Life After the Military Lawyer Transitioning to private practice

Private Practice After Military Service

Does the military prepare a lawyer to go into private practice? The short answer is no. Most first tour judge advocates fall into one of three categories: prosecution, defense, or basic consumer law. In these positions, the new attorney will get an introduction to basic trial work and speaking with clients, but little thereafter. But it isn’t the practice in the military that is the problem, it is the level of experience in the upper ranks that stifles the practice of law.

1. Military Service Did Not Prepare You for the Private Practice of Law.

Law is truly learned through practice. Experience is gained through repetitions, debriefs, and correction. This is no different than any other profession, like medicine. The problem with military practice is that the officers in the upper ranks, major and above, those with 8 plus years of experience, have not developed their legal skills equivalent with their peers in private practice. This means that the legal mentors have little more legal experience than the individuals they are mentoring. Legal acumen is stagnant. The military has attempted to make this up with education, in the forms of advanced degrees. While this helps, military practitioners still need the repetitions and mentorship, after the advanced degree to gain experience. Without the necessary mentorship with practitioners with real world experience, no real development can occur, and creates the separation with those in private practice.

Not all is loss of course, but it does mean that a military practitioner who stays in the service for more than one tour will be behind their peers if she decides to get out and go into private practice. If you do decide to get out after more than one tour here are some strategies to “make up” the time.

2. Decide What You Want to Do.

Just like any goal setting, you must decide what area of law to practice: it is a must. Many people I speak with blast their resumes to law firms. The “shotgun” effect is not helpful. It is better to start networking in the legal practice area of your choice. This could lead to a mentorship that is so desperately needed to increase your legal skills.

3. Find a Mentor or Someone Who Will Train You.

Networking will lead to meeting someone who might be interested in mentoring you or teaching you their practice area. When I decided to start in private practice, I wanted to learn family law. Through networking I met a family law practitioner who needed help with his enormous case load. This led to me working for him on a contract basis while learning the practice area. It was a perfect situation for both of us.

4. Build Referrals.

After the mentorship ended, it was time to start on my own. Since I had already handled cases in the practice area and represented clients, this directly led to creating a referral base. Use the clients who you represented to send you clients, thus building a book of business. This is the process that every lawyer goes through. Learn it because it is the lifeline of your business.

5. Create Website – Skip SEO.

Creating a website is a requirement for every attorney. If you decided to start a solo practice, it is an absolute necessity, because it creates legitimacy and will be used to develop new business. Many SEO companies will offer you the world if you sign a contract: this is a mistake. According to Forbes , “If you can’t budget for 6 to 12 months of SEO, you might be better off putting that budget somewhere else.” I couldn’t agree more. SEO firms want to sell you a bright shinny object but remember, as a solo practitioner, you don’t want an object, you want clients. No SEO firm will guarantee clients. Without clients, your business will not survive and parking cars is in your future. Just create the website and use it as a referral tool, something that you can point potential clients to in order to show what you do.

6. Clients Want Competence and Fight.

In private practice, clients want competence and want you to fight for their cause. The mentorship will help with the competence and your military service gave you fight. Once you get over the experience gap, the skills you learned from military service will start to be of great benefit. Drive, a never-quit attitude, long work-hours, and tenacity are what will separate you from the rest.

Written by Brad Miller, Esq., Partner Fowler St. Clair in Mesa, Arizona.

He serves in the U.S. Marine Corps (res.) as a Judge Advocate, and in private practice, he focuses on criminal defense and family law. He can be reached at brad@bradlmiller.com.

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Bradley Miller


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