Liz Johnson has a mobile law practice, E.H. Johnson Law where she focuses on estate planning in Annapolis, Maryland. She also writes about the highs and lows of starting a solo practice in her Young, Hungry & Committed blog for Law Firm Suites. She shares her advice for the newly minted attorney: lay the right foundation for your practice, learn all you can, seek help from other attorneys, and get out and network! In our interview, she talks about the excitement a mobile lawyer can have from mastering new concepts, to thinking of creative ways to network, to being attacked by a rooster!
Q. Why did you make the leap to start your own law firm?
A. When I was still in law school, I landed a prestigious internship with a government agency. I loved that job but it is difficult to jump back into government job. Once I passed the bar, my temporary security clearance expired, and now I needed 3 years of experience to apply for a legal position. After the bar, I started out doing document review but didn’t want to do that forever. I connected with someone who said I could use the second office in their suite. I didn’t know what I wanted to practice, didn’t have any software, didn’t have any procedures, but I quickly started hunting for books and resources on how to set up a practice.
Q. What makes your practice unique?
A. I have a mobile law practice. After paying rent for an office I hardly used, I invested in some good tech – printer, scanner, other things. I throw it in my car and meet people at or near their home. My services are focused on estate planning, real estate and mediation. For convenience, I use a virtual office suite with Law Firm Suites.
Q. How do you find clients?
A. Many of my clients have been referred through pro bono organizations. I scan Facebook and go to all the nearby free networking events I can find. I volunteer at local estate planning events. Not only do I help people, but I also learn tips from other estate planning professionals that I meet there.
I go to a senior center once a month to provide free consultations. By helping others, I hope to generate referrals.
I also like to be creative. When I was waiting for my bar results, I jumped into some acting classes to better my public speaking skills. I helped stop a community college dance class from getting cut and as a result I got a free advertisement in the local theater pamphlets. I also just landed a small part in a play. When people look at the actor biographies they’re going to see me – not a famous actor but a local attorney!
Q. What do you wish you knew before jumping in?
A. That I would receive a lot of unsolicited advice to sort through. I did my homework, found mentors, and spoke with many solo practitioners. However, many of my non-legal pals had plenty of ideas of how to run a law practice and not all of them were encouraging or made sense. I also had to deal with some negativity from some who didn’t understand a mobile law office concept.
Q. What do you enjoy most about having your own firm?
A. I enjoy the flexibility of making my own schedule. I can pick my clients and my networking events. I can make the time go to a ballet class or help my parents if they need it. It’s my decision.
Q. What do you enjoy about your practice?
A. I enjoy the feeling when something “clicks” – either mastering a difficult concept like “step-up basis” or a process like recording a deed. I love learning something and using that knowledge in practice.
Q. What advice do you have for others considering solo practice?
A. I think the strongest piece of advice I’d give someone is make sure you have the stomach for solo practice. We solo practitioners have different challenges from others. Make sure you know what you are getting into, and you have the personality that can deal with it.
Also, you should lay the right foundation for your practice. Starting too quickly, you may not lay all the bricks properly and that can be shaky. Ultimately, you may have to tear down and build back up to have a solid foundation. Even the strongest foundation will have to weather the “hurricane” of life.
Q. Any war stories, you would care to share?
A. I went to farm country to meet a pro-bono client. Drove an hour away with all my tech: my printer, scanner, paper, cords, notary items. As I get out of my car there were chickens and a rooster running around. I’m a city girl so I did not know roosters were aggressive. Suddenly, people are running around with baseball bats and sticks to shoo the rooster away from me as the rooster apparently was dangerous. He didn’t look dangerous to me, it must have been like that scene in Jurassic Park where the spitting dinosaur looked cute at first, then opened its mane, snarled, and started spitting black stuff. This was truly a close encounter of a chicken kind…
Want more tips and advice for your awesome law practice? Check out Law Office on a Laptop, Second Edition: How to Set Up Your Own Successful Law Mobile Law Practice.