through the door. Thankfully I am starting my legal career after having a prior successful career as an educator. I feel it has placed me in a better position to dictate just how busy I am, and thus how much time I have to dedicate to each client I do represent. I am not, nor do I have any desire to stretch myself to the point where I feel my clients are not getting my full attention. As a small office I want to help all that come through my door, but not at the expense to those I have already given my word to represent. This is not the slow portion of that roller coaster ride!
I would just put down a couple of additional things that come to mind as lessons learned over the last couple of years. First, it is always a good idea to tour the court house(s) you will be working in and developing a good relationship with the clerks. Clerks are your friend and can be extremely helpful with gaining knowledge of the process - and where to find forms! Second, read a book on how to do the administrative tasks required of any business office. Learn, ahead of time, the software you will be using. Spend the time to test several different software packages prior to choosing one. Go with the one that is not just cost effective, but the one that is user friendly (which will ultimately save you time and thus money).
I have been fortunate to have some great clients, who make it easy to represent, to start my career. When a client is open and honest upfront with me about the facts and what they are really looking to accomplish, it allows me to do my job more effectively. This allows me to get them the best possible outcome - which is really what they want!
Lastly, it is important to remember that you only have this one life to live. Spend the time you can on the important things in your life - like a hallmark card and the rest will work itself out. I was fortunate enough to travel to Thailand and Cambodia last summer with family. It never ceases to amaze me how eye opening a different culture can be. From a land ripe with democracy and personal freedoms I ventured to lands where the standard of living and what was acceptable for personal rights are vastly different. Yet throughout all of the obvious differences between our cultures it is still quite heartening to find that the real treasure found are those things that we share. I had funny conversations with street vendors selling trinkets, and some serious discussions with people who held a worried perspective of how our (American) elections might change their world. A father with his two children expressed his fears of what might come, which was followed by my short snippet on democracy and how we still adhere to our constitution and shared principles. I found the most humane elephant rescue center I could in some great Indiana Jones type effort to take a ride on an elephant. And then I fell off landing in about a solid foot and a half of "mountain mud." At the same time I was happy to be supporting the rescue center and all of the good people doing work there - including a volunteer from New York who was more than happy to share her thoughts of my attempt to ride said elephant. We visited Angkor Wat (picture above) and toured the ruins with a local guide we hired and who was more than happy to have the work - it has been some time since Tomb Raider and Jolie visited and things were slow there. He explained quite a bit about how the United States and its business interests have come to play an important role in the creation of roads and factories in his country. I am always amazed at how connected we, as Americans, really are with those around the world and how the vast - and I mean vast majority of those that I have come in contact with look up to and admire Americans and what we stand for. Lesson - take the time to vacation and spend quality time with your friends and family!!
Till next time - Matt