Whenever somebody advises you to not do something they themselves are currently doing, you have to take the advice with a bit of skepticism. The cynics among you will not be surprised that a solo practitioner advises against young attorneys starting their own solo practice. Who needs the competition?
We’ve detailed how difficult it is to start a solo practice before. But given how many people breezily suggest that displaced attorneys can just “hang out a shingle” and make money, Scott Field’s advice written on the Texas Lawyer (gavel bang: ABA Journal) seems timely and appropriate:
[M]y first suggestion for recent law school graduates considering going solo is: don’t. A recent graduate should find a job somewhere where he can gain experience and receive on-the-job training. By doing so, he will learn how to practice law — something law school does not teach. Experience matters. Recent graduates should try to get some before going solo.
People thinking they are going to go to law school and have a solo practice as their safety net should listen to that advice too…
I’m sure Scott Field knows what I do: sharing the benefit of your experience to tell young people what they shouldn’t do makes no impact on what young people will do. Don’t open up your own shop with no experience? Whatever. I once knew a guy who was friends with a guy who did this and made a bunch of money!
So Field gives the young lemmings some advice as they scurry past him towards the cliff. I particularly like his second piece of advice for new solos:
Pound the pavement. Most solos coming right out of law school are not going to have a built-in client base, but will depend almost exclusively on referrals from other lawyers. Constructing a referral network is vital.
For this reason, the new solo attorney should attend bar events, join networking groups and generally find any way to increase visibility. She should also work hard to maintain all existing contacts in the legal community and to make new ones. She should take other lawyers to lunch, get to know people and tell them about her practice. This practice has the added benefit of helping avoid the isolation that often comes with being solo.
I love it because a lot of people looking at solo practice right now are doing so because they couldn’t get a job at a firm. In this market, firm jobs (especially in small law) are only coming free for those who are masters at networking.
But running a solo practice requires a Ph.D in networking. If you couldn’t network your way into a firm job, your solo practice is probably dead on arrival because you lack the skills necessary to build a client base. Why would someone right out of school be more successful getting clients and referrals than he or she was at getting interviews and job offers?
If you’re looking at solo practice not because you have to, but because the thrill of being your own boss appeals to you, consider this last piece of advice from Field:
Do not work all the time. Work as regular a schedule as possible. If there is no emergency to handle, stop at a set time and get away from the law. Spend time with family or friends. Read a book. Find a hobby. Exercise.
This seems like the most crucial advice of all (except the exercise part: wouldn’t you rather be working than torturing yourself climbing stairs that lead to nowhere or running in place like an idiot gerbil). Being your own boss means that you are ultimately responsible for everything, and if you don’t know how to handle it “burnout” is right around the corner. There are kids preparing for the bar right now that can’t set reasonable limits on how much they study. In a few months they’re going to be able to put reasonable limits on their own start-up company? Not bloody likely.
Which really brings us full circle. If you are a recent law graduate who hasn’t been able to get a job and is therefore considering starting your own practice: don’t. Just don’t. Step away from the ledge and come up with a better idea. You might feel like your career is in free fall, but you haven’t even come close to terminal velocity.
Advice for New Law Grads Who Want to Open a Solo Practice [Texas Lawyer]
Solo Advises New Law Grads Not to Hang Out Their Own Shingle [ABA Journal]