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Should your new law practice be a partnership or a solo practice?

Because I’m a solo practitioner myself, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about issues that affect other solos. Of course, many attorneys work in partnerships and small firms that aren’t incredibly different than the work environment of a solo practitioner. Generally speaking, I don’t think the distinction between whether you are a solo practitioner or work in a small firm matters in terms of productivity, technology, and business practices. At least not in terms of what you can do to improve you own practice of the law. In other words, most of my tips apply equally regardless of the type of office you work in.

However, if you’re considering entering solo or small firm practice, you might be wondering whether or not to go truly solo or whether you’d be better off in a partnership. There are a number of benefits to each option, but for many people entering into a partnership is an especially attractive option. It means having other people to rely on, enjoying the camaraderie of working with peers, and knowing there is someone to turn to when you need help or want a vacation. However, it’s also true that no partnership is better than a bad partnership. When things go bad in a business partnership it’s not unlike a divorce: tempers flare, assets get divided, and a fight over the children (or, in this case, the clients) is almost certain. As a result, if you are considering entering a partnership, it’s important to consider whether it’s the right option for you. The answer to that question will depend on your compatibility with your potential partner(s).

Here are four important questions to consider before launching a new partnership:

Do you have the same expectations?

It’s important to make sure that you and your potential partner share the same vision for the new practice. There are many reasons why attorneys choose to launch a law practice. For example, some attorneys choose to enter into small firm practice for the flexibility it provides while other attorneys enter into small firm practice because they are ambitious and have grand visions for the future of their new firm. Needless to say, if you’re hoping to build a boutique practice where you can work part time, then you might not be a good match for an attorney who is hoping to build an international legal empire. If one member of the partnership feels that they are working more than the other member(s), resentment is bound to take root. As a result, make sure you speak openly and straight-forwardly with your potential partner(s) about your goals for the potential practice.

Do you have the same work ethic?

While it’s true that it’s important to share the same goals for your practice, it’s as important to make sure that you and your potential partner(s) share a similar work ethic. Launching a new law practice typically takes a LOT of work, a lot of late nights, and a lot of commitment. If you and your potential partners don’t share the same work ethic, you may be headed for trouble right from the earliest days of the new practice.

Do you have compatible skill sets?

It’s important to consider what each potential partner is contributing to the new practice. Each partner should be offering relatively comparable benefits to the firm. Ideally, each partner offers something that enhances the value of the firm overall.

Can you envision a reasonably likely scenario in which you begin to question what one of the prospective partners is actually offering the practice? If so, maybe it’s best to avoid that partnership altogether.

Do you have mutual trust and respect?

Like a good marriage, a partnership should be founded on trust and respect at least on a professional level. If you don’t trust your partners to make your practice a success, you’re bound to face conflict. Similarly, if there isn’t a mutual respect between the partners in the firm, you’re also in for trouble. Remember, once you begin a partnership with this person, their actions and work will be associated with your name on a professional level. Similarly, liabilities incurred by your partners will be imputed against your interest in the practice as well. If they are a walking malpractice case, there actions might invite sanctions and lawsuits against the entire practice.

The bottom line is that a partnership can offer many benefits to a new law practice. However, it’s important that you take the decision seriously. Discuss your expectations with your potential partners. Go over issues like the division of labor, how profits will be split, and each partner’s level of commitment to the firm.

Have you seen a partnership go bad? Do you have any tips for attorneys considering launching a partnership? Your advice may prove invaluable to the other attorneys who are considering a new partnership. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

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