My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

Hey, McKee Nelson Associates - There'll Never Be A Better Opportunity Than Now to Start Your Own Law Firm

Thanks to a lemon of a credit market, associates at McKee Nelsonhave the opportunity to make a huge vat of life-changing lemonade. Above the Law's David Lat is reporting here that NY/DC based McKee Nelson, in an effort to avoid economically-induced, forced associate layoffs, is offering associates two options: (1) a full bonus, plus four months pay to anyone willing to leave the firm voluntarily or (2) a full bonus plus a year's sabbatical at 40 percent of the $160,000 salary. Option 2 carries two caveats; first, the firm cannot guarantee employment at the end of the year and second, the firm wants associates to use the sabbatical to "make the world a better place."

Lat suggests that associates use the time to fulfill their dreams of finishing a novel, or studying painting. But I've got a better idea: what about starting your own law firm and becoming the lawyer you always wanted to be?

With a $25,000 bonus and a $60,000 salary, MN associates who decide to go solo would have the luxury of building a practice the right way, without ever having to spend a minute specializing in "threshhold law" (i.e., taking any client who crosses the thresshold). They could develop an interesting specialty, devote time to starting a blog, handle court appointed cases to get courtroom experience, devote time to building the kinds of relationships that generate referrals and invest in the infrastructure, such as adequate malpractice insurance, computerized legal research and quality laptops and mobile work equipment (notice that I don't mention Class A office space here, because to me, it's not integral) that would help insure success. And they'd have the time and resources to spend on CLEs and marketing classes to help ensure success.

Would starting a law firm qualify for McKee Nelson's requirement of "making the world a better place?" Absolutely. Because these new solos might find the kind of autonomy and happiness that may have eluded them at a larger firm, plus, they'd set an example for other disatisfied lawyers to follow. And liberated from the overhead of requirements of large firms, these new solos could offer top service at lower rates to more clients, thus improving the quality of legal representation and expanding access to law. Finally, if...and when these MN solos decided to return to their former firm (assuming it's still around), they could apply their newly found marketing skills and hands on experience that would fuel the firm's growth. In fact, maybe this concept of funding associates to start their own firms and gain experience on their own time may serve as a potential business model for biglaw.

To my fellow solo bloggers, I offer this fantasy question: how would you advise a lawyer with a $25,000 bonus and $60k income to spend that money if they decided to start a firm? If you post a response at your site, please send the link in the comments below. MN associates, check back here or drop me an email at carolyn.elefant@gmail.comif you think that starting a firm may be an option for you.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 13, 2007 at 10:26 AM in Biglaw Practice and Issues, Questions & Advice , Solo Practice Trends | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

If I solo out of school, do I pick the cheaper law school?

Q:  I'm only applying to law school now, but I am hoping to open up my own general practice as soon as I graduate.  Here is my situation:  I am fairly sure that I will be admitted to a law school in the city where I am intent on living and opening my firm (School A), as well as another law school in the middle of nowhere and hours away from my preferred location(School B).  School A costs 27k per year and School B costs 11k.  Both schools are similarly ranked 3rd/4th tier.  Should I go to the school with less tuition (and thus, less crushing debt) or go to the school where I can establish a network (potentially allow me to make valuable connections for business)? I want to take on less debt  so I can take bigger financial risks opening the practice, but I also want that network and feel that I should know the area before I begin to set up a firm there.  More specifically, I would like to know whether having prior local work experience in law school, through an externship or clinic helpful to starting a practice, or can I just pack up and move to any city and start drumming up business?

A:  Nothwithstanding the difference in cost of roughly $50,000 (figuring 81,000 in tuition at School A versus $33,000 for School B), I believe that you should attend School A.  Here's why.   

First, School A offers the advantage of a city location (which happens to be the city where you want to locate, but I'll get to that point next)whereas School B is located "in the middle of nowhere."  When you attend school in a metropolitan area, you have access to many more job opportunities during law school, where you can earn money while going to school (you may not want to do so during your first year, but you can probably manage it as a second or third year).  Cities will have large and small firms, which hire students to work part time, as well as state or county agency offices and prosecutor and public defender departments.  As a result, a city gives you the option of finding law related jobs that you can take on during law school and cover living expenses and potentially, part of your tuition.

