In these hard times, the young legal community is a buzz with the prospect and anxiety of figuring out the next step. Blogs are filled with goal setting strategies, marketing concepts, and little hints at how to stay afloat. As a young attorney slowly building a solo practice, I spend many late hours reading through the piles of blogs, from Carolyn Elefant’s My Shingle (by far the leading soloist guru) to the Lawyerist. The web is filled with useful, but at times overwhelming amounts of information. However, at the end of the day, the single most troublesome question is “how much does it cost?” And actually, the answer may surprise you, because it really isn’t that much. As the guys (and gals) over at the Lawyerist point out, you can do it for less than $3000.00 for your first year. (It should be mentioned that their calculations do not take into consideration CLEs, basic bar dues, local bar membership dues, and other expenses that are required to keep your license in good standing). It takes some creativity, some good ol’ elbow grease, but it can be done, because at the end of the day, all you really need is clients. And so with that general introduction, lets shift gears and focus on the scariest expense, legal research and resources. Below I have outlined a simple plan, to keep costs low, and still provide quality legal services.
Please be advised that if you are client, potential client, or just a wandering soul looking for legal resources, the information provided in this post is intended as general advise for practicing attorneys. If you have a legal question, feel free to peruse but please seek counsel for any questions that may affect your rights and obligations in your current position.
Except for on TV commercials and old firms, the days of the firm library are quickly dying away. I recently worked in a building that was once occupied by a sizable firm. They had completely abandoned their entire book collection. The old library nerd in me shed a tear looking at the musty stacks wasting away. However, the point is, even the big firms are walking away from the bookshelves, because owning these books is simple a waste of money.
Although we all were trained, at some point, to use the glorious power of Westlaw and Lexis Nexus, we eventually find that for all of its usefulness, we never use it enough to validate the price. Carolyn Elefant has done some research and on site visits for the new WestlawNext, and although promising in some aspects, it seems to fall into the same pitfalls. Basically, unless you are a large firm, with a wide array of practice areas, spanning several jurisdictions, and heavy in litigation, or you run an appellate practice, these behemoths simply don’t add up when it comes to budgeting. The lesser knowns like FastCase, LoisLaw, and VersusLaw simply are not robust to really provide you with a service that legitimizes a heavy monthly fee. This is even more evident as you begin to settle into your chosen field. My first real legal experience was working for a family law practice. In the entire time I was there, I cited only a single case and performed not one single ounce of “legal research.” Most practice areas are well established institutions that rarely step beyond the boundaries of their self defined standards. Moreover, the specialization of legal practice has also caused the broad stroke research companies to not provide the type of searchable resources in a usable format that we might need.
So if you scratch the traditional resources where do you turn?
Now I said your home library is a waste of money (except for those very relevant books on how to run a law office and the guides we all know and love), but I didn’t say books and libraries are bad. In fact, your best possible resource is your local law school library. The stacks are filled with relevant material, reference guides, computer database, and best of all, a full staff of research helpers. If all of your years of schooling taught you one thing, it was that a good library is your best resource. Depending your law school’s library policies, you may also have access to the journal databases and other random (unless its relevant to you) databases. And besides it is always a nice quiet place to just get away.
Believe it or not, a good Google (or other reputable search engine) is actually not a bad place to start, especially for helping you narrow down the search. From legal definitions, to pertinent discussion on high profile cases and the aftermath, Google can provide you with the building blocks of a good research. Here are some ways google and internet are good general research tools:
So often we take for granted the actual value of our membership dues. Whether the annual costs of membership fees and additional sectional fees, or those pestering CLE classes, too many people simple go through the motions and use only a portion of the actual services provided. Here are a few tips from my world:
And of course, the new mother lode, the internet. Every practice, at this point, will have some relevant database sourced online. Some are pay as you go, some are monthly fees, but most are free. Whether using Cornell’s Legal Information Institute or the SEC’s Edgar System or the other multitudes of online resources, sanctioned or provided by federal and local governments, you can find most things not “case law” related online.
In addition to the more standard resources, the next best resource on the internet is the legal blogosphere. Attorneys the country over are discussing pertinent and relevant developments in their respective fields. Read them, use them, interact with them. Forget shephardizing, bloggerdize. With the speed of the internet, blogs are putting out analysis faster than any shephardizing publisher. You should also get inspired by the blogs. Writing your own blog will help you clarify points in your mind and lay the ground work for things you might encounter down the road.
And that is it. Those are tools that I use on a regular basis, and to date, have had little to no issue with. Happy building!!