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This article is written by Abhyuday Agarwal, Team LawSikho.

Most common queries, answered

What is the right time to shift to independent practice if I am working in a law firm or as an in-house counsel, or as a junior to a senior litigator?

What are the advantages of having worked earlier in a law firm or a company that I can leverage for building my independent practice?

How should I make the move to independent practice?

I frequently deal with these questions while speaking to lawyers who want to shift to independent practice. I’ll share some pointers with you on this now. 

Don’t quit without preparation for the journey – identify what kind of survival income you will need to earn, and some initial metrics of success 

How much do you need to earn to meet rent costs and basic living expenses? 

This can vary from INR 25,000 to INR 50,000 or even INR 1,00,000, depending on the stage of life you are in. 

If you have a family with rent payments, a car and house EMIs, your costs will be higher. If you are living alone or with your parents, costs may be lower. 

It is important to narrow down on the amount for your own understanding. 

If you are able to earn that income through your practice, you will be able to survive, without dipping into your savings. 

Also, identify the first milestone of success for you. 

What kind of earnings or clients would indicate success?

I will suggest that if you can successfully obtain two new clients every month or earn an additional INR 30,000 – 50,000 in the first 3-6 months and then grow it to INR 2 lakhs per month in a year, that would be a reasonably good indicator of success. 

For most lawyers who want to start independent practice, these are exciting numbers.  

Ensure that you have sufficient savings to give you a 3 to 6 months’ runway in case of emergencies or bad times

Although you will quit when there are sufficient indicators that you will earn enough to meet your living costs and expenses, you should still have some savings in case of an emergency, delay in receiving the payment/ client’s mandate, or if your earnings fall short in the initial stages. 

There can be health emergencies or market changes as well.  

If you are single and have a place to stay, 3-months’ savings will be sufficient. 

If you live with your family and need to pay rent and EMIs for your house or your car, make sure that you have 6 months of savings.

Start understanding the pain points of your target audience and learning the skills for the work alongside your current job

Do not quit with a vague idea of what kind of work you want to perform, or without knowing whether clients will give you work. 

You must get a sense of the market beforehand. That means you should know the pain points of the target audience, know about the services that you will provide initially and start writing online to build your credibility.

These can be very different from the type of work that you currently perform in your existing job. 

Start learning new skills to provide services that clients may want when you start independent practice.

If you are working in a law firm or a company, you may be prohibited by your existing contract or organizational policies from performing paid client work independently. 

You may also not be able to build your own website.

However, you may be able to write and publish articles on established legal or industry blogs like iPleaders blog, Yourstory, Trak.in, Bloomberg Quint, etc. You will also be able to write posts on your LinkedIn profile.

In some cases, this may require internal alignment from HR or your partner, which may not be so difficult to obtain, given that this is largely writing and teaching-oriented work. 

You can also conduct training sessions for startup entrepreneurs incubated at entrepreneurship cells of engineering and management colleges, or at other startup incubators or accelerators.

Here are some ideas for conducting trainings: 

  1. How to prepare for a legal due diligence before your first investment round – what needs to be in order? 
  2. How to negotiate term-sheets
  3. How to create an ESOP plan and what are the different kinds of incentives that you can offer employees?   
  4. Tax issues faced by startups on an everyday basis and how to deal with them
  5. Corporate law 101 for first-time founders 
  6. How to keep your business in good health from Day 1: Legal, Tax and Secretarial Requirements
  7. How to create a comprehensive plan to protect your intellectual property
  8. 10 legal mistakes made by entrepreneurs during the first 5 years of their startup journey and how you can prevent them 
  9. How to select an appropriate service provider: pros and cons of using free templates vs. using a services such as Vakilsearch or Indiafilings vs. approaching lawyers 
  10. Legal tools to reduce likelihood of payment defaults and increase recovery rates 

Sounds exciting, no? But what if you don’t know how to provide such training? 

From time to time, you will receive queries about legal issues that you have no idea about, because you have not worked on them in your current job, and you are not tuned into the sector. 

That is not a problem. These are signals for you to start learning new skills. 

Also, read about the 5 unconventional skills outside the LLB syllabus that independent practitioners and small law firm owners must learn to survive

It is time to make a decision when people outside your network start reaching out to you regularly 

Occasionally, you will receive legal work from a friend or a relative. That is good, but it is not adequate to sustain your legal practice in the long-term.  

It is important that you receive queries from outside this closed network as well. 

Over time, people will regularly write to you for inputs. Some will also be willing to offer a fee for your services. 

The true test of your client-generation capability is when people whom you do not know approach you for legal work after reading your articles or after obtaining a referral from someone who has worked with you, and agree to work with you.  

Now, this is a good sign. 

You will gradually feel confident that if you quit your job, you will have sufficient work to meet your survival costs.  

However, the work may not generate an income that is equivalent to your law firm or in-house counsel salary. It can be anywhere between 20% to 50% of it, but that does not matter. 

Be ready to take the plunge at this time.

If you are working as a junior to a senior litigator, you may also have the opportunity to work with your own clients on the side, as long as you are able to manage your work commitments with your senior.  

In that case, continue with independent work on the side, until it increases to an extent that you cannot manage your current work with your senior. 

That is the right time to make a decision about starting out on your own. You can then consider working independently on a full-time basis.  

Prior work experience counts, but in a very limited manner – there will be many new things to learn on the way

Prior work experience is relevant for some of the tasks, such as reviewing a document or email for errors, learning about meticulousness, ensuring accuracy and staying in touch with the client. 

