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Steve Palme, Solo Practitioner (Attorney)

( 6 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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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 had worked for some very large corporations and was unhappy in that environment-reporting to multiple bosses with different expectations and requirements. After law school, I began working for a medium-sized firm and found it to be a similar sort of situation. I had multiple partners to report to, each with a different approach to practicing and a different set of expectations from associates. I set my sights on having my own practice. After a year getting some learning from some very experienced attorneys, I first moved to a small firm with only 1 other attorney and then opened my own practice a couple years after that.

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

I get to do things my way. I can approach my practice in a manner that fits with my style of doing things, including working hours that fit my family life so that I make time for my children when it matters. I also get to approach the practice of law in a way that I am comfortable with, both in the cases that I take on and the way in which I approach each client and case.

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

First, there is always a substantial amount of anxiety over bringing in new business. Even in talking to attorneys that are established practitioners and have been in business for 20 years or more, that anxiety is always there in some form. You are always worried that the last client who retained you is going to be the last paying client to walk through the door. It isn't entirely rational, but I think most attorneys who do this have that little bit of anxiety. The other problem with having a small firm or being a solo is the administrative work. It is tedious and it can eat up a lot of time that you could be billing. However, you neglect the administrative work at your peril.

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

A mentor is a huge asset when first starting out. If you haven't been able to get some experience working for other attorneys who have been around the block, then making friends with an attorney or two in your practice area that you can go to for advice is critical. I would also advise any person new to a solo practice to hire an experienced staff person to help with the day-to-day administration and office management. If you aren't going to set up an office that is conducive to staffing, then outsource some of the administrative work-get a good accountant who can reconcile your trust and operating accounts each month, get an answering service, don't try to do it all yourself.

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

I get to the office about 8, before the rest of the staff. I go through emails and phone messages, pay bills, do admin work until my paralegal gets to the office at 9. If I am in trial that day, I leave instructions on any clients that need to be contacted or other issues that can't wait until I return. About 6 pm I start to think about leaving and by about 7 pm I actually get out the door to go home.

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

My practice is exclusively focused on family law. It is a litigation practice. Most new attorneys who hang out a shingle end up in criminal defense or family law as a solo practitioner. In both of those fields an experienced paralegal is a must. Even if you do not end up in a litigation-heavy practice as a solo, remember that you cannot do it all on your own. Support staff is crucial in helping with the day-to-day requirements of running a law practice, plus it enables you to take a day off once in a while and still keep the office open and running.

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