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Criminal Defence Lawyer in Sole Practice - Ask Me Anything


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#301 Trigger

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 03:44 AM

Thanks for this thread. It's one of the more interesting and informative ones on this website.

 

You talk a lot about picking up all the legal aid work you can get. What are your thoughts on catering your practice towards crimes that might snag you some wealthier clientele? Have you noticed any trends among your cash-paying clients?

 

I'd imagine the areas of criminal defense which tend to be indiscriminate to social class would be impaired's, sex crimes, professional discipline (Police Services Act, Nurses, Physicians, Lawyers, Accountants, etc.) Do you think these areas could be more reliable in terms of financial security?



#302 Diplock

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 04:29 AM

Without pretending to have more expertise than I really do, there are areas of the law that certainly do provide more cash clients. Impaired is the classic example. There are definitely lawyers who specialize in this, and it's its own niche. The lawyers who build a practice in this area do very well. Other areas of law are harder to specialize in. While a few lawyers are known for a few things, it's hard to market yourself as a "sex crime" lawyer, and do so well enough that when some random member of the public is charged with molesting the nanny you're the lawyer he thinks of to the exclusion of other lawyers.

 

I suppose you can spend some time thinking of ways to market yourself. Maybe you'll think of something original. But the bottom line issue is this. Your practice is you. If you open a coffee shop, you can "cater" to a particular clientele based on your products, your atmosphere, the sort of experience you offer, etc. In a legal practice, it's just you. You're the entire product. So how are you going to cater yourself to a particular kind of business? You quickly realize the same thing many other lawyers have realized. That when we're talking about a client who has money and options, you don't have any realistic way to compete with more experienced, more established lawyers who have better reputations than yours. Ask yourself - if you were faced with a serious criminal charge, and you had the money to exercise a fair amount of choice, would you hire you? Hell, would you even hire me? Wouldn't you want someone with 20 years of experience?

 

Realistically, you start off taking what you can get, and when you do it really well you get opportunities to do more. Some client that you've served well on petty stuff gets charged with something serious. Some senior lawyer sees that you're doing a good job and invites you second chair a jury trial, or asks you to represent a co-accused on a major case. Opportunities come. But is there a clever way to short-circuit all of that, and to set out fresh on the market and somehow convince clients who have money and choice that you're the lawyer for them, despite the fact that you're so obviously green? Maybe. But if there is a way to do that, I don't know what it is.


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#303 Diplock

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 01:31 PM

One further point to Trigger's question above. I meant to address this in my last post, but forgot. "Professional discipline" is not really within criminal law at all. It's administrative law. If you're interested in this area at all, pay attention in law school and you'll quickly see how the difference is meaningful. The same rules and rights that apply to criminal law do not necessarily apply here. Although some criminal lawyers do slide into this area, on occasion, it isn't natural or obvious that we should. If anything, it happens more because clients expect it and because professional discipline feels like criminal law to them.


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#304 ThrillainManila

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 02:08 PM

Is it time-consuming doing both the administrative tasks (always answering the phone, responding to emails, filing everything, so on) and the lawyer related tasks involved in actually representing your clients? Do you intend on hiring a legal assistant or paralegal in the future as you expand or would you rather keep your overhead low and do it yourself? 



#305 Diplock

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 09:47 PM

Is it time-consuming doing both the administrative tasks (always answering the phone, responding to emails, filing everything, so on) and the lawyer related tasks involved in actually representing your clients? Do you intend on hiring a legal assistant or paralegal in the future as you expand or would you rather keep your overhead low and do it yourself? 

 

Well ... yes. Since you basically asked about all of my job, and asked if the whole is time consuming, I'd have to agree that it is. I work a lot. =)

 

Ultimately, I'd love to be able to hire and fully employ an assistant. But it's a huge expense that would more than double my overhead immediately, and it's hard to justify that at present. One thing I've noticed about young professionals is that they tend to underestimate the cost of hiring good help. It always makes me laugh (and then, eventually, rant) that people who estimate their own worth at $100k/year or more believe they should be able to hire competent help in the $25-30k/year range. I believe it would be possible to find someone willing to work as an assistant for $30k. But someone good would start at $40k minimum. When you're trusting someone to take your calls, handle your schedule, etc., you can't afford to fuck around. Someone doing that job badly could be far worse than having no one at all. So in my opinion, you don't hire someone until you can afford to hire someone good.

 

As a side note, there are people who can perform specific tasks for set money, and help to relieve some of your burden in that way. And after hours answering service comes to mind. But yeah, taking the leap from no staff to one staff member is probably the hardest step to manage in a practice, and I haven't managed it yet.


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