A friend of mine who was working for a senior lawyer for around five years told me about his plans to move out from the office and set up his own. I encouraged him to take the bold step.
However, as time to quit the office drew close, he grew skeptical about his plans and skills. He eventually dropped the plan and decided to continue with his senior. This is a Catch-22 situation many of my peers often face. A lot of us are shying away from taking the big step.
Another friend of mine was advised not to leave the senior, as he will lose the “brand name” that comes with being associated to the senior and that he will not be able to make it on his own in the near future. So, he was told that it is necessary to keep one leg in the senior’s office before going independent.
This, I believe is the worst advice a young lawyer can get. The person who gave the advice has been attached to the senior’s office for about ten years and has still not mustered the courage to go independent. Even worse, he will not let others do what he himself cannot do!
So, what is the ideal period for a junior to stay with his senior before going independent? The answer would differ from individual to individual, but there are some general factors that can be kept in mind and it is for the individual alone to take the call.
The biggest consideration for a young lawyer to go independent is money. The general norm is that junior lawyers are hardly paid and they never make enough money to be saved. But if you plan your career launch in advance, this can be worked out.
Taking up independent briefs while working for a senior and taking up additional work for a busy lawyer will help in saving some money for the future. This will also give a young lawyer a taste of what is in store. Sharing the office space with like-minded individuals or working from home can help in reducing the initial infrastructure cost.
An important aspect for being successful is to have good people as mentors. Many among us claim to be self-made persons, but I disagree with them. We learn and unlearn from people around us knowingly or unknowingly and they are our mentors directly or indirectly.
Your senior may automatically be a mentor to you in most cases, but not necessarily. Also, your senior may not necessarily be the person you aspire to become. You should approach those people whom you aspire to become and they may offer better insights. The doors may not be open always, but you can knock on different doors and one of them may open for you, which alone may lead you throughout your entire career.
Building one's brand is something young lawyers need to focus on from their early days. Lawyers are restricted from advertising in India as per norms prescribed by the Bar Council of India. Hence, your work should speak for you. That’s the only way to build your brand. A client who approaches a lawyer has a problem and needs a solution. If you can provide that promptly with professionalism, it will have a chain effect. Be fast, prompt and humble; this should be the mantra.
Networking is a must if you plan to enter into law practice. Having a strong network and being the go-to person for a legal issue is necessary to ensure you get sufficient briefs. In your circle, you should be the first person that comes to a person’s mind when they face a legal issue. Writing often helps establish this. It is not an irony that many of the well-established lawyers get their columns and articles published often! Writing gives a you lot of visibility among potential clients or even other lawyers who may want to work together with you at various levels.
Finding your niche area is crucial and will help you go a long way. Rather than opting to take up all kinds of matters, it would be ideal to stick to two or three areas of practice, if not one. Gone are the days of a general practitioner who takes anything that comes his way.
Focusing on some particular areas will help you reduce competition and increase your efficiency in your area of practice. You may also get referrals from other lawyers who do not delve into that area of practice.
This column was written keeping in mind all the young lawyers who had plans of going independent and were discouraged from taking that bold step. Nobody is going to come and inspire you to do what you want to do and that can be done only by you.
This is one profession where there is no shortcut to success. You will have to work hard to climb the stairs of success and fame. It will be not be a cakewalk, but if you can survive the initial struggle, there is no profession as rewarding as the legal profession.
The author is an Advocate practicing before the High Court of Kerala at Cochin.