Second, and more importantly, as you anticipate, attending School A will give you access to externships and other opportunities during school that will help you build a network of mentors and potential referral sources.  School A probably has programs where local practitioners come to speak on different topics (and if it doesn't, you can start one as a way to meet people) or judge moot court competitions.  These activities provide terrific opportunities to meet people who can help you out later on.  By contrast, at School B, you won't have the chance to start building these relationships.  And when you move to your preferred City, you'll have to start from scratch and break into networking circles that local grads have already created.  As Susan Cartier Liebel points out, anyone who's sufficiently persistent can succeed at starting a practice (and here, I agree).  But you can also better your odds by positioning yourself early on in law school, instead of playing catch up.

Third, though you should never plan for failure, if for some reason, your practice does not go as planned, having attended School A will make it easier for you to get a job locally.  It is very difficult to find a job from a third or fourth tier school, but typically, these schools do well in placing graduates locally.  What will happen if you do in fact need to find employment from School B?  You will have few contacts and opportunities.  Also, though you want to go solo right away, you may decide that it could make sense to clerk for a judge for a year.  Again, with your School A contacts, you leave that option open.  However, I doubt that you will find a clerkship in City A having attended School B.

On the other hand, I realize that $50,000 in debt is nothing to sneeze at.  At the same time, over the long haul, it is not an insurmountable barrier either.  You can probably defer payment on loans for a time, and if need be, spread them out over a longer repayment period.   Examine the debt implications more closely, and also evaluate financial aid options.  Be aggressive in seeking out financial aid options; in your case, a $10k grant each year could make a tremendous difference.  In addition, some schools do provide loan forgiveness for grads who serve indigent populations.  Investigate whether School A has ever explored this option? 

One selling point that we lawyers constantly harp on is that we should not compete on price.  Yet when it comes to evaluating schools, many prospective lawyers automatically default to the lower cost option, even though the higher cost one may offer more opportunities in the long run.

And now, readers, I open the floor to you and your opinions...Comment away!

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 28, 2007 at 02:09 PM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The best time to start....

Seth Godin has some great advice on the best time to start a firm:  maybe last year, maybe never.  But the second best time is now.  So go for it (and read Godin's entire post).

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 14, 2006 at 04:57 PM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MyShingle Q&A: Finding Contract Work

A reader writes:

Do you have any recommendations on how to pick up contract work from local attorneys or solos?  I want to approach local firms to see what their needs are for subcontracting out work.  Do you have any ideas on how one should go about doing this?  I'm not looking to do contract work full time, but only for supplementary income until I get my firm off the ground.

Like my colleague Jon Stein, I've learned about contract work from both the giving and receiving end.  This experience has given me some strong views about what works and what doesn't.  Here's my advice below:

1.  Can you deliver what you're selling?
As a purchaser of contract services, my "Number 1" question is whether you can deliver what you're selling.  If you propose to handle research and writing tasks, then I expect that you've written more than a moot court brief or a law review article.  I don't necessarily expect a junior attorney to have a broad array of writing samples, but if I'm going to hire you as an independent contractor (independent being the operative term), I need to know that you have personally researched and written, or at minimimum, substantially participated in the drafting of legal memoranda and briefs.  And I'll want to see a couple of your best samples, without having to ask.  (as an aside, please be sure that your samples don't have typos or grammatical errors as that will disqualify you from consideration right off the bat). 

My point here is that many, many lawyers fancy themselves great legal writers because they earned a decent grade in legal writing, held a spot on a journal or simply graduated from law school.  But legal writers aren't born, they're made.  Legal writing is an acquired and hard earned skill, no different from deposition skills,  negotiating skills, courtroom skills or any other skills where we expect some experience.  You don't become a legal writing expert just by going to law school.

If you're offering other services, like standing in for me at court or representing a client at a deposition, I'll also want to know what kind of background you have.  But here, depending upon the type of work involved, I might be a little more lenient.  For example, if I need an attorney to defend a deposition that I don't expect will be controversial and isn't particularly important, I might use a first timer, if you can assure me that you  can adequately prepare. 

