I tend to think of myself as an entrepreneur at heart. Even before I attended a single class in law school, my dream was always to start my own solo practice. I’ve never been interested in following the “partner track” at a big firm or moving in-house to work for a large corporation. And I know I’m not alone. Many of the attorneys I’ve known throughout my career have confessed that they too dream of hanging their own shingle one day. But it’s a scary decision and not an easy leap to make. Knowing when you’re ready is the first step. Here are a few signs to help you decide when it’s the right time for you.
1. You’re Confident in Your Abilities
The number one most valuable asset you can bring to your new practice is your confidence. In fact, confidence is non-negotiable as a solo practitioner. You need to believe in yourself and you need to have the confidence to accept cases that are outside of your comfort zone. You’ll need confidence to convince clients that you are ready to handle their cases. And you’ll need confidence to go out and drum up business and network with your colleagues. If you’re not sure that you’re ready for that, then you are probably not ready to go solo. Conversely, if you believe in yourself, you’re probably ready to make a go for it.
2. You’re Willing to Accept Risk
Starting a solo practice is like any other business. In part, that means that there is risk involved. There is risk that your solo practice will fail; there is risk that you could find yourself at the ugly end of a malpractice complaint; and there is risk that going solo won’t turn out the way you’d hoped. That’s just the nature of doing business. If you aren’t willing to accept some risk, then you’ll never be ready to go solo. After all, there is no such thing as a sure thing.
3. You See an Opening
Part of successfully making the transition to solo practice is about seeing the right opportunity and going for it. Of course, opportunity comes in many different guises. Maybe you’ve noticed an under represented practice area in your community. Maybe you’re recently unemployed. Or maybe you’ve just come into enough money to get you by while you get the new firm off the ground. In my experience, those opportunities don’t always last. Your nest egg could disappear or another firm could pop up and fill the void you’ve been itching to fill yourself. If you see your chance then go for it while you can!
4. You Have the Resources
Going solo doesn’t have to be expensive, but it certainly won’t be cheap. Indeed, it’s increasingly easy to keep your firm’s overhead low. You can choose to work from home or use a shared office space. You can use free legal research tools such as Google Scholar or Fast Case. But you’ll still have to pay for your regular living expenses until your firm is bringing in steady income. That may take a while. I’d recommend planning for it to take at least a year. If you’re serious about making your new firm a success then you need to either have other sources of income or be willing to live on a shoestring until things start to click for your new firm.
5. You Have the Passion
Every solo practitioner I’ve ever spoken to has told me that going solo was the best professional decision they’ve ever made. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, the second most common thing a solo practitioner will tell you is that it is very hard work. You can almost certainly expect to work more often than you did before you went solo. You can also expect to find more things to stress about. After all, you’ll not only have to worry about your case load, but you’ll have to also worry about the business-side of your new firm. You’ll probably have to deal with financial strain, self doubt, and pressure from clients. Your firm will only survive if you’re passionate about making it work.
In the end, as scary as it is to make the move into solo practice, it’s probably a decision you’ll never regret. Most solo practitioners find the freedom of solo practice exhilarating. And when you’re working late nights and weekends, you’ll know it’s to build something you can be proud of.
Are you a solo attorney? Share your tips and advice for other lawyers who are considering the leap in the comments section.
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