This whole “transitioning my practice to Baltimore” thing may be more difficult than I had been thinking.
I met with my Maryland mentor last week. It is great that the Maryland Professionalism Center offers this opportunity for people who have just passed the Bar, and I was fortunate to be assigned to this particular person. My mentor practices criminal defense full-time, and, as a partner in a four-lawyer firm in downtown Baltimore, she seems to do the nitty-gritty type of street crime that I hope to do. She also tries cases.
I caught my mentor at the tail-end of a long day in what is clearly a busy practice. Overflowing with people waiting to meet one of the firm’s lawyers, the firm’s waiting room reminded me of what you might see at the public defender’s office in Philadelphia. She herself is attractive, plain spoken and forthcoming — very much what you would expect in a criminal defense lawyer.
I am used to figuring my way around a new jurisdiction. I did it in Philly, then in D.C., and then in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and every other county in Virginia with its own jargon and its own way of doing things. Although I am not looking forward to yet another transition, I know I can do it. You feel pretty stupid and out-of-place for a while. Only gradually do things begin to fall into place.
But there are other things about Baltimore practice I learned from my mentor that give me pause. For one thing, unlike D.C. in which you can cover multiple listings in one courthouse, Baltimore’s district and circuit courts are spread out all over the city. My mentor and her two partners divvy up the appearances amongst themselves. This will be more of a challenge for a solo practitioner: I remember all too well the wrath directed by judges and court staff at the private lawyers who ran around between the different courts in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties trying to make multiple court appearances in one day. Matt Brown describes the aggravation all too vividly. This is something I was hoping to avoid.
According to my mentor, there is also a very low fee structure in Baltimore, probably the lowest in Maryland. This is the economic reality of the city. Although I did not ask her whether or not her firm accepts payment plans, I assume that it does. Again, this would be more of a challenge for a solo practitioner. I don’t plan on doing any work at a rate below what I believe my services are worth. And I wouldn’t have the infrastructure to track down non-paying clients. This means that I would lose out on all potential clients who only have the ability to make payments over a period of time.
Since I am currently in court 4 or 5 days a week in D.C., I would have the same problem in accepting new cases in Baltimore that I used to have taking on new work in Virginia. A solo practitioner cannot be in two places at one time. I would need to start turning work down in D.C. before I could undertake what is still a questionable endeavor; namely, building a practice in Baltimore.
Finally, if you add to this the fact that I like D.C. practice, have friends there, and finally feel as if I know what I am doing, it looks like it may be a while – if ever – before I make the transition. The key question may be how long I can stand the commute.