Finally, if I hire you and you spend time getting up to speed on using LEXIS, bluebooking or other skills that you should already have, please don't bill me for that time.

2.  Making the Pitch

If you are looking for contract work, DO NOT send out a mass mailing, as it will simply end up in the trash.  A mass email is equally ineffective.  Uncomfortable as it may be, your best approach is to get a list of lawyers from the local bar journal and make a few cold calls to introduce yourself and see if the lawyer has any need for your services.  During the call, you can offer to send a resume and writing sample for future reference.  Personally, this kind of approach has always impressed me.  Having made cold calls myself, I know how uncomfortable they are and how much nerve they require.  If someone's willing to do that, I'm willing to give them a chance.

If you don't feel comfortable making cold calls, then try to get out to any lawyer networking events, bar lunches and CLEs and introduce yourself to as many attorneys as you can.  Bring plenty of business cards, along with a couple of resumes and writing samples in case you run into someone who expresses a real, immediate interest (you can follow up with the others after the event).

Since you have mentioned that you are also a practicing attorney, you need to make clear that you are willing to take on contract work.  Many times, I meet young attorneys and think that I might have a piece of work to send their way to get them started (just as other attorneys helped me get my start).  But I'm often reluctant to do so if I don't know if they handle contract work.  In fact, you may even consider investing in a second set of business cards that specify where you're licensed and say that you provide contract services.   I wouldn't give these to prospective clients of course, but they can help busy attorneys remember that you're out there.

3.  What kinds of service can I provide?

Solo and small firm lawyers have a range of jobs that can be outsourced.   As mentioned above, there's legal research and writing as well as making court room appearances, handling depositions and small litigation matters that aren't cost effective for a more experienced attorney.  Finally, you can also offer pro hac vice and local counsel services to lawyers from out of state.

But if you're creative, you can come up with a list of other services.  For example - do you know anything about blogs?  Why not figure out how to set up some basic, decent looking blogs in Typepad or Blogger and set them up for attorneys and charge a fee to keep them stocked with posts.  You could also offer to ghost write articles for other lawyers for their marketing.   Maybe you could attend seminars or listen to webinars and then provide a written summary for a lawyer.  If you come up with a menu of tasks that you can provide beyond basic legal research and writing, you can get yourself in the door and make yourself more attractive to a wider range of attorneys.

4.  What rates should I charge?

This question is very market specific.  I practice in the DC area, which is a transient market because of the political scene.  As a result, new people are often moving to town and may come with a spouse who's an experienced attorney and in need of short term work.  And DC has such a large lawyer population to begin with that there are always far more qualified lawyers than available positions.  Consequently, I can go to a temp agency and hire excellent mid-level attorneys for $50 an hour, highly experienced attorneys for no more than $75 and new grads or junior lawyers in the $30-$40 range (which means that the attorney is getting an even smaller amount).  In this market, if a new attorney approaches me asking for $75 an hour, I'm not going to pay it, not because I can't afford it or it's inherently unreasonable, but because it exceeds market. 

If you want to get in the door and get experience, I would set your rates right at market.  To determine market rates, you can ask around and find out what your colleagues have paid for contract work.  Or, call a temp agency and say you're looking to hire someone for a project and find out what kinds of rates the agency will pay. 

You have probably heard that attorneys who use temps can pass on the cost, with mark-ups to clients - and you may believe that this justifies you charging a higher rate.  That may be true in cases where the hiring attorney can pass your costs on to a paying client.  But for solos and small firms, that is not always the case.  Many times, busy solo and small firm lawyers will want to outsource less lucrative or contingency matters so that they can spend more time on higher billing cases or on marketing efforts to bring in better cases.   Thus, unlike attorneys who pass the costs of contract lawyer on to clients, many solos eat the cost themselves and thus, may be more frugal with what they pay than if the costs could be assigned to a client and passed on.  (David Giacalone, the blogging lawyer's voice of conscience will say that it shouldn't be this way and in some respects, he's right).

