Although many attorneys dream of making the move, the transition from a steady paycheck to the uncertainties of solo practice is scary. Nonetheless, most solo practitioners never look back after making the move and/or will tell you that they are glad they took that leap of faith. Ultimately, whether you are ready or not is a very personal decision between you and your family. Having recently made the move myself, I’ve learned there is a lot to consider. I’ve prepared a list of things to consider to help you decide what the right decision is for you:
1) Is This What You Really Want?
Presumably, you are considering a solo career because you believe that owning your own firm will offer you greater job satisfaction than your current career path. But is that true? Factors such as compensation, stress levels, camaraderie, and autonomy are often thought of as some of the most important elements in career satisfaction, and therefore should be considered when deciding whether this is what you really want for your career.
As a solo, you’ll probably not earn as much as your colleagues in BigLaw. Certainly not right off the bat anyways. Still, Carolyn Elefant, author of Solo by Choice, notes that by their second year in solo practice “a solo is likely to be close to matching their previous salary, and, by the third year, most solos will exceed what they earned before leaving a law firm or government position.” Perhaps more importantly, once you bring in clients, every dollar you earn will go towards your salary and running your business. For many people, there is a value in knowing that you alone are earning the fruits of your labor.
You’ll probably find just as many things to stress about in solo practice as you did as a law firm. Indeed, going solo will dramatically change the nature of your career. You’ll now be responsible for all of the responsibilities of running a business. You’ll have to market your firm, network to expand your circle of colleagues and potential clients, manage all aspects of client development, open and manage multiple bank accounts, create and manage a website, manage the day to day operations of your office, etc. In other words, all of the hundreds of details involved in running a business will be your sole responsibility. And that is on top of the usual responsibilities of being a lawyer.
Unless you engage in a shared work space or similar arrangement you may find that going solo is lonelier than life at a firm. Of course, I’d personally recommend using that as motivation to network, network, network. In fact, while you are trying to get your practice off the ground you should expect to spend more time on business development, networking and marketing than actually practicing the law. If you aren’t performing legal work, you should be connecting with people who might be able to help you grow your practice.
Perhaps the greatest thrill in going solo is the freedom you’ll experience. “Face time” becomes a silly by-product of your past life. You’ll have the choice as to which clients and cases you accept. You’ll create your own schedule. You won’t have to attend mandatory lunch meetings. You’ll be able to fully judge the quality of your own work by your results instead of by arbitrary billable hour requirements. Heck, you can show up to the office in jeans and a sweatshirt if that suits you. It’s your prerogative.
2) Are You Committed to Making Your Practice a Success?
If you want to succeed as a solo practitioner you’ll need to be driven. By most accounts, the first few months, maybe even the first year, can be discouraging. Clients may not come in as fast as you’d hoped. You’ll face unexpected roadblocks and difficulties in terms of both client development and in just establishing your own business. In order to succeed as a solo practitioner you need to believe in yourself, understand that success doesn’t happen overnight, and be willing to work hard to make your business succeed. You graduated from law school. You passed your state bar. You can do this too if you work hard to make it happen.
3) Can You Afford To Go Solo?
Obviously, finances are an important consideration when considering whether to go solo. You need to consider what types of financial obligations you have. Do you have loans to repay? A mortgage? Are you your family’s sole bread-winner? Unless you are able to bring clients with you into your new practice, it is entirely possible, maybe even likely, that you’ll initially have no income at all from your practice. Ideally, you have enough in your savings to cover your living expenses for a few months while you get your practice off the ground. You can lessen the impact of certain financial obligations, such as student loans, by filing for a deferral or investigating potential loan forgiveness programs.
You may even want to consider what other potential sources of income available to you during those first few months just to keep yourself afloat. But be careful not to become too reliant on those other income sources as many veteran solo attorneys warn that relying on outside income sources can be detrimental to the growth of your new practice.
Thankfully, it is easier than ever to start a practice on a shoestring. You can use services like Evernote for file management. You can use Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, LinkedIn and similar services to promote your expertise and services. There are countless cheap and free apps for your iPhone or iPad that will help you practice law efficiently and cost-effectively. There are hosts of free legal law libraries available on the Internet. It’s easier than ever to work from home, run a virtual law office, or partner with other attorneys for shared office space. Rocket Lawyer’s very own On Call program can help you connect with potential clients and discover new leads.
Are you already a practicing solo attorney? What other advice would you offer to those considering whether to make the jump? Let us/them know in the comments!
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- How To Use Twitter To Promote Your Law Practice (sociablelawyer.org)
- Why 2012 Will Be The Year of The Solo Practitioner and Small Firm (sociablelawyer.org)
- The 8 Most Essential Free iPad Apps For Attorneys (sociablelawyer.org)