Deciding to go from a law firm to solo practice is a tough decision. Not only that, it’s a big one that will affect you for potentially the rest of your life. It’s certainly not a decision to make lightly. Going solo offers many professional rewards, but it isn’t all sunshine. Here are a few of the changes that you should be ready to accept before you make the move.
Your Wallet Gets Tighter
Going solo will affect your bank account. Starting a practice isn’t cheap and finding clients isn’t easy. Just to get your practice off the ground you’ll need to invest portions of your savings into launching your practice and keeping it afloat in those early months. When you combine that with the fact that your first few months are bound to be slow, and you can be certain that this particular career change is bound to be financially stressful. Especially in the beginning.
Nonetheless, if you stick with it you’ll likely earn at least as much in solo practice as you did working for a firm. According to Carolyn Elefant, author of Solo by Choice, 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 as importantly, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that every dollar you earn is to build your own practice.
Work Gets Harder, Not Easier
If you thought work as an associate or partner at a big firm was stressful, you’ll find solo practice even more difficult. Whereas before you were responsible for the cases assigned to you and working as part of a team, you’ll now have to navigate all of the responsibilities of running your own business. In addition to managing your case load, you’re be solely responsible for every task big and small associated with running a small business. In other words, things don’t get easier when you enter solo practice. And you certainly won’t work less frequently.
Many attorneys find solo practice to be somewhat lonely. After all, when you work for a firm you become used to working with other people. You join your team for lunch; chat with colleagues around the water cooler; and a colleague is typically only an office away. That changes when you first enter solo practice unless you opt into a shared office space arrangement or reach a point where you can justify hiring employees.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to channel that need for social interaction into constant networking and marketing. Attend networking events, conferences and other social events. It’ll help you spread the name of your practice and can alleviate some of that need for social interaction.
You’re The Boss
Your new found autonomy may prove to be both the best and worst part of your new solo career. After all, it’s exhilarating to know that you call the shots. You get to set the course for your entire business and no one can tell you what to do as a professional. You set your own schedule and dress code. You approve your own vacations. Face time is a joke. Nonetheless, all of that freedom also means that when things go wrong the buck stops with you. You have to make the tough decisions and accept responsibility when things go wrong.
Not only that, until you find someone to act as a mentor, you don’t have anyone you can turn to for advice. When you’re swamped with work, you won’t have anyone to go to for help. It’s all on you.
Are you a solo attorney? We’d love to hear your experiences. What are the toughest parts of being a solo attorney? The best parts?
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