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When Luz Herrera opened her solo practice in Compton, Calif., she had no idea how to bill or create a retainer agreement, what to charge clients for consultation, where to drum up business � or whom to ask for help. “It took me two years before I felt comfortable running my practice,” said the Harvard Law School graduate. “It shouldn’t take that long, and I don’t think it does for people who have support from their law schools.” It’s a complaint of many solo practitioners, who claim their law schools failed to prepare them to “hang a shingle.” And while some law schools are beginning to address the problem with courses on law practice management, most schools aren’t catching on, said Susan Cartier-Liebel, a solo practitioner in Northford, Conn., who teaches a course called “Law Office Management” at Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden, Conn. Solo practitioners make up 48% of the private-practice lawyers, according to the American Bar Foundation’s Lawyer Statistical Report. But only 5% of graduating law students immediately go into solo practice following graduation, according to a separate 2004 American Bar Foundation study. This is because schools aren’t encouraging students to believe they’re capable, Cartier-Liebel said. “Law schools aren’t preparing their students to take the bar and immediately hang a shingle,” she said. “That’s a significant portion of people in law school who are not recognized for their ambitions.” Discouraging words On the career Web site of Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia, students are told that solo practice means lawyers who are “generalists or practice in the personal injury area. It is difficult for someone to establish a solo practice immediately upon graduation after law school.” Louis Thompson, assistant dean for career planning for Temple’s law school, said he was unaware that this was on the Web site and that the school will change it because it wants to encourage students to go into solo practice. The school introduced a course this year called “The Business of Law,” he said. ” ‘Difficult’ may not be the right word to describe it,” Thompson said. “ But realistically, going into solo practice requires thought and planning, more than just doing a passive job search.” Which is why students are starving for help from their law schools, said Bill Conger, a professor at Oklahoma City University School of Law who teaches the course “Introduction to Legal Practice.” Students in Conger’s class create a business plan, in which they create a law firm and a Web site, lease office space and draft a lease agreement. The course also addresses malpractice insurance, how to enter into a fee agreement with a client and how to set up trust accounts. Tim McKinney, a solo practitioner in Guthrie, Okla., took Conger’s class in law school and opened up his solo practice in 2005, immediately after graduating. “The class helped me know what to expect,” he said. “And it helped me refine some of the business.” Yet career development offices at most first-tier law schools only cater to students who want big-firm jobs, Herrera said, explaining that she approached her alma mater, Harvard, to set up a program for students wanting information on going into solo practice. “They told me students weren’t interested in that,” she said. “But then I worked with several student organizations to plan a session on it, and at least 40 students came.” Mike Armini, a spokesman for the school, said that when Herrera contacted the career services department, the school was very interested in working with her but the schedule was booked. “It was a timing issue,” Armini said. Harvard Law School will start a course in professional services in spring 2008, which focuses on how to run law firms and law practices, Armini added.

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