I will say that after lack of competency, the primary reason that I've declined to use an attorney for contract services relates to cost.   There are many contract attorneys whom I'd love to hire, but can't afford and don't have the proper project for them.  And there are other contract attorneys who quite frankly, aren't worth the rate they've demended.

5.  Final thoughts

I have a soft spot for contract work because it's how I got my start and what kept me going particularly when my daughters were very young and I was working part time.  Contract work isn't just a quick way to make some money, but it's also a terrific way to work with other lawyers and make contacts.  Though our profession gets a bad wrap, I've found that there are many decent lawyers out there willing to help new solos earn some money and get started.  And though on the cusp of your solo adventure, you may feel like you'll never be able to return the favor, someday, like me and many of my colleagues, you'll find yourself in a position where you can hire other new solos and pay it forward.   

Good luck!

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 2, 2006 at 06:41 PM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Yes, You Can Be A Part Time Shingler

Solo Wannabee wonders whether you can start a law practice part time.  Surprisingly, the conventional wisdom on this question is no, that solo practice demands full time commitment to make it and that client demands are full time.  But that's not my view.  As I've said before, there are as many right ways to hang a shingle as there are shinglers - and a part time practice can work just fine provided you manage expectations properly.

One of the misconceptions of part time practice, and one that I made myself when I was working part time, is that part time means a twenty  or twenty five hour billable work week.  But that's not the case.  I mean, you could just work 20 billable hours a week - but what happens when that work dries up and you've not been diligently marketing? 

In reality, a twenty or twenty five hour work week means that you'll be spending at least five hours a week on networking events or other client development (including blogging), and a few hours on administrative tasks.  So when all is said and done, you might just be billing 15 hours a week.  You may also have to exceed your hours some weeks or work odd hours to meet client demands. 

And that's another misconception of part time practice:  it doesn't always seem part time.  Before my girls were in school full time and I worked a reduced schedule, I often spent several hours putting in time on weekends or evenings to make a deadline because I was watching my daughters during the day.  My husband and parents wondered why I was always working, but in reality, I was merely just making up time that I'd lost during the week.   

Many times, I was also frustrated by the limitations of part time practice.  Sometimes, I'd have to miss an interesting networking event because I didn't have childcare at a particular time to watch my daughters or turn down work because it was too erratic. 

But to my mind, while succeeding at a part time practice may be a bit more of challenge, the benefits are well worth the extra effort.  For example, even if you can only put in ten or fifteen billable hours a week, if you're averaging even $100 an hour for that time, that's not a bad annual take for a part timer.  More importantly, in contrast to a part time job at a law firm that reduces your schedule but has you working 35 hours a week and throws you off partnership track, when you work part time for yourself, you build up equity in your practice and reputation little by little.  So when and if you decide to go full time, you've already laid the ground work.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on December 11, 2005 at 10:08 PM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Some FAQ on Solo Practice

Below, a reader writes in with advice on some frequently asked questions related to solo practice.  The reader's questions and our answers are interspersed below.  Readers, since I've only started one practice, after all, I'm the first to admit that I'm not an authority on all ways to go solo.  What I've learned from blogging here and meeting other solos is that there are as many routes to success as there are shinglers.  So please write in and send comments that reflect your own unique experience. 

(1) My spouse and I have set one year as our goal to start the firm - we want to save at least six months of expenses before we take the leap.  Is that realistic or do you think it will take more time to get up and running?  How much capital do you think one needs to get started?

Though I've seen other numbers, saving to cover six months of expenses seems reasonable.  Sure, you could wait until you've got a year's worth of expenses covered, but as I advised this reader, there's always a tradeoff between waiting and getting started.  You don't want to start out on the wrong foot with insufficient savings but at the same time, you don't want to put a firm on hold permanently as you save and build up clients. 

In terms of capital, it's relatively easy to start a small firm on a shoestring these days.  I'm guessing that you and your wife have at least one home computer that's powerful enough to be transformed into a work machine.  And with computer prices falling, you can even purchase a decent laptop as a second office machine for $1000 or less.  You'll also need to pay malpractice, the cost of which will depend upon your jurisidiction, state and practice area, but can probably be located for $200/month or less starting out.   Other expenses would include business cards, stationary, phone service (here, you can use a cell phone if you already have one),  and  potentially office payments (see response to  Q. 4)  And then there's health insurance if you and your spouse will both be self-employed.

