'Legal Rebels' advise law students to reinvent themselves
As members of the Class of 2010 race toward the law-school finish line, their overtaxed brains should be focused not on the worst of all possibilities – there are no jobs (because there are) – but on pondering these two questions:
1. What do you want your life to be?
2. What can you offer the world that no one else can?
That message was delivered April 14 to students at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University by three attorneys whom the ABA Journal has recognized for breaking the mold of the traditional legal career. They are among 50 “Legal Rebels” profiled by the American Bar Association’s monthly publication in a popular feature that demonstrates that attorneys can and do thrive in times of economic downturn, big-firm layoffs and government belt-tightening.
“I think all of you need to think about the full dimension of the degree you’re getting, and how you can use it creatively, innovatively and in the entrepreneurial sense,” Ilona DeRemer, the Assistant Dean of the College of Law’s Career Strategy and Professional Development Mentoring Center, told law students assembled for “ABA Legal Rebels: Reinventing the Profession.”
“Even in good times, not all students want to take their degree down the traditional path. You are creative and unique, and you have that spirit to use your degree in a little different way,” said DeRemer, who invited the ABA to bring the Legal Rebels to the College, a first since the feature was launched last fall.
Pinpointing your unique interests and skills and parlaying them into a service that no one else offers is the key, the panelists agreed.
The Journal’s first Legal Rebel, Jeffrey Hughes, launched Legal Grind Coffee and Counsel in Santa Monica, Calif., where java is served with jurisprudence advice, 14 years ago. “I considered starting my own practice, but I didn’t have the best grades in law school,” Hughes said. “I was forced to innovate and distinguish myself from the pack.
“I thought of a legal café, combining the friendly atmosphere of a coffee shop with the services of a law office,” he said. “A coffee house, to me, meant dignity.”
If Hughes could change the public perception of attorneys and make legal services available to people who couldn’t afford it, his law degree would be put to good use. By those standards, Hughes is enormously successful.
Also on the panel was Sam Glover, founder and editor-in-chief of Lawyerist, an online lawyering survival guide. Most of his time, though, is spent on his Minneapolis-based practice, the Glover Law Firm, where business has tripled in the past year because its partners are focused on these goals: to be great, well-respected attorneys who make more money and work less hours from any location in the world.
To achieve that, they’ve turned the traditional law practice on its ear, billing on value not on hours, leveraging forms that can be used by more than one client, doing a majority of business virtually, giving away free services, developing a successful blog/marketing strategy and offering a unique legal service – defending those sued by debt collectors.
“Big firm jobs disappeared because the market changed,” Glover said. “The market is now in favor of more nimble boutiques.”
For those who aren’t sold on going solo, he said, “It’s still essential that you become an entrepreneur, because general partners don’t want to hire someone who reinvents the wheel. They’ve already got wheels.”
Legal Rebel Laurel Edgeworth founded Law Clerk Connection, LLC, in Cameron Park, Calif., right after graduating from law school in 2008. It assembles virtual legal teams of law students and attorneys to work on cases. Edgeworth’s goals were to help law students get experience, give flexibility to small law firms to expand and contract their business when necessary, and help underrepresented people obtain legal services.
“Starting your own firm is hard,” said Edgeworth, who plans to start a virtual firm in May, despite naysayers who resist change in the legal profession and are threatened by innovators. “But mediocrity is the norm, so if you’re uncommon, people will notice.”
The reader response to the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebel series has been overwhelming, said Ed Adams, its editor and publisher, noting it was the magazine’s most-read package of stories in 2009. Readers nominated more than 250 people for consideration and posted more than 2,000 Twitter messages about the project, he said.
Read the Legal Rebels’ stories at www.legalrebels.com.
Janie Magruder, Jane.Magruder@asu.edu
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law