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In previous posts we asked the question, “How Much Does It Cost to Start a New Solo Firm?” And we received some great advice from practice management experts and a few newly minted solos on how much seed money it takes to start up today … from scratch. But cash on hand isn’t the only consideration when deliberating whether or not to hang your single shingle.
Today’s economy can lead seasoned attorneys, mid-career laterals and even freshly minted law grads into solo practice. But is solo practice a good fit for you? No matter the stage of your career, there are questions to ask yourself and options to examine to determine whether this is your best choice before you launch a solo practice.
Opening a solo practice means wearing many hats to handle all the functions in the firm—in addition to practicing law. A lawyer stepping out of a larger firm may find herself a bit ill-equipped to manage all the details required in running a law office, even a solo one. That realization—sometimes a difficult one—may lead to the need for extra support, either outsourced or in-house, to cover everything from bookkeeping and billing to marketing and technology support, plus other administrative duties. Acknowledge your strengths and interests, and then plan ways to cover the rest so you can balance both the administrative and the legal side of running the practice.
Do you view solo practice as a temporary or long-range option? Will you focus on one practice niche or several areas? Do you anticipate a need for support through a paralegal, legal assistant or other? Will you need the involvement of other lawyers? Many solo lawyers network and solidify of counsel relationships with their peers to plug into particular client matters as the need arises. Being prepared in advance is key to ensuring solid legal services and handling client expectations.
Think about the areas of practice you want to concentrate in. Consider your background and experience—what types of client matters do you enjoy? Describe your best client and explore why that’s the case. Developing key areas of practice where you have both experience and interest to grow and develop will lead you on a path to a satisfying and successful practice.
The location of your office depends on the type of clients you want to serve. Are your clients businesses or consumers? How will the physical office affect attracting clients? Will clients need to visit you often or only occasionally? Endless technology options can support your law practice wherever it is, but you still need to decide what setting works best for you. Do you enjoy tossing around a legal issue or argument among a group of other legal minds? If so, consider renting within a suite of other lawyers. Or if you desire a strong presence, explore leasing or owning your own space. While working from home may seem like paradise, it is not always wise to bring clients to your home. You might consider a virtual office with a professional business address and renting a conference room for meeting with clients on confidential matters.
To build your business, you must have a strong strategic plan that makes marketing and business development a high priority. Concentrate on marketing a few key areas of your practice. Reach out and network—you can learn and gain valuable insights by getting active in your local bar or other specialty law groups. Develop your writing and speaking skills so you can share your knowledge with potential clients. Weave your interests and experience into your online presence through your website and social media as you develop your place in a niche.
Remember, too, that in a solo setting, you may no longer be perceived as competition by your peers. This is a good thing. Communicate how you can be of value to them by helping when conflicts arise in their own firms. Their good feelings about you can result in a stream of solid referrals.
Ellyn Caruso is principal of CarusoPR, a group that combines strategy, creativity and technology. Ellyn is passionate about delivering persuasive marketing and public relations programs to help attorneys, businesses and organizations. She brings more than 25 years of public relations experience serving national and international clients.
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