Solo but Not Alone: Why Being Part of a Strong Legal Community is so Important

Steve Rosen

Rosen Law Offices

For more than 7 years, Stephen N. Rosen worked as a defense counselor for companies dealing with personal injury lawsuits. During that time, Mr. Rosen saw the enormous impact injuries had on their victims and their families. Wanting to help real people and not just big companies, Stephen decided to shift his career in a new direction. Now he runs Rosen Law Offices as a Dana Point personal injury lawyer dedicated to helping victims of injury.

I started my career at a large insurance defense firm.  For a young (and naïve) attorney just out of law school, the firm provided me with mentors to answer any questions that came up.  It also provided me with like-minded friends for lunches and happy hours to help blow off steam from an active litigation practice.  After a little more than seven years of litigation practice, I made the righteous leap to the good side. I opened my own firm and found myself working as a solo practitioner.    I went from mentors, lunches, and happy hours – to business ownership, staff management, and the ultimate responsibility of seeking justice for my clients.  It was a pretty significant, and lonely, change. 

Like a lot of solo practitioners, over the next five years, I found myself desperately seeking a partnership.  I felt I needed someone else to help with the work and the stress associated with running an active practice.  Most of all – I needed companionship; someone I could talk to, relate to, and bounce ideas off of.

Over the years, I have found mild comfort in the simple fact that I am not alone. The loneliness of being a solo is something felt throughout the legal industry.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

No Man is an Island Entire of Itself – John Donne (and Bon Jovi)

Late 2019, I found myself sitting at a bar at the Millennium Biltmore following the first day of a great law conference.  As luck would have it, next to me was one of the best advocate attorneys and someone that seemed bigger than life to me.  I told him that I had watched one of his recent closings and he wound up sitting and talking to me for nearly two hours about life as an advocate attorney.  That night – Chris Dolan changed my professional life.

During our conversation, he told me that I wasn’t alone.  He said that practice as a solo is, by nature, lonely. He encouraged me to go to join plaintiff bar organizations (like CAALA and OCTLA), attend events, meet similar people, and make bonds that would help my own growth.  He told me that he would be there for me if I ever had questions. He even gave me his cell phone number!

Who Knew They Meant It?

As a solo attorney, and as someone new to the plaintiffs’ bar, you may find yourself at a legal conference listening to big name practitioners tell you that they will be there for you – just ask them anything, anytime.  It seems genuine – but also scary as hell.  These people can’t really be offering to mentor hundreds of total strangers, can they?  Who was I to these giant names? Do they really believe “a rising tide lifts all ships,” or are they just trying to get me to send them cases?  I was skeptical. 

Following that faithful night at the Biltmore, I’ve spent a lot of time at other people’s trial openings/closings. I’ve attended as many seminars (now webinars) as COVID would allow. I’ve put myself out there, sent emails, and I’ve made great friends.

My one take-away: Despite my skepticism, it turns out that there are actually people in our community willing to help, and at no cost to you.  You just need to find the right ones.  

It’s Not Just About Getting a Sample MSJ Opposition

No doubt that getting sample pleadings or dirt on a common defense expert is really cool!  It saves time, energy, and helps you find comfort in the mindset that maybe you aren’t screwing everything up.  But if you find yourself only asking for help with work product, you’ll find yourself in the same lonely boat as before. 

Being part of a community isn’t only about getting the cliff notes.  It’s also about being part of… well, a community.  Unlike many other fields, being a litigation attorney comes with an ever-changing minefield of variables.  We deal with some great and some very difficult attorneys. We deal with large companies that spend endless hours strategically planning on how to, on a broad level, make our lives difficult.  We deal with experts that are paid millions of dollars to say our clients are liars, and they are often REALLY good at it.

We can get lost in the minefield.

The benefit of being part of a community of like-minded practitioners is that you can get ideas of what has worked in the past.  The benefit of being part of a GREAT community is you’ll have brilliant minds helping to brainstorm how to lift you above the minefield.

Everything’s Gonna Be OK

Dealing with minefields can be tiring.  Dealing with abusive attorneys can be frustrating. That’s why finding a community wasn’t just about progressing professionally for me.  It was about protecting and promoting my own mental health and overall well-being.

Despite everything happening over the last year, I consider myself incredibly lucky. I’ve had some remarkable experiences that have truly changed how I practice. I searched for guidance, met great people, and ultimately found a home – and family – with Justice HQ.

*** If you’re a solo attorney or new to the plaintiffs’ bar – feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I’m always happy to speak to anyone who may read this and feel like they’re in a similar position and looking for guidance, a friend, or just an honest conversation.

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Creative Networking for Law Students During the Pandemic

Katherine V. Lizardo

Law Office of Katherine V. Lizardo

Katherine V. Lizardo has been a licensed attorney in California for over 12 years. During such time, she worked as a defense attorney at law firms where she gained insights on how cases are evaluated and handled by the “other side.”

In 2018, she opened her own law firm in Cerritos, California. She is now a plaintiff’s attorney serving clients throughout California, specializing in business law and transactions, estate planning, and personal injury.

You’re starting law school during the pandemic, and it’s not really how you imagined it to be. You’re taking classes online. You’re not interacting with your professors and other law students on campus. Heck, you’re not even seeing the campus at all! It’s understandable that you might not feel too excited about all of these. I hear you. You are faced with many challenges as a law student amid the pandemic. One of them is how to effectively network that creates personal connections without meeting anyone in person. This blog provides some creative suggestions.

Networking is critical now while you are still in law school. Disruption from the coronavirus pandemic includes the legal industry. Law firms have seen pay cuts, furloughs, and even massive layoffs. This leaves law school graduates in limbo. Half of law firms that hired law school graduates have either delayed their start date or not even established one yet, according to the June 2020 survey of the National Association for Law Placement. Even worse, nearly half (49%) of law schools reported that some of their graduates had their post-graduate employment offers rescinded. What does this mean for you? This means that you must act now to ensure that you have some form of employment when you graduate.

If you google “networking for law students during the pandemic,” most advice you’ll read are these:

1.         Set up virtual meetings;

2.         Attend virtual conferences and webinars;

3.         Increase your social media presence; and

4.         Do some writing of your own.

These are excellent tips. You should definitely try them and see which ones work for you. Be aware though that others are similarly doing them. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what if you could stand out from others? That would increase your chances of creating a more meaningful and result-oriented network. 

Let me give you an example. In college, I interned for a professor who had 100 other interns. Five or more students would be in his office at the same time, coming and going throughout the day, regardless if the professor were in his office. And when he was in the office, he barely spoke to anyone. He made it known that he did not want to be bothered. I was hoping for a letter of recommendation at the end of my internship. I truly wanted him to know me as a hardworking intern, but I also did not want to bother his busy schedule with my conversations. How would he remember me from the many students he saw daily and did not interact with? My solution was this. Every time I walked into his office, I said, “Hi Professor. It’s Katherine.” He would look up from his stack of papers, give me a nod without saying a word, and return back to his work. I would then sit quietly and diligently working on his research. I did this whenever I was scheduled for my internship. Every. Single. Time. At the end of my internship, when I asked the professor for a letter of recommendation, he replied, “I remember you. You kept repeating your name.” I had a stellar letter of rec!

The ability to think outside the box is a skill you need to develop. It doesn’t have to be outrageous. Sometimes, the simplest but genuine gesture makes a big difference. Here are some concepts to remember: act, repeat, and plant a seed.

ACT:

First, act. As Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” If you want to reach out to someone, do it. 

For example, if you’re interested in practicing personal injury, look up personal injury lawyers in your area. Send them a short, handwritten note that says something like this: “Dear Personal Injury Lawyer, I’m a first-year law student at Law School X. Your website mentioned that you went to the same law school. I am interested in personal injury law and would love to hear your thoughts about it. Would you be available for a 15-minute chat over the phone or Zoom? My cell phone number is (123) 456-7890 and my email is Student@lawschool.com. I look forward to talking to you. Sincerely, Law Student.”

Your note is handwritten for a personalized touch. Most people send emails. But most lawyers receive tons of emails a day, and your email might get buried with your first try to connect. By mentioning that you both went to the same law school, you not only mentioned something in common, but also that you took the time to look them up. 

If you send 100 of these handwritten notes, 2 people might respond. Those 2 people are vital. They could introduce you to other lawyers. They could provide you with new resources. They could even give you a job. You only need one job after all.

You can send these handwritten notes to speakers of webinars you attended, to people you follow on social media, to your law professors, to authors of your law school books, to your career counselors at school, to presidents of bar associations, to authors of blogs you’ve read (hint, hint!), the list goes on. Don’t be deterred by their stature. Many successful, well-known individuals want to help. All you need to do is reach out.

REPEAT:

Second, repeat. Constant, repetitive connection makes a big difference in creating a lasting relationship with your network. For example, set a calendar reminder on your phone on when to connect with the 2 people who responded to you. Perhaps at the beginning of each month, send them a short email. Since they know you by then, your email will likely be read and responded to this time. Your email could be about your thoughts on a recent court decision on personal injury (to show your interest in the area), your reaction to a recent news article about their firm (to show you continue to read about them), or an update about you (to get to know you on a personal level). 

A law student I know used to email top entertainment lawyers her thoughts on new entertainment case law. After graduating, she became one of the most connected entertainment lawyers among her peers. Out of sight, out of mind. You want to be frequently remembered.

PLANT A SEED:

Third, plant a seed. You might be asking, “What about the 98 people who didn’t respond?” Some of them saw and read your handwritten note. You have planted a seed. You can send them a follow-up email that mentions the note you mailed. This would be your second point of contact – this goes to repetition. If you sent them a thank you note for the webinar you attended, and you attended another webinar of theirs, send them another thank you note. That’s another point of contact. They’ll start remembering you as the attendee who always send them a thank you card. If you see them someday in person, you can use your thank you note as an “ice breaker” to initiate a conversation. The point is, don’t focus on what you might perceive as a lack of result because they did not respond now. Instead, focus on the fact that you actually made a conscious decision to act in the first place. 

As you build your network, make sure to start compiling their contact information in Word, Excel, or whatever database you’d like to use. You will continue to add to this as your network grows. It will also make it easier for you to reach out to them in the future when you are looking for employment.

These are a few suggestions. I have more but I don’t want to bore you with a long blog. If you want to know about my other tips, or if you want to bounce ideas on an “outside the box” idea you have, I welcome you to reach out to me.

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