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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?
Before going to law school, I earned my Bachelor's in Business Administration, majoring in Business Management. I always knew that someday I wanted to work for myself. After graduating from law school, I went to work at a boutique law firm where I learned about the practice and business of law. While working at the firm I prepared a business plan for the eventuality of starting my own firm, but I didn't really know when I would venture out and hang my own shingle. After a few years at that firm my wife wanted to move for a job she had been offered, and I decided that given the legal job market (this was in late 2010) I really only had a couple of options. I could relocated with my wife and find work at another firm, but due to the state of the economy I knew that would mean accepting a position that I didn't really want or that didn't pay what I hoped to earn. Or, I could go out on my own, and with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, I could build a business and a career for myself doing what I wanted and working with clients I wanted to help. Obviously, I chose the second option.
2. What is the best part of being a solo practitioner?
I love a lot of things about being a solo practitioner: I am my own boss, I do the types of work I want to do, I work with the clients I choose to accept, I have a (somewhat) flexible schedule, and I get to spend more time with my family than I could if I worked in a large firm. But, if I had to pick what the single best part is, I would say that it is definitely the fact that my successes (and failures at times) are the direct product of my efforts, my work, and my decisions. I have control over my life and my future that I don't think I could have if someone else was calling the shots for me.
3. What is the worst part of being a solo practitioner?
There are only a few things about being out on my own that I don't think are great: I don't have the support staff that I was use to when I worked in a firm, and I don't have a "steady" paycheck (it is my responsibility to make sure that I can get paid every two weeks). But again, if I were forced to say what the single worst aspect of being solo is, I would have to say that it is the solitude. I work in an office setting where I do get to see other people regularly, but I do not have colleagues in my office to chat and mingle with. I am a very social person, and that took a lot of getting used to. After some time, I have built a network of other professionals (attorneys, CPAs, and financial advisors) that I work closely with and that has helped me cope with the solitude.
4. What advice would you give to others looking to become a solo practitioner?
I would tell others looking to go solo to do their homework before venturing out. Becoming a solo practitioner is no easy task. You can be a great lawyer and still struggle as a solo. As a solo practitioner you are responsible for everything in your practice, from account management and billing to finding the clients, client satisfaction, and performing the actual legal work. Many attorneys have never been responsible for anything but the legal work, but the other parts of the business are just as important and sometimes even more difficult. Someone going out on their own should make sure that they have a solid understanding of what they are getting into and what they are going to have to do to make it work. There are a lot of things to learn, but start with the basics of running a business, and make sure you have a strong marketing plan.
5. What is a typical day like for you as a solo practitioner?
Honestly, there is no such thing as a typical day. Some days I spend hours on marketing efforts and networking with other professionals. Some days are dedicated almost exclusively to running the business side of things (managing accounts, budgeting and re-budgeting, preparing billing statements, etc.). And yet other days are very much like being at any other firm, I have client meetings, I perform the legal work for clients, and I do research and analysis of complex legal issues. One constant from day to day though is that I can always expect the unexpected whether from a current client or a prospective client that calls for the first time.
6. Is there anything else that is important to know about you and your practice, or that you would like to add?
Of course there is. One of the first business choices I made was to focus my practice on a specific area of law. I focus my practice on trust and estate law as well as related legal matters. This has given me the opportunity to continue doing work that I enjoy and to gain more knowledge and experience that benefits my clients. Choosing to focus my practice not only benefits my clients, but it sets me apart from the masses of general practitioners, which has allowed me to build a reputation in my community and with other professionals. This focused practice approach can seem limiting (I often refer prospective clients to other professionals who practice different areas of law), but I truly believe that it is a great way to provide the best legal services possible to all of my clients, which in turn, leads to more business and a better way of practicing law.
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