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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'm a former touring musician, tour manager, and music journalist, and I went to law school specifically to study - and subsequently practice - entertainment law. But when I graduated, I couldn't find anything in the field. I spent about a year in-house at a healthcare company before realizing that I didn't need to wait for an employer to give me the go-ahead to practice entertainment law. Since I already knew what I wanted to do, and had been trained to do it, why not start my own practice? I spent about a year laying the groundwork and cultivating my referral sources before taking the plunge. I've been at it for just over two years now and am so happy I made the decision to go solo.
2. What is the best part of being a solo practitioner?
I handle every aspect of my firm - from marketing, to determining rates, to setting my own hours. I enjoy that level of control and the responsibility that comes with it. Being a business owner is a different skill than being an attorney, and I love that my job requires me to use more parts of my brain, and to cultivate skills that I didn't have before. But my real favorite part about being a solo practitioner in the field of entertainment law is interacting with my clients. I'm the guy who meets with them initially and is in touch with them throughout their careers. I love the connection I have with them, feeling like I'm part of a team, and that's something I know a lot of my friends who work at firms, particularly big firms, don't get to experience as often.
3. What is the worst part of being a solo practitioner?
There's a lot of responsibility involved. Yes, you get to control every aspect of your firm, but...you have to control every aspect of your firm. It can be daunting. The hardest part for me, though, was making it through my first year. The first year for most businesses is tough, as you're establishing your name in the market and building your referral network and client base. There were weeks - even months - where I basically made nothing after expenses. Even when things are good, there's that fear that it could all go away, that the calls could cease. You have to learn how to cope with that anxiety as a solo practitioner.
4. What advice would you give to others looking to become a solo practitioner?
Don't just plunge in - do the research beforehand. Read books, talk to other solos. If you're fresh out of law school, working somewhere for a year or two while you lay the groundwork for your practice can be very beneficial. Find a handful of mentors and network not only with other attorneys, but also with your ideal clients. Do what you have to do to make it through that first year, including picking up contract work here and there, as needed, with the understanding that your own practice always comes first. Some advice a friend of mine gave that alleviated some of my anxiety those first few years: don't focus on your weekly or even monthly earnings. Look at the growth of your practice on a quarterly basis. That way, you see that bad months can be balanced out with good months. Finally, do good work and treat clients respectfully. That's the best way to grow a practice.
5. What is a typical day like for you as a solo practitioner?
I respond to emails first thing in the morning, and handle little administrative tasks (paying bills, etc.). About once a week I try to post a new blog post on my website. Then, I usually have some tasks to complete - review contract for Client A, call opposing counsel for Client B, return Client C's phone call. Several times a week I meet with referral sources, other attorneys, clients, for lunch or coffee. Or, I attend a networking event. At the end of the day, I make my list of tasks for the next day, and respond to emails and phone calls as I can throughout the evening.
6. Is there anything else that is important to know about you and your practice, or that you would like to add?
I blog regularly on my website, www.theseayfirm.com/blog, and that has been a great way to bring clients into my firm. I also maintain a Twitter account: @The Seay Firm LLC. Visibility and maintaining a presence in the world are key, I think, to not only growing your practice, but sustaining it. Of course, that being said, know your ideal client and do what you need to do to get in front of them. My ideal client is typically pretty adept at social media, so I try to be so as well.
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