When I graduated from law school, much too long ago to remember, I could not find a law job in Houston as the Texas economy was in a state of collapse. I moved back to my home town of Texarkana, Texas. There I started my own law practice with no experience in anything, except that I worked a little during law school. I did not have a great grasp of business, law, organization, marketing or even speaking with people about what I do. When I brought in my first case (a divorce) I did not even know what the pleadings were suppose to look like or how you filed pleadings with the district clerk. In fact, in Texas, I did not even understand there was a difference between the county clerk and the district clerk.
This was before tech, and I really had only three things going fo me, none of which I learned in law school. First, I had some ambition of sorts. Maybe it would be best to call it curiosity. Or, maybe it would be best to call it confidence that everything will turn out alright. Faith maybe. But, whatever you call it, I had a driving interest to figure things out, to get out of bed everyday regardless of the results of the previous day, and to move forward in meeting people, getting the advice I needed, dispensing the advice to others that was necessary, and to divorce myself from what other lawyers were doing to practice law. I could remove myself from convention to see what worked for me. And, I was excited to work myself through this process.
Second, I learned growing up that when you meet people you greet people with a firm handshake, and look them straight in the eye. It turns out this works well with establishing referral sources.
Third, I knew from politics that grassroots are everything. Today and in business or law we call them referral sources. Regardless, the grassroots represent the community. In a political context it manifests itself in hosting house parties, organizing meetings, handing out literature, talking to people on the streets so to speak, mobilizing letter-writing, phone-calling and, now, emailing, blogging and social media campaigns. It is setting up information tables, and asking people to submit opinions. Today, these communities can be virtual, and paper plays less of a part. But, the concept works no matter what you call it in a modern, business, or legal context.
What I learned though all of this is that the well meaning advice people give young lawyers to not limit yourselves to practice areas, to first work at an existing law firm, to first learn the law, then slowly work yourself into the community does not have to be. The grassroots are ready for you now.
My advice is do not be intimidated. Start at the top. If you can find a law job that is truly beneficial to you, then that is great. Do it. But, if not, then shoulder yourself through the crowd to the front and make yourself known. I am not saying to be impolite, but with little ambition, a firm handshake, some eye contact, you are always going to do yourself well with the grassroots.