One suggestion I'd make given that both you and your spouse are considering a firm is that you stagger your start up.  For example, if you are both employed, you could leave your position and hang the shingle, while your spouse would continue to work for another six months to a year.  You'd have the benefit of insurance coverage, plus your spouse's earnings could go into the firm.  Perhaps, thereafter your spouse could leave or cut down to part time.  This would give you both the ability to get your practice started with some set revenues still coming in the door.  Then, you could work to wean yourselves off your spouse's salary to full dependence on law firm income.      


(2) Did you have clients lined up before you started?  If so, how far in advance did you start discussing your move with prospective clients?

I had one very small client lined up before I left my firm, but it was a unique situation.  My firm had given me six months notice to find another job and because I needed the cash, I stayed on at the firm as long as I could rather than tried to negotiate a lump sum severance.  In any event, during that six month grace period, another attorney referred me a small client who I signed on while at my firm with the understanding (that I made known to the client and the firm) that I would take the client since the matter was so small.   Not the best way to go about things, but at least I was forthright and as I mentioned, the client was so small that the incident was soon forgotten (actually, even after I left the firm helped me out with a mock moot court to prepare for the argument).  But other than these kinds of quirky and unique situations, you can't really do much in the way of directly soliciting clients until you leave the firm (see this prior post).  What you can do, however, is to be sure to provide top rate service to clients whom you'd like to take and make yourself indispensible to them so that by the time you announce your departure, there's no question that they'll choose to come with you.   

(3)  Are there any resources you would suggest that I review/read before making the move?  Anything that you think is a must read?

I'd recommend some of the books listed in our OnLine Guide.  I'd read Foonberg just because his book is a rite of passage, something that almost all prospective solos read.  But truth be told, it's seeming a little dated, even the recent addition.  The ABA's Flying Solo book was just updated; it's a collection of chapters on different aspects of solo practice (including one by me on "How Not to Be Lonely).  And of course, I recommend the MyShingle OnLine Guide (especially the various state bar manuals) because they're all pretty recent.  Finally, check out some non-law marketing books as well like those recommended by my fellow blogger Matt Homann of Non Billable Hour and also magazines like Inc. for entrepreneurs, because, after all, you're going to be one as well.

(4)  I'm thinking of working from home, at least for the first year.  Do you have any views on whether office space is necessary from the get-go? 

There's a constant tension between lawyers who advocate home offices and those who don't.  Some, like Grant Griffiths who runs Home Office Lawyer is a fabulous example of a home office lawyer who's on the cutting edge of technology and professionalism.  Yet others (including Foonberg) believe that home offices don't convey a sufficiently professional image.

Leaving aside the long term, however, a home office in my view is the best way to start out.  By working from home, you'll save at least $5000 a year (assuming $400 a month rent which isn't even feasible in all places) and thus, relieve some financial pressure.  If you're concerned about appearances, rent virtual space with a mail drop and hourly office space.  Or you can meet clients down at the court house or at their offices.  As you build your practice, you can decide whether you want to remain at home or move to an office.

In my case, I started out in a virtual office space with a fancy Pennsylvania Avenue address.  Within a year, I was busy enough to justify full time space and lucky enough to find an affordable sublet right near the White House in DC.  But after my second daughter was born, I found that I didn't have time to make the office commute, so I returned to the home office/virtual space arrangement.

(5)  I realize that rates will vary based on factors such as practice area, jurisdiction, etc., but do you know what the range is for professional liability insurance?  Also, do you have a ballpark on the cost of health insurance?

I'm guessing that you should be able to find professional liability insurance for $200 a month or less, but this depends on practice area.  Some fields are riskier than others.  My advice on liability insurance is to shop around; the bar recommended provider is not necessarily cheapest.  Also, play around with coverage amounts and deductibles to find something within your range.   Just be sure that your plan offers defense costs so you don't have to worry about hiring counsel if a client ever brings a grievance.

