Confidently Start Your Own Law Practice

As a solo practitioner with a practice less than one year old, I can understand the trepidation with which many people approach the idea of starting their own practices. But after working in terrible contract attorney positions and realizing the value I can produce, it was easy to become confident about my ability to start my own successful law practice. So here are some strategies that helped me overcome the major concerns.

“I Don’t Have The Knowledge or Skills”

I admit it: Practicing law on your own is scary sometimes. The key for me in starting my own practice was ensuring that I was always challenging myself to develop knowledge and skills. If you are thinking about starting your own practice right out of law school, you can do this very effectively by hooking into a local pro bono legal services provider. (My first case out of law school was a housing court trial I got from the local non-profit Volunteer Lawyers Network.) As soon as I was able to survive a case from start to finish where I did not always have the answer at my fingertips, my confidence went through the roof, and I realized I could handle taking on legal situations with which I was not entirely familiar.

This strategy continually builds your knowledge and skills base, and although it can be quite frightening at times, your confidence will grow with every engagement. And don’t forget that your local colleagues are almost always willing to help you if you have a question. There is no better way to gain the confidence to practice than by doing it and talking about it.

“I’m Not Willing to Gamble with My Income”

If you are concerned that you will not be able to make enough money to justify striking out on your own, consider what you are making right now, and calculate how many hours you would need to bill each week to match that. When I was a contract attorney I found that billing 6 hours per week would put me above my gross hourly wage. Although clients are not always guaranteed, only billing 6 hours per week leaves a lot of time to develop that client base through networking and marketing. Marketing in your down time is a good strategy to develop anyway, and as you progress you will find less and less down time.

“Starting My Own Practice Will Cost Too Much”

As Sam said a while ago, if you have a computer and a table you can start your own law practice. Aside from malpractice insurance and business registration costs, there are not many necessary expenses outside a computer and a place to use it.

I worked out of my house for the first 8 months I practiced (before going full time), and I met clients at coffee shops or public libraries–no expensive office necessary. Once I started my own full-time practice, I gained free access to Westlaw with a $60-per-year subscription to my county’s law library. And all the other usual expenses and utilities came with the house.

“I Guess That Sounds Good…”

Working on your own is an amazing experience that many people do not experience. If you have survived law school, you have the gumption to get the work done, and the compulsion to do it well. You can work for yourself and choose your own cases, build the practice the way you want it to be, and feel pride in being completely self-sufficient. There will be some hard times, but the overall benefits far outweigh any drawbacks. And the feeling you get after successfully procuring a great outcome cannot be matched.

Starting your own practice is a fantastic experience, and I recommend it to students and colleagues all the time. It builds your reputation, your experience, and your confidence, and will immeasurably enhance your life. Just do it.

Legal Careers, Starting a Law Firm

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  • Mike Whelan Jr

    Love it. Obviously you can’t be overly substantive in these short articles but I love the dose of optimism. I keep trying to tell my despondent fellow law students that they are some of the smartest and most educated people in America. They just need the confidence and basic skills to monetize that. I’m optimistic about my chances of surviving and I have more kids and debt than any of my peers. Good luck!

  • http://smartbusinessrevolution.com/ John Corcoran

    I think this is great advice to the many law grads who are coming out of school now or who graduated in the last couple of years and who are having trouble finding a good job. If you live in a big city which has many medium or large firms, the idea of starting your own practice may seem crazy, but historically, it is not. Law graduates who started out 30+ years ago, or law grads who want to work in a rural area, commonly start out as a solo.

    Thanks for the good piece.

  • Graham Martin

    Thanks! I’m glad you like the suggestions. As lame as it sounds, optimism and a positive attitude can go a long way toward helping a new solo practitioner succeed. Sure–there are difficulties any business owner faces along the way, but putting together a routine and sticking to your marketing plan goes a long way toward setting you up for a burgeoning practice.
    And I think starting a solo shop in a large market is a great idea. There are plenty of people who need legal assistance, and because you will have low overhead starting out, you can undercut the medium- and large-sized firms.

  • http://www.ctsattorneys.com Susan Tran

    Thank you so much for posting this article; it has really inspired me. Myself and two of my friends from law school are starting our own practice here soon and reading your article has me breathing a sigh of relief, well a small sigh. Thanks!

  • Ellen

    I wish my husband a UMinn Law grad would read this blog. He could use all the help he can get. Sadly, graduating in the top 5% of your class from a tier 1 school doesn’t guarantee a job anymore. He’s not really the glad handing type, so what would you suggest to help with marketing?

  • http://glassmanlawoffices.com/ Eydie Glassman

    I just opened my own practice in July, 2012 after ten years with “the firm”. I essentially left with the shirt on my back. While it has been scary at times and I admittedly have moments of complete panic over A/R (or even worse no A/R), I couldn’t be happier about getting my life back again. I probably work harder than before but it is different. The first year is hard but I know it will pay off in time. I too appreciate your dose of optimism. The timing of it was perfect. Thanks!