Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

It is not easy staying abreast of all of the important issues affecting small firms, but I do it because my words impact our nation’s policy. Do you think it was a coincidence that less than a week after I instituted the Small Firm Pro Bono Push, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee suggested that private-sector employees need to do more pro bono work? Obviously not.

But sometimes even I need guidance. So I enlisted the help of Susan Cartier Liebel, the guru of solo practice.

Liebel founded Solo Practice University (“SPU”) in order to provide the resources for people to start their own firms that she found to be utterly lacking when she first decided to hang a shingle. SPU offers a wide variety of educational programs and networking opportunities. As Liebel stated, SPU provides the 360-degree experience to learn how to open a law firm in a simple-to-use and cost-effective online platform.

Above the Law covered SPU back in 2009, but much has changed over the past two years. Learn more about SPU after the break….

I asked Liebel what is on the minds of all solos. Answer: cloud-based offices. Virtual offices are especially beneficial for solo practitioners because they are cost-effective and enable solos in one state to work with clients in another state barred in multiple states to work with clients in all the states where they are barred. As she explained, solo practitioners are now able to maintain their office in the clouds. I am not sure if I completely understand what that is, but it sounds very Jetsons-esque. If you are a solo-practitioner or small-firm attorney, get yourself in those clouds STAT!

(If you’re interested in learning more about cloud-based computing and its implications for legal practice, check out Gabe Acevedo’s prior post on the subject.)

Another concern among solo practitioners and small-firm attorneys: finding ways to link together with other attorneys. Indeed, gone are the days when larger firms were buying up smaller firms. The future lies in collaborating and co-counseling. Apparently the clouds are great for this too.

And, as with all lawyers (and professionals of all kinds), networking is a key consideration for solos. SPU makes that process easier. All of the faculty are mentors and the site has over 100 different networking groups. The SPU network is filled with people who have as their purpose helping other solos (which in turn helps themselves).

After talking with Liebel, I felt inspired. The thought of hanging a shingle is terrifying to me — and to many (perhaps most) attorneys. According to Liebel, “law school trains you to be an employee and to believe that you can only survive with a pay check. However, there are multiple ways for you to use your law degree and to be your own profit center. Just make sure that you know what you are capable of, take precautions, and learn responsibly.” And, use SPU as your bridge to going solo.

Liebel believes that there are a wide variety of personalities that can succeed as solo practitioners. There are people like her, who always knew that they wanted to be in business for themselves. There are also those who thought they would go solo later in their careers or who found out that they had no other options. Because hanging a shingle is always a possibility, lawyers can never really be unemployed. There is real power in that thought.

Liebel offers the following advice: “Always have a Plan B — one in which you are self-reliant. Teach yourself to be your own profit center. These skills will not only teach you to fly on your own, but will also help you excel in any work environment.”

Talking to Liebel, I found myself wondering why so many attorneys are scared to go off on their own. With resources like SPU and your network of professional colleagues, it really seems to be doable. So, are you ready to take the plunge and open a solo-practice in the clouds (or on earth)?

Do any of you have tales of how you hung a shingle AND SURVIVED? Share them with me.

Earlier: Notes from the Breadline: To Be On Your Own (Part III)


Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small law firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.


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