Hindi Greenberg, J.D., is the president of Lawyers in Transition. She consults with individual lawyers nationwide on career satisfaction and options in and out of law and with law firms on outplacing their attorneys.
Going out on your own or starting a new firm with several other lawyers can seem like a formidable task, but for those individuals who desire self-sufficiency and want to choose their own cases, clients and lifestyle, it is a viable alternative. Most solos either continue with their previous practice area or pick an interesting new practice area and cultivate it. However, there are a number of important considerations before hanging out a shingle.
The most important factors in the success of a solo practice are an analysis and understanding of your individual personality, expectations, and work style and a recognition that the solo practice of law involves running a business, with its concomitant requirements to be a business owner, marketing expert, office manager and personnel supervisor, as well as a lawyer. For many a law firm lawyer who has fantasies of escaping from client development or management obligations to open a solo office and “just practice law,” it comes as a rude surprise that at least fifty percent of the work time spent by the solo practitioner is involved with exactly those marketing and business responsibilities. Therefore, before you open a solo practice, it is imperative to make an analysis of your preferred style of working (whether working alone sounds exciting or lonely, whether a quiet or buzzing environment motivates your work), how much financial uncertainty you can tolerate (since salaries are not paid every two weeks in a solo practice and client development and bill collection are up to you), and if you really want to be the CEO of your own business.
To make an informed decision about whether and how to start your own practice, here are some useful resources:
- Join the General or Solo Practice Section of both your state and local bar associations. Members are other solo and small firm practitioners whose brains you can pick so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and who are often good sources for vendor and client referrals. Also join the Law Practice Management Section, where you should be able to pick up good practice management ideas. Publications from these sections have useful tips for solo practitioners.
- Check with your local bar association to see if it sponsors seminars or workshops for new solo lawyers.
- Read books on solo practice and law firm management. Find relevant titles on the Internet, in any law library card catalog or ask a law librarian. There are many books published by the American Bar Association on starting, building, marketing and even selling a solo practice.
- Obtain the alumni roster from your law school and see if any classmates are solo practitioners or in small firms. If so, contact them for information, moral support, perhaps shared office space or support services and future referrals. If you don’t find any solos who you know, call the career services office at your law school (even if it is in another state) and ask for a referral to an alumnus who is a solo practitioner. Most career services offices maintain a “mentor” list of practicing lawyers who are willing to talk to law students or alumni who change practices.
- If you need to initially supplement the income you derive directly from clients, consider doing some contract work, on an hourly fee basis, for other lawyers who either have excess work or who need help with work in your specialty area. Income from contract work will allow you to turn away the bad cases and clients you might otherwise feel the financial pressure to accept.
- Even when you feel pressure (financial, social, bleeding heart) to accept a case which doesn’t feel or sound right to you, which probably won’t result in a fee or where it will put too much pressure on your limited time, remember that the saying, “what I lose on one bad case, I make up for by taking them in quantity,” won’t result in a lucrative, satisfying practice. Learn to say “no.” Especially if it’s a bad case from a friend or relative—those can often result in losing a friend or alienating a relative when you should have referred their case to another lawyer.
© 2012 by Hindi Greenberg, J.D./Lawyers in Transition. No reproduction in any format, other than on www.vault.com, without express written permission. Hindi Greenberg may be reached at (530) 274-7955 or www.lawyersintransition.com.