ABA Journal


ABA Journal Podcast

Hanging a Shingle: How to Start Your Own Law Practice

Jan 3, 2012, 02:39 pm CST


Let me start by my standard statement I make to many clients and new friends.

My law career began when my Mom ran headon into an 18 wheeler outside Thibadeaux, La. and she was killed and my back broken in seven places. So, I was doing a little tort law lab before I got to the place where I was to begin to figure out the legal aspects at, LSU Law School.

( I figured my writing career was over, but I could stand up and talk, and dictate). Since, I've been a state lawyer for Louisiana, an associate in a small practice in Baton Rouge, in Nashville, and in Atlanta. In Decatur, for the office of now Congressman, Henry Hank Johnson.

For a short time I even worked in a big firm in Atlanta, with offices in downtown.

Since moving back to Nashville area six years ago, I've worked with a small firm, done appellate work out of our house, and devolved, or evolved into a coffee shop lawyer - meet most clients there - and taken up writing again, for an African-American weekly, The Tennessee Tribune, where I have my office and use their elegant conference room, as needed, and also
get a few employment plaintiffs from the NAACP office, across the street, and hope, perhaps, to teach a course or two at Fisk sometime, around the corner

Frankly, most of the defense bar big money lawyers I meet I feel are in a kind of money driven straight jacket, doing things - defeating claims thru procedurally suspect means - that many I guess would just see as tough aggressive legal practice. But which I could never do, and, to me, border on denial of reasonable claims, denial of 400 years of racial injustice, and denial of certain scientific realities which threaten our collective existence.

Although I haven't made nearly the money I could have made, for example had I used my oil and gas training to work for Exxon, or other large energy firms, also I haven't had to live in Texas, and endure the kind of mindless foolishness that passes for thought there,as witness the recent hired fool of those industries,
Governor Perry of Texas, who can't even recall which executive office he would eliminate.

I think the environment of collaboration, colleague support, practice building, of a small firm probably has great merit in this time of economic collapse, and the practical suggestions above are useful. I think it also takes a fair amount of just plain necessity and being nimble and ready
to do what one can for clients who often are in great economic stress to do what I've recently been doing, and which I couldn't do without the prior experiences I've had in government and private practice. But there are many people who need help - one of my most rewarding and yet shocking experiences - has been encountering and winning sometimes, lay-offs which are termed 'for cause' to deny unemployment benefits, and, unfortunately, this seems likely to be the case for some time, whoever wins this year's Presidency.

So here's a vote for the Coffee House lawyer - use one's training to help others, as best one can,
and give praise for the opportunity. Howard Romaine, Nashville

By Howard Romaine, Attorney at Law, 1501 Jefferson St on 2012 01 06, 1:13 pm CST

I just wanted to say thank you to the speakers! I'm a young attorney based out of Miami, Florida, and it is so reassuring to hear more experienced lawyers confirm what my gut feeling is: that your skill set - your excellence in the profession - and your commitment to ethical treatment of your clients AND your colleagues will reward you in the future. Thank you!!

By Jackie on 2012 01 06, 3:26 pm CST

I thought this was interesting article/topic and glad to hear some considerations. However, let's get some nitty gritty of the things to consider and how to really do them. This was like--oh I left a big firm and everything worked out perfectly article. That does not represent the majority of folks who need to hang a shingle to survive. How about sharing some of the excel sheets for planning expenditures, etc. Something useful would've been good to have views of those that struggled and some tips and tricks.

By Midwesterner on 2012 01 06, 4:28 pm CST

I have greatly enjoyed these observations. They ring true to me from my own experience, While there have certainly been many times that I wished to have a regular paycheck, the overall experience has contained everything I wanted. These lawyers have clearly discovered that they have returned to the 2400 hour per year quota of their first years as a lawyer. Good luck!

By Christopher Zoeller on 2012 01 06, 4:42 pm CST are bashing Texas, but are proud of the third world state of Louisiana. Come on man, sounds like some state penis envy.

By ????? on 2012 01 07, 4:13 am CST

I agree with Midwesterner! I went to law school knowing that I was not going to BigLaw after graduation. I had worked in the public sector most of my life and I liked that environment better. However, upon graduation for me, the public nor the private sector worked out. Fortunately, I had the intestinal fortitude that when I passed the bar, my plan was laid out, and hung up my shingle in less than one month from when I was sworn in! I had to do it to survive. I would have liked to start off my career a little more comfortable, but it can not beat me being the boss!

By Dawn Blakely Harper on 2012 01 23, 7:59 pm CST

Add a Comment

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.