I have less of an idea of the cost of health insurance since I've been fortunate to have coverage through my spouse.  I know that there have been periods when he's worked as an independent and we've turned to COBRA which wasn't cheap but was less than paying full freight out of pocket.  If you're young and healthy, there may be reasonably priced plans or HMOs.  I don't believe that the bars offer health insurance packages but I've heard that Chambers of Commerce might have some leads on cost effective packages.  Readers - if you have any answer to this issue, please write in and let me know.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 25, 2005 at 03:08 PM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Say Nay To the Naysayers

Editor's Note:  Recently, I've been receiving a number of inquiries seeking advice on starting a practice.  I'm going to try to address as many as I can, as quickly as I can, in what will hopefully be a regular "Questions & Advice" column.  If you send me an email with a question, try to eliminate any identifying information so that I can use it in a column.  I'll get in touch with you prior to posting, but it will make my job easier if I don't have to reformulate questions.  With that, my first question topic is how to handle the naysayers, particularly when you're a relatively new attorney.

Reader Question:  I am not happy with my current position and for three months have been working on this idea of starting my own firm.   I feel confident in my abilities to competently represent clients in my practice area, even though I've only been practicing for just over one year (it's a field where I have personal experience and which I worked in during two summer law clerkships). 

My plan is to begin in a home office, use web-based case management software, and digital phone - all of which will make it easier to move when I (hopefully) can afford a "real" office.  I am single so I do have think about things like paying for my own health insurance, meeting my rent, paying my student loans, and putting food on the table.


I was quite confident in my ability to do all this by the end of this calendar year.  But a colleague who started her own practice as the same age as I am advised me against it,  saying that it's harder than anyone can imagine to get clients and to manage your own practice.

Now, I'm scared.  Even though I do not doubt my legal abilities and even though I know I can and am willing to work for hours each week and I get so excited just thinking about my own practice, I'm back tracking from the idea.  I know that success can't be guaranteed, but now I wonder whether I should wait until I have more money saved up or I have my own client base I can take with me to a new practice before I go solo.

MyShingle Response:   You're right that success as a solo can't be guaranteed, but your letter shows that notwithstanding just a year of practice, you've got what it takes.  First, you're confident of your abilities which is a prerequisite to starting a firm.  When you start out, you simply don't have time, as you do when working for others, to obsess endlessly over whether you're capable of handling this or that case.   You'll be too busy marketing, meeting potential clients and managing a new practice to constantly second guess yourself.  Second, you're excited about starting a firm and with that kind of passion, it's going to be difficult to fail.

In terms of starting a firm, there's really never an optimal time financially.  When you're young and single, you may have only minimal savings and be saddled with student loans (which worst case, can be deferred for a time), but at the same time, your living expenses are pretty basic.  You may have the flexibility to take on a roomate, you can qualify for cheap health insurance and you're still accustomed to living on a student's budget.  As you age, you'll probably have more savings, but you might have a mortgage, a family to support and child care expenses, all of which are more difficult to downsize.   

Youth brings other advantages to starting a firm.  Retirement still looms far off so you don't have to fret about skipping IRA payments for a couple of years.   And if for some reason, your practice doesn't work out, you'll be sufficiently junior to find another position.

In terms of building up a client base, generally speaking, you'd have to remain at a firm for a pretty long time before you can lure firm clients to your new practice.  Chances are, junior associates don't get enough time with clients to make them their own.  The one client related benefit that working for a firm provides is that it gives you time to market and network on someone else's dime, for example, by writing articles or attending conferences sponsored by the firm.  But if you've already been practicing in your field for a year, chances are, you've laid enough of a groundwork with regard to networking and meeting potential referral sources.

