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Book Review: Considering Hanging Out Your Shingle? A Road Map to Becoming ‘Solo by Choice’

By Susan Cohodes

The third edition of “Solo by Choice,” aka the solo practice bible, provides a no-nonsense road map to solo or reinvigorating your post-pandemic solo practice.

solo by choice

The ABA’s 2022 Practice Forward Report, released in December, found that a large number of lawyers don’t want to return to the pre-pandemic ways in which they worked. That will mean different things for different lawyers, of course. But for some, it may mean deciding to don the solo practice mantle.  

That can be a tough decision. Fortunately, top-notch guidance is at the ready in Carolyn Elefant’s “Solo by Choice: How to Start Your Own Law Firm and Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be,” now in its third edition.

Is Going Solo the Right Move?

In the 15 years since “Solo by Choice” was first published, Elefant has remained a staunch advocate for practicing law in a solo or small setting. Whether you’re a veteran practitioner who wants to escape Big Law, a lawyer who has been downsized, a recent law grad yearning for the right fit or otherwise, Elefant’s book is the solo practice bible. It provides a no-nonsense road map to guide you in deciding whether hanging out a shingle is the right move. The book also has valuable information for those who are already solo and want to update or reinvigorate their practice.

Much of Elefant’s advice is firsthand and time-tested, as she opened her own law practice in 1993. The universe pushed her in that direction when she was told by a managing partner at the large firm where she worked that she was not partnership material. She was given six uncomfortable months to find a new future and she created one. Today she is a successful lawyer, well-known author, creator of the renowned blog MyShingle, and champion of small and solo law firms. 

Elefant nudges readers in the direction of going solo, but in a balanced way.

Core Factors in Going Solo by Choice

Money is naturally a front-and-center consideration. Elefant notes that a potential solo might be rightfully concerned about not having enough money to start a law practice. However, she points out that it really doesn’t take much money to start up a firm — and that almost everyone already has the two most essential tools for starting a law firm: a laptop and a cellphone. Later in the book, she offers concrete steps that can be taken to minimize startup costs, too.

She also reminds readers that they may have access to more money than they think they do should they wish to tap into home equity or look to crowdfunding. 

Elefant wisely warns, however, that lawyers who plan to chuck a job in Big Law and strike out on their own most certainly should discuss the move with their life partner to make sure they are prepared for the initial financial changes as well as changes in the division of labor at home.

Lifestyle changes are also a concern in terms of the amount of time a new solo needs to devote to business issues.

At the same time, Elefant touts the many freedoms of the small and solo practice, including the freedom to choose your cases, freedom from office politics, scheduling flexibility and the wonderful ability to choose office supplies. No one can deny the thrill of getting the right kind of pens with no pushback from accounting.

Her zeal is not without limits, though, and Chapter 3 offers “A Reality Check.”  Elefant reminds readers to not let their enthusiasm to go solo cloud their good judgment about when and why they should hang out a shingle. Going solo will likely not be a panacea for someone who is disenchanted with the practice of law in general. Nor, she cautions, is it a good idea if you feel like it is your only option and you are bitter about that fact. In both instances, the change of venue will likely not change the ill feeling. 

Four Questions to Ask Yourself

To help readers home in on the solo decision, Elefant boils it down to four key questions:

  1. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to establish your firm?
  2. Are you confident in your lawyering skills?
  3. Will you regret it?
  4. Do you love the law or the clients that you serve?

Elefant is confident that solo practice is for you if your answers to those questions are, respectively:

1) Yes; 2) Confident enough; 3) No more than I will regret not having tried; and 4) I am passionate about the law.

Once the Decision Is Made

“Solo By Choice” offers a wealth of tips, guidelines and resources to help the new solo navigate the traditional side of practice, including funding, setting up an office and narrowing your practice area to serve your interests and financial goals.

In addition, Elefant looks at how to assess your technology needs and choose a “tech stack.” The book also has a number of helpful ideas for how new solos can use social media and digital marketing. And last but not least, Elefant acknowledges that the pandemic changed everything for everyone. Many post-pandemic changes work to the benefit of the solo practitioner, she notes. For example, remote depositions and trials make it easier to be in more than one place at one time. And remote expert testimony can dramatically reduce costs for the new solo.

There’s more. Suffice it to say “Solo by Choice,” Third Edition, is a must-read (and a must to re-read) for anyone working at or hoping to start a solo or small law firm. It is a thought-provoking, practical guide to small law.

Solo by Choice: How to Start Your Own Law Firm and Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be, Third Edition, by Carolyn Elefant (LawyerAvenue Press, 2022, 352 pages) is available on Amazon.

Image © iStockPhoto.com.

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Susan Cohodes Susan Cohodes

Susan Cohodes is a trial attorney who practiced for more than 35 years, first in Chicago and for the last 31 years in Seattle. Susan has spent her entire career fighting for injured clients. In 2024, Susan became Of Counsel to her firm and is now pursuing her passions of knitting, writing — and following her beloved Green Bay Packers around the country.

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