In a recent post, I considered the wisdom of venturing into solo practice when an attorney first enters the industry. With the threat of malpractice and the financial insecurity that accompanies the decision, it’s a scary first step. Indeed, it wasn’t one I felt comfortable taking for myself at the time. Now that I’ve entered solo practice I can’t help but wonder if I could have done it after all. Increasingly I do believe that if properly prepared a new attorney can successfully venture into solo practice.
Nonetheless, I was eager to hear other solo attorneys’ opinions on the subject. So I presented the issue to the Solo Attorney Practitioner’s Forum on LinkedIn Groups. As it turns out, many of the attorneys in that group had ventured into solo practice immediately after passing the bar, and they were eager to share their experiences.
Michael Szklasz, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts-based General Practitioner, noted that the job market in his area was lean when he passed the bar. His job hunt often only uncovered positions seeking attorneys with 5+ years of experience. Lacking the experience for those positions, Michael decided to go it alone: “It has been difficult. My first several clients were pro bono but I had to take them as I had nothing else. That decision was the best one I could have made. Those cases started the ball rolling with referrals and exposure. Now my practice is doing well after a first very lean year. I would not change what I did. My advice to a new attorney facing a tough job market? Go it alone and take those pro bono or low-paying cases. They pay off with dividends!”
Michael noted that one of the greatest hurdles facing newly solo attorneys can be a lack of resources. In that regard, he advised: “I had little to no resources. I started out with a very experienced and helpful mentor and a home office. Shortly after putting myself out there, I had no calls. I started hanging around the court and talking to the officers and clerk staff. I took a few pro bono cases early and worked very hard on them.”
Michael’s comments were echoed by Atlanta-based attorney Valentia Alleyne. Much like Michael’s experience, Valentia felt that with a lean job market, solo practice was her best option. After setting out, she never looked back. In fact, she said that entering solo practice was “[t]he best decision I ever made.” To make things work, she took advantage of any resources available: “I shared cases/split fees initially with seasoned attorneys where I acted as the junior attorney, but the experience and knowledge I received by working with them was invaluable.”
Valentia also noted that: “I don’t believe in operating in the red (or try your best not to). So, I worked out of my home office for the first several months until I had a large enough client base to warrant office space/committing to a lease. I also leveraged my State Bar where you can request conference room space for you and your clients. I also took advantage of our Bar’s referral service for a minimal fee and spent a lot of time at court meeting individuals who continue to be great referral sources. I also made it a goal to meet with someone new every day – accomplishing by volunteering, going to local bar events, and other community events to build my network and relationships, which has paid dividends.”
Nonetheless, Los Angeles-based Family Law Attorney Mark Baez noted that a lack of resources isn’t the only challenge facing newly minted solo practitioners. Mark had practiced in the law firm environment as an associate for 3 years before going solo. He felt the experience provided him with many valuable lessons: “Not only did I learn how to practice law, but I tried to take the positives and to steer clear of the negatives. If you don’t have such an opportunity and you hang out your own shingle, you may very well be a walking malpractice case.” All the same, Mark agreed that these pitfalls could probably be avoided if “you have sufficient resources, mentors and colleagues at your disposal who are willing to assist you.”
Solo practitioners, did you enter solo practice directly after passing the bar? Do you have any tips or advice for other new attorneys setting out on their own? Let us hear them in the comments section.