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Sean McDonald, Law Office of R. Sean McDonald, P.C.

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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?

The biggest reason was schedule flexibility and more control over the types of cases and the type of practice I wanted. Although I share offices with other attorneys (which still allows for cross referrals and guidance on issues), I wanted the freedom and challenge being in solo practice provides without all of the big firm politics, billing hour requirements, and high overhead.

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

I am my own boss (which can be both good and bad) so I can allocate my time as necessary to ensure my clients are getting the best value for their money. I also can advise clients better on their legal and business options without feeling pressure to take on a matter or pursue a claim simply because doing so will ensure that I've met a set billable hour, revenue stream or overhead obligation.

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

Time management and client development are difficult tasks to manage effectively. Ensuring that there always is a steady stream of clients and cases without straying too far from my core practice is challenging. Also, of course, is the financial end of a solo practice - making sure to stay on top of receivables, getting adequate retainers upfront, and building relationships with client so they are comfortable discussing billing options and payment obligations are oftentimes stumbling blocks to continued revenue stream. And Learn how to say "No" to taking on cases (even if you need the revenue or it's a long term client) which do not enhance your practice or would otherwise put you in uncomfortable positions regarding the services provided simply because you are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with a particular dispute or area of law.

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

Transform your business model to fit your needs as quickly as possible so that you aren't waiting on the phone to ring but hit the ground running in maintaining current client relations and building new ones. Ignore traditional marketing strategies and utilize internet resources to get your firm in front of potential clients, whether through search engines, blogs, or trade association publications. Go paperless as much as possible and set up your office and mobile devices so that you have 24 hour access to anything you or your client's might need, even if that means reading and returning emails or sending out letters outside normal business hours. Have access to at least one legal assistant/secretary so that client, opposing counsel and courts have the opportunity to speak to a live person rather than voice mail or telephone message. Develop and keep as many other trusted attorneys within your referral pool so that you and your clients have options when facing a legal dispute or need legal advice - there is no reason to reinvent the wheel if you don't have to.

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

Some are hectic, some are not. My practice today does not differ much from my experience being with a midsized or big firm. So long as I can manage my time effectively and stay on top of the calendar (so that I am ACTING not REACTING) there is really no difference.

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

Work hard to have down time for yourself and your family. Being an attorney is what I do for a living, but it's not who I am 24/7/365. When you leave the office for the day, I always make sure I spend time with my family before finishing any business late at night or early the next morning. Being a solo has its own unique challenges and stresses, but they can be managed effectively.

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