Darren J. Sylvester and Rachel Roche are two United Kingdom based legal practitioners who have crafted a most worthy roadmap on how to build a law practice. “How to Start a Law Firm – A Practical Guide to Offering Legal Service” was published in 2020 by the Law Society as a guide to lawyers starting out. Having read it, I can attest to the fact that is also a valuable resource to those lawyers who are already on their way.
What those two inspirational lawyers have done is to ensure that the ladder is kept in place to allow others to successfully ascend in law practice. In that vein they adhere to the principle enunciated by the legendary Dean of the Howard University Law School Charles Hamilton Houston. Houston tutored the first African American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. It was Houston’s wisdom that:
A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.
Sylvester and Roche are social engineers in that they give back to the profession the most useful tool – their knowledge on how to develop a successful law practice.
The work is a treasure trove of gems on how to get it done. To erect that scaffolding for success, the authors interviewed various practitioners. Such an approach adds color, context and provides real life examples of what is required to run a successful practice. In what are real life stories we learn that:
- Business planning is key to securing funding, planning business development and focusing the thinking of the lawyer starting out (Page, 43)
- Networking is key to securing a regular source of work and running your thoughts pass others. You can benefit much by running things by other sole practitioners and benefit from their experiences (Sarah Khan-Bashir – founder of SKB Law, West Yorkshire – page, 109)
- Fees – Hourly rates can be daunting to clients. Seriously consider the move towards flat fees where possible; (Page, 117)
- Balancing Professional and Empathetic Behavior – Lawyers are often been seen as cold, money grubbing and unkind. The lawyer who is professional, yet empathetic, will engender much loyalty and a long-term flow of clients. (page 117)
- Handling Complaints – Deal with them promptly. When the issue is money, it is preferable to return the fee instead of getting into what can turn into a bitter dispute. Never forget that good news travels slowly as molasses in the winter, bad news travels like a raging prairie fire.
- Community Service – Giving free legal advice on radio, at churches or other social organizations is a wonderful way to develop community outreach. It is also free advertising. Those who benefit from the lawyers’ pro bono services, or work with the less fortunate, will be secure a solid source of referrals. (page, 96)
Sylvester and Roche also give sound insight into the benefits of a good website, partnering, handling email, enhancing cyber security and the like.
I have had the privilege of knowing Darren J. Sylvester as a stalwart member of Dominica’s Diaspora in the United Kingdom. His public service, community development ethic, and civic leadership is worthy of tribute. I am certain that his co-author Rachel Roche is cut from the same cloth as she is joined with him in sharing such valuable information.
This book is not some turgid prose full of obtuse legalisms. It is a hands-on primer that any young lawyer looking to start a practice in the United Kingdom, United States, the Caribbean or elsewhere would do well to read. Sylvester and Roche by such unselfish service in sharing their knowledge have burnished the practice of law. In so doing, they have set a ladder in place that other legal practitioners can now ascend. A great read!