Your plan to keep start up costs low is wise.  If your financial situation is shaky to begin with, the last thing you want to do is saddle yourself with overhead so that you feel pressured to take on anything that walks in the door.  I don't know what health insurance will cost you (investigate COBRA costs and other plans that might be offered by groups you belong to), but you can probably purchase decent malpractice insurance for a couple of hundred a month (please don't skimp there).  Add up your costs to get a sense of what you need to take in each month to get by.  And don't forget that in addition to finding your own clients, you may be able to handle per diem assignments for other attorneys or court appointed work to make some money while you establish yourself.  After examining the numbers, maybe you'll decide to hold off another six months or a year if you feel that the extra money you can save will buy you leeway.  Or maybe you'll decide that it won't make a difference and you'll stick to your original plan.

As for the colleague who's got you rethinking your plan, consider what she, as well as others have to say.  But then, like any good lawyer, consider all the surrounding evidence. 
In the case of your colleague, you might try to probe further to figure out why her practice failed and what you could do differently which might be a productive discussion.  But if this lawyer isn't willing to engage in that type of productive discussion and only wants to complain about the obstacles to going solo, just thank her and walk away.  Many lawyers who've had a hard time getting a practice off the ground will advise others against it because they can't stand the idea that you might succeed where they failed.  Likewise, lawyers working at firms who don't have the gumption to go out on their own may also be quick to point out your folly.  It's hard to be objective in giving advice, we all bring our own baggage (myself included - after all, I am a happy solo!)

Going solo in the face of negative advice, a shaky financial situation and no clients is scary.  I'd question your judgment if you weren't having doubts.  But to my mind, what's scarier than starting a firm in your circumstances is waiting for the right time, for enough money, enough clients, enough knowlege and enough support only to have the opportunity to go solo pass you by. 

Best of luck and let all of us at MyShingle know how it turns out! 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 19, 2005 at 07:09 PM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Is It Ever Too Soon to Go Solo?

Ann Israel, a biglaw recruitment attorney who writes a column for New York Lawyer typically responds to questions about how to make partner or what's the best law school to choose.  It's rare that she gets a question like  this one from an attorney wondering whether he should go solo after his first year out of school.   Ms. Israel is biased against solo practice, so predictably, she advised against the move - but I was surprised to find that I don't disagree with all of her advice.

Israel first asked the writer if he'd thought about the costs of malpractice insurance, computer equipment and office space, which she regards as prohibitive.  Maybe so, if you're replicating biglaw on a small scale, but these days, it's not that expensive to set up the basics of a practice and with technology, new solos can work from home until they get their practice off the ground.

Where I do agree is Israel's point about taking a salary for a year or two and getting training while you're being paid.  Though many people do start firms right after law school and succeed, to me, the optimal time to start is after a couple of years of work. By then, you've not just had training but a chance to make contacts and acquire a reputation in your field, both of which can help generate clients.

Israel suggests erring on the side of a steady law firm job rather than leaping to solo practice - and that's where I depart from her way of thinking.  Israel makes mention of many attorneys who she knows who went solo too early, never got their practice off the ground and could not return to a law firm after being on their own.  Frankly, I don't believe that - I have always been convinced that when you go solo, there's always a way back to a law firm job or other permanent job should you choose that route.  And  what Israel doesn't mention are all the attorneys who dreamed of going solo while they were young but hedged, then found themselves married, supporting a family, saving for college - in short, in a situation where it was no longer feasible to go solo.  The regrets they have about not doing something are often the strongest.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 26, 2005 at 05:02 AM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

This One Ought to Be A No Brainer

Gee, what should  this advice seeker and recent grad (at NY Lawyer) do here?  Work for $19 an hour doing document review at a large firm in hopes of getting some experience?  Or continue to look for a more challenging permanent position?  Uh, what about the most obvious option:  working for yourself.   Even if you have doubts about finding clients, court appointed cases pay $60 or more in New York.  And you could also find lawyers to pay a bar admitted attorney at least $30/hr to perform legal research or writing or make a court appearance.  Plus, what better way to find a permanent position than to involve yourself with all of the networking needed to start a law practice?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 19, 2005 at 10:07 AM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More on Going Solo After Law School

David Swanner,  a South Carolina  solo weighs in with some good advice about starting a practice out of law school over here at his web log, South Carolina Trial Law.  David knows about going solo after law school first hand - because he's done it successfully.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 22, 2005 at 10:03 AM in Questions & Advice | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack