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Advice for Law Students: Take it from a Boston Personal Injury Lawyer - The Legal Landscape is Changing

You might be asking why I, a Boston personal injury lawyer, am handing out advice to law students. While I have not practiced for 20 or 30 years, my experience has been varied, and I have learned a tremendous amount about effective lawyering and effectively running a profitable business in that relatively short time. Further, representing the victims of car accidents, slip-and-falls, and product liability cases is not all that I do. I am very involved at the Massachusetts Bar Association, having served as Vice Chair of the Law Practice Management section Council and as a member of the Membership Committee, as well as Chair of the Law School Subcommittee of that committee. I like to stay involved, and I like to help young lawyers coming up.

Although I am practicing personal injury law in Massachusetts today, I first started working in Florida, practicing in the areas of family law, probate litigation, and real estate work, both transactional and litigation. I've dealt with and resolved personal legal matters in all of these areas and built an effective and profitable business around them. Today, I practice exclusively in the area of plaintiffs' Massachusetts personal injury law because, through my experience I've concluded that, once the law practice is built up, this area practice provides the best quality of life. Nonetheless, I have now practiced in several different areas and have seen trends in each one of them since I was admitted.

The most dramatic trends in the legal industry are those resulting from the weakened economy. Most people tend to have less money today to spend on legal fees. That does not, however, reduce the number of legal matters which must be addressed. Although the economy may appear to be strengthening if one were to only look at this Dow Jones industrial average for the national unemployment rates, it has become widely accepted that the disparity in income between the rich and the middle to lower half of our country has widened. Although a troubling statistic, I can at least take some professional solace in the fact that my clients never pay me out-of-pocket. All our personal injury fees are based on the contingency of recovery.

I cannot say that this economic shift has significantly impacted the practice of negligence law, at least in Massachusetts. Because our cases are all contingent fee based, the client need not pay us any money out-of-pocket. Rather, we're compensated a percentage of the total recovery. That allows us to represent people of any means, so long as they have a viable case.

The practice areas of family law, real estate law, and other types of consumer-based practice are different. When people generally have less money, it is more of a challenge for them to come up with the funds to pay an attorney. We see this as a growing issue in the area of litigation. That's because people can generally represent themselves through the litigation process, although I think most people reading this blog would agree they don't generally represent themselves well. Most people who are unable to afford an attorney but recognize they have serious legal matters to resolve would indeed hire an attorney if it was within their budget. Therein lies an opportunity for new lawyers.

The job market for new lawyers could fairly be characterized as awful. I will not go into the joblessness statistics here, but all you need to do is search through the ABA fact sheets on law schools to see how new lawyers are doing. Part of the ABA accreditation process for law schools is annual self reporting of employment statistics. For our purposes here, I think we can all agree they are not good. That means there are many new lawyers sitting on their couches at home right now. In fact, many new lawyers are unable to find jobs within the first one or two years, or perhaps ever. There are simply far too many new lawyers who go all the way through law school, study, take, and pass the bar examination, get sworn in, and then never ever practice law. That is a shame.

Although the opportunity presented in the lower income levels may not be the ideal opportunity new lawyers considered when deciding to go to law school, it is nonetheless an opportunity. It is an opportunity to become a practicing lawyer. I'm now building a Massachusetts personal injury practice handling only plaintiffs' negligence cases. That is not something I could have afforded to do straight out of law school, because I had no cash flow. I instead needed to generate more immedate cash flow and built upon that business. That's a common story. Typically, lawyers start at the bottom, just like most people in most other professions. The idea of focusing on the lower end of the spectrum, and even taking a few pro bono cases to get one's feet wet, is not new. Lawyers have been taking this approach for a long long time.

When I first started practicing, I did not go work for a big, corporate law firm. I did not join a boutique practice and learn from the partners. Rather, I opened my practice immediately, developed several great mentors, took on a few pro bono cases, and worked ridiculously hard. I built a great practice, hired employees, and made something of myself. Today I can afford, and know how to, run the practice I ideally want to run: a Boston-based Massachusetts negligence law fim. The key was not waiting for opportunity to come my way, but rather to identify opportunities and capitalize upon them. There is opportunity for new lawyers today, and it consists of many many people who desperately need help of bright lawyers. This is a message that I regularly present and discuss with students still in law school. I believe, in the coming years, we will see a trend of new lawyers effectively addressing this demographic, and running great, effective, profitable businesses in the process.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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