Setting up an Independent Legal Practice: Know-How

Working independently without the support of a senior can certainly look like a daunting task. However, doing your research properly and exploring all the options before making such a decision can go a long way in helping you succeed. Let’s find out more about this path so that you can make an informed decision.

Guiding your way:

Jayant Bhatt

An independent lawyer based out of New Delhi, India with a dual Master’s of Law degree from New York University and National University of Singapore.

He is also a member of the Supreme Court Bar Association and Delhi High Court Bar Association.

Working independently without the support of a senior can certainly look like a daunting task. However, doing your research properly and exploring all the options before making such a decision can go a long way in helping you succeed. Let’s find out more about this path so that you can make an informed decision.

1. Always consider the influencing factors

There are three factors one must keep in mind while deciding to set up an independent legal practice namely:

  • I. Valuable Experience as a junior

  • II. Finances should be in order

  • III. Self-Confidence

While thinking upon the financial aspect, what one is expected to have is some sort of savings either in terms of one’s family supporting him/her, or if one has previously worked in an industry because you are required to have a basic cushion in order to sustain.

2. Deciding upon the area(s) of practice

There is a famous saying that ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ which indicates that when you are actually starting your own practice you don’t really have much of a choice. One is practically expected to take whatever cases come their way in order to build a clientele. Even if you want to be a lawyer specializing say in criminal law or civil law, it won’t mean that such clientele will be available to you right after you start practicing independently. So initially one is required to be patient enough and start confidently with as much as you can get on your hands and then, moving forward, develop and target a specific clientele for the purpose of practicing in a specific field. Also, the element of luck cannot be ignored, but in the end, you just need to keep trying.

For instance, if you want to set a practice in criminal law, you can start by approaching various police stations and informing them of your practice. However, it is also required to have some sort of experience in the area you want to pursue because merely deciding to pursue a path without any prior knowledge would lead to a catastrophe.

3. Building your referral network

In order to build a referral network, one needs to put in constant effort. You need to make it a part of your daily routine. Reaching out to friends, family members, acquaintances, your connections from your law background, talking with different people, and publicizing your practice via different mediums and conversations. All such efforts help you build a strong network while also spreading a word about your practice to as many people as possible.

Building a brand image for your practice is really important. People always notice what kind of personality you have and how you deal with cases in court. This makes up the face value of your practice thereby helping you increase your network further. One needs to remember that advertising via paid commercials is not allowed for law professionals, it needs to be done only by meeting more and more people and asking your connections to spread the word. Networking is a subtle art of asking for work in the long run.

4. How to charge your clients

For deciding how much would be feasible for a lawyer to charge per case once they start practicing would vary from case to case in terms of their client’s legal budget, their willingness to pay, their background, etc. One can also directly ask the client about their financial position and then decide how much would be suitable to charge them.

For instance, if it is a big company approaching you to handle their case, then you can charge them a significantly higher amount as compared to a new start-up which is struggling itself in terms of finances which means it won’t be able to pay you much.

Key factors to keep in mind

1. The ideal time

The decision to set up one’s own legal practice needs to be well thought. It is not at all advisable to do so right after graduation as it wont bear any fruit. One needs to have the experience as a lawyer for at least 5 years by either working under some senior lawyer or with a law firm or any other place in the industry for that matter. Such experience is required to learn different traits and acquire skills which you just cant go out and buy from someone. It only comes with experience.

Success is a continuous process. If you are proud of what you do and constantly meet your goals, you are successful. Every lawyer has a different range of clientele and a different set of goals, so there is no strait jacket formula to fit them all in one mould of success. Success is a very relative term.

2. The art of avoiding and retaining

Such an art can go a long way in your success if you know what are certain mistakes you can avoid and what are certain qualities you need to retain in order to reap efficiency. However, such is not always the case, especially not in setting up an independent practice.

Do not avoid any mistakes in the process. If you do not make mistakes you won’t know what to avoid and how to learn from them. While in the process it is extremely important to be hardworking and sincere to your work, and constantly work towards your goals.

Just out of your law school and facing unemployment with huge student debts? Read further:

It has certainly become difficult for freshers to secure good jobs during this pandemic but considering a student is out of a job before this situation even started, they should always be open to any and every kind of opportunity. Such student shouldn’t be hell bent on taking only a particular kind of job, be it in litigation, corporate or any other.

Similarly, they shouldn’t be too choosy as to what kind of firm they want to work with (whether or not Tier 1). First and foremost, the goal should be to pay off their student debt as soon as possible. They can also look for opportunities in NGOs, think tanks, research positions with professors, etc. Law is a lifelong process; you can still be a lawyer in your field of choice 4-5 years down the line but initially it is important to pay off the debts because you need to have some cushion.

One can’t be a millionaire in debt because in such situations you wont be able to focus on the quality of work you deliver or the efforts you put in. It is a hard reality that law schools do not teach you how to tackle such situations but you need to remember that in the end it’s only you who can help you get out of any such situations.

A piece of advice:

Don’t be in a rush. Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon; it takes time to reach your desired destination. A person needs to be aware of the kind of economies that are going to affect their practice and at the same time they should be mindful of human psychology to develop a clientele which will benefit them in the long run. Knowledge of such things only comes to you by practice and experience so don’t rush towards anything and certainly do not look for shortcuts.

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