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New kind of lawyer: legal eaglet

A rising number of young lawyers are skipping established firms to start out on their own. Should you hire a young, solo practitioner?

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Though solos routinely turn down cases that fall outside their areas of focus, some say clients get top-notch service even when a lawyer is learning as he goes. The logic: They take nothing for granted.

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"One thing I've noticed about young lawyers is they don't want to screw up," Ms. Rodgers says. "So they work really hard: They do a lot of research and are extremely diligent.... I've also seen examples of [more experienced] lawyers who were not diligent and did not represent their clients well. And part of it was because they were accustomed to it."

Whatever the legal situation might be, Blonder suggests asking a few questions so clients enter the relationship well ­informed about the risks. For instance, ask if the lawyer carries malpractice insurance. Solos are less likely than larger firms to have coverage, Blonder says, since no state except Oregon requires lawyers to carry it. Other questions to ask:

•How many cases of this type have you handled? How were they resolved?

•Do you have mentors or others whom you'll consult in this case?

•If you collaborate with lawyers in other firms, how do I know who is representing me?

•Can I help contain costs by doing some of the legwork that doesn't require legal expertise, such as tracking down documents or making copies?

With pressure on companies to hold down legal costs, even large corporations are using small law firms, says Laura Farber, chair of the solo and small firm law division of the American Bar Association. "For a time, the 'big firm' or 'big law' – whatever you want to call it – was the predominant practice for corporate America, but that's changed," Ms. Farber says. "And I firmly believe it's not ever going back to the way things were."


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