Hanging Out Your Shingle

By Aaron Bals, Harrang Long Gary Rudnick

Right around the time the legal profession took its hardest hit from the recession, the ABA began to exalt a supposedly new breed of lawyer: the "Legal Rebel." These were "pathfinders" and "mavericks," dedicated to changing "status quo" of the legal profession by charging affordable rates, using technology and practicing solo or in small firms.

Many of these are certainly practicing in Multnomah County by "hanging out a shingle." Alex Trauman and his business partner Nicholas Henderson did just that when they graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School in 2007.

"It's got to be a mindset," Trauman said. "You have to spend about the same time marketing as you are doing the work, which is true no matter the size of your firm."

Relying on mentors, a commitment to marketing in the local legal community, and a willingness to employ flexible fee arrangements, they built a book of business in areas such as partnership disputes, employment law and business entity formation. Trauman said that he and Henderson started their own firm not because of necessity, but because they felt that the Portland legal community provided them all of the resources they needed to succeed.

"The local community is very supportive," Trauman said. "There is no shortage of people who are willing to help if you catch them at the right time."

In 2009, Trauman and Henderson joined with firm Motschenbacher & Blattner, which now has five attorneys. Trauman said that in doing so, they gained administrative support and a greater degree of financial stability, without sacrificing the sense that their practice is their own.

Caryn Jones had the same desire to set her own course as a 2L at Lewis & Clark, but given the demands of raising her young son, thought she would do so later in her career. In particular, she imagined a practice focused on advocating for women, in which she could draw on her own experience with divorce and raising two young sons.

"I saw an advertisement for a men's divorce firm," Jones said. "It seemed crazy to me that there's a men's divorce firm in Portland but not a women's divorce firm."

When the recession hit and most of her class was struggling to find work, she decided to speed up those plans upon graduation in 2009. Already on her third office, Jones' family law practice is steadily growing, supplemented by business, employment and estate planning work. She even has a few male clients.

"I tell them, if you are uncomfortable with my Web site that says 'women's law' all over it, maybe I'm not the lawyer for you," Jones said. "So far, no one has turned me down."

For those harboring their own dreams of a solo practice, the YLS is hosting a CLE on May 19 at Kells Irish Pub titled "Starting Your Own Firm: The New Lawyer's Perspective." Trauman, Jones and Gregory Levinson will discuss what they learned by starting their own practices.