When Should I Go Solo?
There are so many different reasons lawyers go solo. They make the jump at every stage of their careers. New lawyers, mid-career lawyers, senior lawyers. When is the right time for YOU to go solo?
For the vast majority of lawyers, there is no “right” time. Unfortunately, the stars don’t align, the clouds don’t part, and the message “GO SOLO” is not written in the sky for all to see. That sure would be nice though…
Instead of waiting for the perfect time, many lawyers decide to go solo as a result of an external factor.
Some examples that I have seen are:
- They get passed over for partnership *again*
- They find out that their bonus is not close to the lawyer down the hall who is the same vintage as they are
- They can’t find a job out of law school and need to pay their bills
- They are on maternity leave and want more flexibility in their schedules
- They are let go from their job
- They are tired of working around the clock to fulfill their boss’ dreams
No matter where you are at in your legal journey, you can go solo successfully. Here are some tips on how to do this based on where you are at in your career.
1.New Lawyer. Going solo as a brand new lawyer has its own unique challenges. You do not have much or any practical experience. So not only do you have to learn how to run a business, but you may also have to learn the ins and outs of a particular area of the law.
One important factor to help you go solo successfully as a new lawyer is to find really great mentors. Mentors who will help you with substantive law as well as running your business. Ideally this will be more than one person. Granted, finding a mentor can be challenging. For those of you in Ontario, check out this table of mentorship programs to help in your search for a mentor.
Also as a new lawyer, you likely don’t have many (or any) clients. The best way to find new clients is to tell everyone you know what you do and who you do it for. Tell your family, friends, neighbours, and basically anyone who will listen. This is not the time to be shy and tell people you are “just a lawyer”. It is essential that people know who you help so that they can refer work to you (or even contact you themselves for help).
2. Mid-Career. At this stage in the game, you likely have a decent grasp of the substantive areas of your practice. Of course, it’s impossible to know it all, so having mentors and colleagues that you can refer to is very helpful at this stage as well.
If you go solo mid-career, you may feel challenged finding enough of the right kinds of clients. Often you will have clients when your doors first open. You start out very busy in your practice because you have prepared for your launch. But then you get busy and don’t keep up your marketing efforts. This leads to a feast or famine cycle which can lead to a feeling of desperation. You may end up taking work from clients that don’t feel like a fit, or taking on work that does not interest you just to keep work coming in. This is a bandaid solution and if you keep it up for too long you will not enjoy the clients that you serve and/or the work that you are doing.
Having a marketing and business development plan in place before you start helps to ensure that you have a steady stream of clients down the road, no matter your workload.
3. Senior Lawyers. By “senior lawyers” I am thinking of lawyers with 15+ years of experience. You know your area of the law and you have clients who love you.
Due to your knowledge of the law and your book of business, you have the potential for the fastest success when you go solo. Yet often you end up overworked and questioning why you went solo in the first place. Hiring help will make the transition to solo much smoother. This does not mean that you have to build your own massive law firm. If that is not your goal, you can easily hire people who can help on a part time or contract basis. Help can come in the form of other legal professionals, assistants, marketing managers or students.
I recently posted on LinkedIn asking when lawyers went solo. There was some interesting insight shared by other professionals in the comments. Come join the conversation here.
I was trained on Bay Street and worked in Big Law for nearly a decade before going solo. I now help other solo/small firm lawyers launch and build their practices, through 1:1 consulting. I help lawyers implement a marketing strategy, hire help, overcome mindset blocks and build a profitable firm that suits their lifestyle. Interested in learning more? Check out my services page.