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California Young Lawyers Association

The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself Before You Go Solo

by Nicole Abboud, The Law Office of Nicole Abboud

They say one of the best decisions you could ever make in your legal career is to go into solo practice, and by “they,” I’m referring to myself. I say that all the time. I opened my own practice over a year ago and it has been the most challenging yet rewarding journey in my life thus far. For many of you reading this, perhaps you’ve thought about hanging up your shingle while grinding at your current law firm, or maybe you graduated from law school with the intention of going solo upon passing the bar. Regardless of where you are in your career at this moment, if you ever entertained the idea of running your own law practice, then there is but one question you need to ask yourself before taking any action and that is:

“Why?”

Why do you want to go into solo practice? Why is this decision the right one for you?

For me, the decision came after having worked as an associate at a small firm for over 2 1/2 years. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was unhappy and unfulfilled with my position and I needed a change. After many months of careful consideration and circular debates in my head about the big decision, I decided to take the leap into solo practice. Here are just a few of the “Why’s” that I considered prior to flying solo.

Freedom – Many young lawyers believe that opening their own practices will free them from the responsibility of having to be at an office at a certain time. They want to set their own hours based on their most productive times of day. And to a certain degree, going solo will allow you such flexibility. But as most solo practitioners might agree, running your own practice means working at your firm and on your business 24/7. You are the captain of the ship and you must be at the helm at all times. Since going solo, I have been working longer hours than I did when I worked for a firm. More often than not, I work on weekends. As a solo practitioner, I’m normally not able to take vacations without having my phone on stand-by. The trade-off, however, is that I have autonomy over how I spend my hours, and I can easily factor in family and social time any time during the day. 

Running your own practice also means you can pick and choose which clients to work with and which projects to spend your time on. You are able to make every decision that will affect your bottom line. That freedom to make your own decisions with very few restrictions and to build the kind of lifestyle you want is priceless.  

Entrepreneurship  – Entrepreneurship is a sexy word and a hot topic lately, but make no mistake, entrepreneurship is no fad in the legal profession. Running a law practice these days is equivalent to operating a business.  Sure, many believe that the law is a profession and they argue that they went to law school, not business school for a reason, and to that I say this: if you plan on going solo, be prepared to get rid of that belief…quickly! Before making the leap to solo practice, ask yourself, “Do I have the business know-how (or am I at least willing to learn it) to operate a successful law firm?” As a solo practitioner, I spend a majority of my time focusing on the business side of things, that includes: client intake, bookkeeping, marketing, administrative work, receptionist duties, and the list goes on. You need to think about whether or not you want to spend your time on these tasks.

Furthermore, for many young lawyers, the inability to scratch their entrepreneurial itch is precisely what leads many young lawyers to dissatisfaction with the practice of law. Going solo may keep some from leaving the profession all together.

Impact – It’s no secret that while working for a firm, as young lawyers, we don’t necessarily get the client interaction and face time that we want. In many big firms, young lawyers are handed menial, mind-numbing tasks like discovery while never meeting the client whose case they can spend months working on. Being able to interact directly with clients and observe the impact that your work is having on their lives first-hand is a very important “Why” for wanting to go solo.

Aside from being able to have an impact on others as a solo practitioner, going solo will have a massive impact on you as a human being. You will quickly learn the value of strategic relationships and mentors. You will realize that although you are a solo practitioner, you are by no means alone in this practice because of the extensive network of fellow solo practitioners available. You will discover the importance of building meaningful connections and relationships with other players in your profession, in your community, and in other industries.

Happiness – One of the biggest driving factors in opening my practice was simply the fact that I was unhappy and dissatisfied working for someone else. I believed that I could help more people by doing things on my own terms. I felt empowered to call the shots. The day I announced the launch of my law practice was a happy day indeed, and I made a promise to myself to try to maintain that same enthusiasm that I felt on Day 1 throughout the year. Although admittedly, it’s difficult to maintain complete bliss every single day since solo practice does have many challenges, I can report that I am much happier now than I ever was working for someone else.

Compensation –For many young lawyers leaving law firms to go solo might mean taking a pay cut at first. It’s no secret that the lack of steady income as a new solo can be the scariest factor of opening your own practice. There will be months where you get no phone calls. There will be others months where you’re busy beyond belief. If you are someone who is not good with budgeting or you need a steady paycheck, then solo practice might not be for you.

Despite the lack of stability in income, I wholeheartedly believe that solo practitioners have the ability to earn a sizeable income. There are no limitations on the amount you can earn. You control the number of clients you work with and how much you can charge. Being able to collect payment and apply every dollar towards your salary and your business is a huge benefit of solo practice.

Final thoughts…

Going solo is no walk in the park. It can be lonely, unsteady, scary, and tough. It takes a lot of courage, determination, and a strong vision for what you want your life and career to look like. But if any of the “Why’s” I mentioned above struck a chord and you truly believe solo practice is for you, then do it!

Are you a solo practitioner already and have your own “Why” not discussed here? I’d love to hear it. Tweet me @nicoleabboud and let’s keep the conversation going.

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