These skills take a maximum of 6 months to 1 year to learn in a job as a fresher.

These skills are helpful, but not sufficient to generate your own clients and deliver services to them.

Many CAs, Company Secretaries and IT Professionals acquire a law degree with the aspiration of starting independent practice, but they also fall into the same trap of expecting to first learn these skills in a job.  

Client generation work is usually performed by senior partners, and you may not be exposed to it in your initial years of working as a junior lawyer.

Do not expect to learn these skills as a junior lawyer from a job. You will need to learn that through a different path. 

On the contrary, by staying on for longer in your job, you run the risk of becoming dangerously comfortable with the security of a fixed salary. You may lose the capacity to take risks.

If you wait longer in your current job in the hope of learning more about client development or client delivery, you may not be able to tap into real client opportunities existing currently in the world. 

If you do not know how you will learn these skills, attend this workshop on how to build a recession-proof practice, get 2 new clients per month and earn a supplementary income of INR 2 lakhs per month, where we will discuss what you need to do to generate incoming queries and translate them into paid client mandates consistently. 

Acquiring more work experience or LLM degrees from Ivy League colleges will not automatically help you in securing clients

Don’t be under the impression that an LLM degree from an Ivy League college in the US, or a prestigious UK law university, or a law firm experience of a few more years will help you in obtaining independent clients. 

I know several law firm lawyers and junior litigators who want to start independent practice but postpone their plans with the view that they first need to acquire an LLM degree to improve their CV.  

An LLM degree or your prior work experience is not the defining factor in securing mandates from a client.

You can send it to a client to show your credibility, but that does not make the client give you a mandate.

You will still have to do all the work for outreach and onboarding new clients, as someone without the LLM degree or work experience would have done, and your conversion rates will not be appreciably different.

As lawyers, we are often more obsessed about tags than clients. 

Consider the cost of lost time and finances, and the fact that you will not move in this direction, if you decide to postpone your goal of starting independent practice for your LLM.

If the idea is to move into academics, or create another backup, that is different.   

Don’t confuse your need for training with the idea of working with a senior, don’t use it as an excuse to postpone practice

Lawyers often feel the need for training and mentorship on a continuous basis. This is a valid need.

However, they expect to receive such training and guidance by working for a senior or a law firm. 

You cannot confuse your trainer with your employer. 

That road frequently leads to disappointment and a stark gap between expectation and reality. 

You expect to receive handholding, training and mentorship, while your senior or the law firm expects you to deliver results. 

Although you need mentors and training continuously, you do not need to work somewhere to be trained to be an independent practitioner. 

The senior/ law firm’s point of view is valid. 

You need to separate the source for training and for work experience. 

Start doing the real work by getting on the field. 

Acquire training in parallel. It is possible to have multiple mentors for different kinds of work. 

Olympic athletes, professional sportsmen and business leaders have multiple coaches to train them. 

A coach has a responsibility to coach you to achieve success, but you don’t have to work for the coach. 

When you understand the difference between where you obtain your training from and where you perform your work, you can start building your independent practice immediately. 

You can additionally have simultaneous access to a volume of training and guidance.

Several young lawyers rely on our online training programs to upskill themselves, where they have access to multiple practitioners who are experts in different fields of law to mentor them. 

They simultaneously work on building their credibility and writing articles. 

This process works. Several lawyers have successfully gone independent, added new services to their offerings and obtained clients by separating the source of their training and the source of their employment, that is, their clients.  

If you don’t have a job currently and are considering whether to start practice or apply for jobs, start practice anyway

If you are considering whether you should first focus on securing another job or start independent practice, my recommendation is to work on both fronts simultaneously. 

Many aspects are similar. 

The work that you will perform to build your credibility and the articles that you publish with the objective of starting independent practice will equally help you in your job-seeking efforts.

You can include your work in your job applications and your CV. 

These accomplishments are very likely to impress recruiters at law firms and companies as well.  

If you have independently been able to secure a few clients, you will also bring more value on the table in a job interview. 

Recruiters value a candidate who has the ability to generate independent clients and can operate independently without supervision. 

Additionally, it gives you an opportunity to negotiate a better salary, because you would already be earning “X” amount through your own clients, so you can negotiate a higher salary to work in a full-time position and give up the opportunity to generate independent clients. 

If things work out, who knows, you may be able to build a profitable and fulfilling independent practice faster than finding a job that you really love! 

Do you want to learn more about shifting to independent practice?

Join me in a 3 hour workshop from 7 – 10 pm on 27th November on How to Build a Recession Proof Practice, where we will work on:

  1. How to identify client needs and pain points, 
  2. How to conduct outbound activity that leads to incoming inquiries, 
  3. How to translate incoming inquiries into paid clients,
  4. How to create high value services to run your practice profitably and beat the competition, 
  5. How to accelerate your learning process to deliver new services 

We will also have mock conversations on the roadblocks that you may have faced in the past while interacting with potential clients. 

There is a special one-time offer for this workshop – it is available for a special price of INR 100/-. This offer will not be available again. 

If you are interested, please share your WhatsApp number and email with us so we can add you to a WhatsApp group we have specifically curated for lawyers.

https://chat.whatsapp.com/IZ43MinlJvIGL4wsPzZPFN

You will also get access to some other amazing resources through the group as well.

Cheers,

Abhyuday Agarwal


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