Books, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Size Matters: Carolyn Elefant Teaches Us How to Go Solo

I would bet that at least half of you resolved to find a new job in 2012. And, for many, that new job means going out on your own. As with most New Year’s resolutions, however, such a measure may seem overwhelming.

Lucky for you, Carolyn Elefant has updated her book, Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be (affiliate link). The book provides a thorough road map for lawyers looking to make the leap to solo practice.

Solo By Choice is divided into five parts: (1) The Decision; (2) Planning the Launch; (3) The Practice; (4) Solo Marketing; and (5) Solos in Transition. The sections offer information and advice designed for lawyers at all levels of experience, from new graduate to partner. A large portion of the book discusses new technology and social media. And to bring the message home, Elefant profiles successful solos and provides tips they learned in starting and running their own firms….

As Elefant writes, the book is devoted to:

Every lawyer who ever wanted to run the show but worried that going solo was career suicide . . . to every lawyer who wanted to solo but didn’t know how to set up the office and make it work . . . to every lawyer who never set foot in a courtroom or a boardroom but dreamed of one day practicing their way . . . and to every lawyer captivated by the promise of technology to enable better, cheaper ways of serving clients and expanding access to justice but was stymied by naysayers. In short, this book is dedicated to becoming the lawyer you always wanted to be.

The first edition of Solo By Choice came out in 2008. While most of the information in the first edition remains up to date, Elefant decided to update the book because of the economy. As Elefant explained, “the first edition was for people who were unhappy lawyers and did not realize that they could make the transition to solo. The second edition addresses the needs of those lawyers who may not have other choices besides opening their own firm.” So, the book deals with that reality, offering information regarding loans and debt and strategies for current law students to maximize their chances of success upon graduation.

Elefant wrote the latest edition of Solo by Choice for a variety of audiences. First, she shows unhappy, unemployed or mommy-tracked lawyers that starting your own practice is achievable. Second, she helps those current solos stuck in the technological past by providing information about how to increase their capabilities while cutting their costs.

The book also addresses the complicated question of whether or not recent graduates should go solo right out of law school. Elefant advises that a new graduate base the decision on his or her financial situation and employment opportunities, and consider what option offers the best chance for increasing his or her professional contacts. For example, if you graduate in debt and have an offer to work for a firm, you should consider taking the offer for a few years to pay down debt and build a network before striking out on your own. For many, however, there is no law firm offer. For some, the only option available may be taking a non-law job, or working for another lawyer at a low rate. If that is the case, consider working for yourself (and highlighting/committing to memory Chapter 3).

If you have ever toyed with the idea of going out on your own but need more convincing, consider some facts offered in the book:

  • (1) A solo can often expect to meet his previous salary by year two, and even exceed that amount by the third year.
  • (2) One can open a solo practice for around $3,000.
  • (3) Law school ranking matters less for solos than for those looking to work in Biglaw. For solos, it is not where you went to school, but what you did professionally in the past, what potential client base you have access to, what adjuncts you have relationships with, etc. And you may be better off financially than if you went to a top law school.

Need more convincing? Check out the testimonials in the Companion Guide from over forty solos of varying educational and professional backgrounds, experience levels, specialties, and geographic locations who successfully made the switch.

Or look to Elefant’s own professional path. A successful solo specializing in energy regulatory and enforcement law, appellate law, and marine renewable energy, she has devoted much of her time to educating lawyers about solo and small-firm practice. As discussed in the book and in her blog, MyShingle, Elefant was able to create the practice she wanted on her own terms.

In short, while I cannot force you to put down that doughnut or get on that treadmill, I can offer you a road map to accomplishing at least one of your New Year’s resolutions. Pick up your copy of Solo By Choice.

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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