Shawn Lipton can see the uncertainty in a new graduate’s eyes, especially those graduates plan- ning to hang their shingle straight from law school. As head of the Seattle University School of Law center for Professional Development, he knows that that fear comes from three big worries.
“When someone goes solo, there are three major fears — I have no
idea what I’m doing, how am I going to get clients, and how do I even
set up the office?” Lipton said.
In the last several years, as hiring rates have weakened and schools
have placed more focus on preparing students to practice, the academic community has experimented with ways to address these concerns of students by blending small-business entrepreneurship with
low-bono legal access. Programs to help new solos launch their own
law firms with the guidance of the schools that used to teach them are
cropping up across the nation.
In Seattle, that idea and discussion started last year with a focus
on what the school could best do to help graduates taking the plunge
solo right after school. Now, Seattle University is fundraising for the
Low Bono Program, a post-graduation mentoring, legal education, and
business support program for new attorneys serving moderate means
clients. Meanwhile, Bill Becker, an alumnus of the University of Puget
Sound School of Law, is building support to launch a private legal incubator,
the Legal Services exchange, based on
the business incubator model for start-up companies.
Most SU graduates find work with
small firms with between two and ten
attorneys. That, Lipton said, is the
“sweet spot” for graduate hiring, and
“we’ve seen an uptick in hiring there.”
Still, 13 graduates from the class of
2012 self-reported in December that
they had opened their own prac-
tice, even as two major companies
hired graduates for document
review projects. of Washington’s
three law schools, SU produces
not only the largest number of new
lawyers who go directly into a solo
practice, but has done so histori-
cally, with a high of 21 solos from
the 2010 graduating class. This year,
five graduates from Gonzaga Univer-
sity reported that they became solo
practitioners, and two graduates from
the University of Washington launched
their own firms.
Nationally, the number of law graduates deciding to open their own firms
upon graduation has been increasing.
According to a 2012 report from the
National Association for Law Placement, the number of law graduates
going solo increased from 3. 5 percent
in 2008 to 5. 5 percent in 2009, the
biggest one-year jump since 1982.
That percentage increased to 5. 7 percent for the class of 2010, the highest
These new graduates are joining
an already massive number of solo
practitioners. According to an ABA
press release last January, an estimated 435,000 solo law practitioners
constitute about 48 percent of private-practice lawyers.
According to Lipton, there are three
Helping to Hatch Solo Practices
distinct types of graduates who open a
solo practice. There are those who, as
students, already have their sights on
launching a solo practice upon gradu-
ation, and “those numbers have stayed
consistent, if not gone down,” Lipton
said. “There are people thinking they
want to be solo practitioners, but not
until they’ve practiced for a few years.
Then there are the people [who are]
kind of forced to go solo because of the
That third type of solo — graduates
who begin their law firms either as they
by Randy Trick