Closing Thoughts on Opening a Law Practice

This is my fourth and final guest post. I have dedicated my blogging this month to the topic of starting a law practice. The first week was focused on the reasons why people would want to hang a shingle. The second week’s post discussed start-up costs. The third week was focused on attracting clients. This week, I wrap up with a few final thoughts. Some of these points are responses to questions and comments I received from people thinking about making the leap.

1. Yes, there is a lot of work involved. Starting any business requires a lot of passion, hard work and long hours. Starting a law practice adds to that the work of practicing law, which is in and of itself a full-time job. My take on this is that for the first couple years until things stabilize, you should fully commit to getting your practice off the ground. This means working evenings and weekends if that’s what you have to do.  

Although I would turn down and refer out work that I was not familiar with and did not have the time to learn overnight, I would not recommend turning down work because it’s inconvenient for you (for example, a client that needs an emergency filing that is going to keep you in the office until 2 a.m.). At the same time, if business is slow at first I would take advantage of that time and put long hours into business development, building a forms and templates library, taking CLE’s and other similar tasks you are going to have much less time for later on.

2. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. All seasoned lawyers have met a client who got themselves in all kinds of trouble because they were vulnerable and got taken advantage of. This can also happen to lawyers. You may meet someone who talks about how excited they are for you, how they want to help you, etc. They may say they want to get to know you first and see the kind of work you do and “build a relationship.” A good rule of thumb is this: The less you know them (or know someone whom you trust that can vouch for them) and the more their promises seem far-fetched, the more likely you are getting scammed for free legal work. I know this sounds really basic, but many new solos are so excited that somebody wants to hire them that they have trouble keeping their objectivity at first. A plumber would not fix a stranger’s toilet for free based on the promise that he’ll call when he has a leaky faucet, and a lawyer should not handle a stranger’s case for free based on the promise of potential future cases.

3. Clients who are in court for not paying bills might not pay your bill. In those cases, charge whatever you think you need to handle the case as a flat or advanced fee. Sounds obvious, does it? If I had taken this advice I’d either be about $50,000 richer or more likely would had about 250 hours of extra free time in the past 3 years.

4. Being a solo does not mean being alone. A number of people have asked me if I felt isolated when I started my own practice. My experience was quite the opposite. First, I office-shared with other attorneys, which gave me the feel of working at a firm while retaining my autonomy. Although I could not discuss my cases with those attorneys, as a member of the bar, I could discuss ethical issues that came up with the state bar’s ethics counsel. I also had a sharp increase in client contact, because I was now dealing one on one with my very own clients. And finally, I made a point of keeping in touch with my former colleagues on a very regular basis.

5. Yes, it is worth it. Like anything in life, if you want something badly enough it is worth doing. Yes, there are long hours, a lot of stress, and a lot of uncertainty. But if this is what you want to do, you are not going to dwell on the negatives, just as someone who really wants to be a surgeon is not going to obsess about how many years of school they have to attend — it just comes with the territory. There are countless examples of attorneys who have made this work. What they have in common is not that they were at the top of their class, or that they have 500 business contacts. The common thread I have seen with successful solos is that (1) they genuinely enjoy practicing law; (2) they serve their clients well; and (3) they have a high tolerance for the demands associated with running a business and are willing to work until the job is done. If this describes you, then you probably have what it takes to make it as a solo.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.