How I Practice-Michael O'Brien

Michael O'BrienMichael P. O’Brien
O’Brien Law Firm, PLLC
New York City


1. What are your areas of practice?
Civil Litigation – primarily insurance defense / personal injury defense, along with some commercial litigation

2. Describe a typical day for you?
I do an hour or so of work in my home office before my family gets up. I try to get in a quick work-out, and then I will head to court or an examination before trial (EBT) in one of the five New York City counties. I may have an afternoon appearance or EBT; otherwise I go back to the office to work on files or meet with a client. After dinner and homework and family activities, I spend an hour or two in the evening in my home office again wrapping up loose ends and getting ready for the following day. If I am on trial (which is typically 8–10 jury trials per calendar year), my day is similar to the above schedule but 99.9% of my time geared toward the trial. My family is very supportive, and they understand that when I am on trial it is my primary focus.

3. Where do you practice? Do you have a stand-alone office or home office?
I have an office in lower Manhattan and also a home office.

4. What is the most rewarding thing about having your own practice?
The most rewarding thing is being able to spend time with my family on my terms. If my calendar is clear, I can take an afternoon off to take my daughter to ballet or my son to piano without having to ask an office manager for the time off.

5. What are some of the challenges about having your own practice?
When you have a firm with a large support staff, you can typically focus on just being a lawyer while you have others to handle administrative tasks, financials, marketing, etc. When you have your own practice, most or all of these tasks are the solo attorney’s responsibility – especially at the beginning. However I was surprised to find that I actually had more time to focus on the “lawyer” work because other time-consuming tasks were eliminated (i.e. various office meetings, group lunches, waiting for someone else to finish something, etc.)

6. What are your must-have tech tools/apps?
Having a high-quality smartphone is obviously essential (but don’t be afraid to turn it off when you are trying to focus on drafting an important motion!) I also have a Microsoft Surface, which is a great laptop – highly functional and so lightweight that I barely notice it in my briefcase. It allows me to prepare a case study or complete an EBT report literally anywhere – while commuting, in court, at lunch, waiting for an EBT to start. I also have an Ellipsis Jetpack (mobile hotspot). There are others but these are the basics to get you started.

7. How do you market your practice? How do you find new clients?
Marketing is primarily word-of-mouth and reputation. I am in court all the time, and that is often the best “live” marketing – other lawyers see me trying a case; they see me arguing a motion; they see a quality work product. Colleagues and even former adversaries refer me work; past clients refer me work; current clients refer me additional work.

8. When and where do you interact with other attorneys?
Most often (about 80-90% of the time) I interact with other attorneys in court. The rest of the time is various bar association events – NYSBA, local bar associations, etc.

9. How do you stay informed with legal news/developments?
I seek new information wherever and whenever I can – newspapers, Twitter, online. If I am on trial, I will read the local newspaper for the county where I am trying the case. If the jury is thinking about something, I want to know and understand what that issue is. I read the New York Law Journal. I receive NYSBA journals and publications (Case Prep Plus is a great resource). I am also on various listserves that are pertinent to my practice.

10. If a fellow attorney decided they wanted to start their own practice, what is the one thing they should know?
You don’t want to be 5, 10, 20 years down the line and say “I wish I had started my own practice.” If starting your own practice is something you want to do, then make a plan and make it happen. Commit to it with everything you have. Jump into the ocean feet first. And then, like Dory said in Finding Nemo…”just keep swimming”.