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Robert Payne, Solo Practitioner (Attorney)

published February 23, 2014

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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?

Bankruptcy is a real one-on-one, personal kind of law, and I felt like this was the kind of practice where I was comfortable giving clients my cell phone number, text messaging answers to their questions at 10:00 p.m. while tucking my kids in bed, and where I could actually develop a relationship with my clients. Plus, to be honest, I love being my own boss, setting my own hours, and feeling like I am in control of where I work, how much I work, and what I do.

2. What is the best part of being a solo practitioner?

The best part of being a solo practitioner is that I am my own boss. I can set my own schedule, and if I need to leave work in the middle of the day for a parent-teacher conference or a band concert, I can do so, with only myself to answer to. Since I have 9 children, it's very, very nice to have that kind of control over my schedule.

3. What is the worst part of being a solo practitioner?

If I don't work, I don't make money. If I take a day off, it costs me. I cannot coast, and I have no paid vacation. There is really no "time off" as a solo practitioner, even though I still take plenty of moments for me and my family.

4. What advice would you give to others looking to become a solo practitioner?

You are going to starve for the first couple of years, and it sucks. You have to be persistent and have faith in yourself and your idea for your practice. On a practical standpoint, here is the greatest piece of advice I have ever received in the practice of law: RETURN EVERY PHONE CALL, IMMEDIATELY. It doesn't matter if it is strange number which did not leave a message. The odds are pretty good that the phone call that didn't leave a message is from a prospective client who was too shy to leave his/her personal information on your voice mail. Call them back and make sure that they know you are immediately available. If you're immediately available, their retainer seems to become immediately available to you as well.

5. What is a typical day like for you as a solo practitioner?

6:25 a.m. Get up and start waking up kids in waves as I cook french toast, slice cheese and strawberries, and review my ECF notices from the bankruptcy court. 7:20 a.m. As I was getting ready for work, my wife reminded me that I had a parent meeting at the school. That set me behind an hour, but it was worth it. 8:35 a.m. I took my first prospective client phone call while walking out of the school. 9:00 a.m. I arrive at the office and return a flurry of email and phone calls. 10:30 -12:30 I spent commuting to and from court and attending a hearing. 12:30I met with two clients in a row and returned more phone calls. 1:30 I spent the next two hours drafting court documents. 3:30 I ran home to drop off some discount Sushi rolls from Target for my wife, because she was having a hard time at home sewing the Beast's costume for a youth theater production of 'Beauty and the Beast."4:00 I get an angry text from my part-time paralegal asking if I was coming back to the office to prep for court. (sometimes she catches me at the gym, or reading a fantasy novel in the car, or just leaving early)4:10 I get a call from a client who is going into court tomorrow morning. 4:15 I met with the paralegal and reviewed the cases for the next 3 days. 5:00 I left the office for the day, headed for a Little Caesar's pizza, because it's that kind of day, and cheap pizza sounded great for the whole family. I am sure that I'll be returning a couple of client phone calls this evening.

6. Is there anything else that is important to know about you and your practice, or that you would like to add?

I love what I do. As debtor's counsel in bankruptcy, I am the white knight coming in and saving people from nasty creditors, foreclosure, garnishment, huge medical bills, unemployment losses, and even saving them from themselves. I get to offer hope, absolution, and a fresh start. I cannot imagine practicing any other kind of law.