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Working as a solo practitioner has both pros and cons, just like any other attorney. Some of the pros include complete freedom over what cases they work on and making their own destiny. Some of the cons include a lower average salary compared to private practice attorneys and less support staff to help you in than you would have in private practice.
Solo practitioners enjoy various benefits that larger firm practitioners may lack, such as complete freedom over the cases they choose and the nature of their practice. That being said, there are some downsides to becoming a solo practitioner, including reduced staffing and a lower average salary as compared to larger firm practitioners. All in all, you should weigh your options and consider becoming a solo practitioner if it is the right fit for you.
1. Why did you decide to become a solo practitioner?
I was disgusted with the politics of the firms at which I worked. In addition, I was afforded no flexibility if one of my children was sick or had a doctor's appointment.
2. What is the best part of being a solo practitioner?
The best part is the freedom to be and do things on your own terms. For example, I could leave at 4:30 p.m. to take my girls to soccer practice, making up time in the evenings after they were in bed. I actually got to see my children grow up and participate in their lives. I can also work at home, if I want and save the commute and formality that going to an office entails.
3. What is the worst part of being a solo practitioner?
I often have no one to collaborate with or toss ideas around with, which can be a little isolating. (This could be solved by being in a shared suite or tagging onto an office in a larger firm.)Additionally, I have no back up; it is me. So, if things get really busy, it is long hours on my own. Also, as a solo you have to make the client the most important person in terms of priorities; otherwise, they have plenty of other options and may go elsewhere. You must go the extra mile to satisfy clients.
4. What advice would you give to others looking to become a solo practitioner?
I would say to first learn your trade with a larger, law firm or experienced lawyer. There are too many pitfalls in the law to venture off too quickly without experience under your belt. But, when the time is right, gather what you need--from pleadings forms, to letterhead to contracts--and make sure you know how to do things on your own. You may have no secretary to prepare attorney service instructions or paginate, scan, etc. Make sure you are self-sufficient and can do these things on your own. Also, think about what you want and where you are going. Do you want to limit your practice and leave to see your kid's sports game? Realize that your income will suffer and you will not make the money you may have made at the big firm. Is this o.k. with you? Are you prepared for income swings? Do you have savings or a husband, wife or partner to even out the financial peaks and valleys? Have you thought about where your clients will come from? Explore referral services, internet marketing and be prepared to network and put yourself out there. In today's day and age, internet marketing may be more effective than person-to-person network groups or meetings. Figure out where you are most comfortable and emphasize that avenue. Additionally, when you have worked with other lawyers with whom you worked well, stay in touch by telephone or just e-mail. That attorney may be a great referral source. Most of all, be responsive to your clients in a way a big firm or established firm will not be. Finally, be smart financially and legally. Make sure you have retainer agreements executed, get retainers and stay on top of your billings. There are inexpensive legal billing programs such that offered by Chaos Software that can save an enormous amount of time and will not take endless hours and brain damage to learn. Do not be deluded into believing that a client will "catch up" on its billing; be kind and reasonable, but realistic. No one wants to work for free. Also, keep overhead low, at least at first. There are virtual offices and shared suites that will serve you well at the beginning.
5. What is a typical day like for you as a solo practitioner?
I start early--7:30 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. I balance my day between client calls, assignments, billing, as would any other lawyer. I rarely have formal lunches, and work through until 5 or 6 p.m. But, if I need to run an errand during the day, I can. If I work out of my home office, I can throw a load of laundry into the machine while I am on hold. I wear many hats, but it works.
6. Is there anything else that is important to know about you and your practice, or that you would like to add?
My tag line is "Big Firm Experience. Small Firm Care."I do care about my clients and their cases and businesses, and I was fortunate enough have had the luxury of big firm mentoring (slave-driving) behind me. I am always available to my clients--sometimes 24/7. You must give clients a reason to stay with you, and you must produce quality and timely work.