February 17, 2012
Columbus Bar inc Grad Shares Views on Legal Career and Building a Solo Practice
~ written by Andrew Fuchs
Andy Fuchs, one of the new attorneys admitted to the Columbus Bar inc pilot program begun last spring, completed his stint as a sole practitioner under the auspices of the Professional Development Program. The “incubator,” based one flight down from the Bar (175 S. Third St., 10th floor), is designed to accelerate the successful development of new lawyers in an environment providing an array of business support resources and mentors. As he left Suite 1050, Attorney Fuchs took time out to talk with law students about the incubator program and the solo practice of law.
On January 25, I had the privilege of being asked to be a guest speaker on Law Firm Unbundling and the Solo Practice of Law for Professor Deborah Merritt’s Business of Law class at Moritz College of Law. Having worked for nine months as a discovery attorney for Black Letter Discovery and nine months as a solo practitioner with the Columbus Bar’s Incubator Program, I was in a unique position to comment on both topics early in my fledgling legal career.
Law firm unbundling, of course, has resulted in the surge in discovery and staff attorney positions in the legal field since the economic recession hit. As law firms were pressured by clients to find ways to cut costs and overhead, e-discovery firms emerged to provide inexpensive and efficient service at a fraction of a major law firm’s price.
Today many new (and some not as new) attorneys find themselves turning to hourly document review positions to help pay student loans when law firm jobs are scarce. At the same time, the number of law students interested in practicing law on their own seems to be rising. The students were particularly interested in the growing trend of non-partner-track staff attorneys who have become popular with the big players in the law.
The Business of Law class I spoke to was certainly not the typical “Business Law” class most law students commonly take. Instead it focuses more on the actual, practical business aspects of a law practice. When I first started with the inc program I had very little practical knowledge of how a law firm conducts day-to-day business. Law schools tend to focus on teaching students how to think like an attorney, rather than how to conduct business like one. Consequently, a course in this subject was refreshing. I was surprised to learn how many students I spoke with were interested in pursuing a solo practice. When I began law school in 2007, it seemed everyone was gunning for that big-box law firm job. I was barraged for over an hour with questions ranging from the obvious “Why I decided to start my own solo practice?” to the practical “How do I get clients to pay on time (or at all)?”
I explained that I certainly could not have started on my own without the help of the Columbus Bar inc. I propounded the virtues of the program and the advantages I received from formal presentations by office administrators and marketing professionals, to the top-of-the-line industrial scanner/printer in the office suite. Most important, however, was the ability to reach out to the mentors who volunteered their time to answer our questions (however dumb they might be). The business cards I handed out for the Columbus Bar inc Administrator, Jocelyn Armstrong, were gone almost immediately after I finished speaking, and in fact I brought too few. Even as I went out the door, I was receiving questions about the program and hanging out a shingle. Almost two weeks later, I continue to receive emails from students in Professor Merritt’s class. As the economy recovers, I hope to continue to be amazed by the confidence and ambition of new and soon-to-be new attorneys as we see more entrepreneurial attorneys graduate with the drive to start from scratch.