Solo by Choice: A Book For a New Life

The words “solo by choice” either strike fear and terror or spark curiosity and enthusiasm in the hearts of lawyers and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Luckily for the curious and enthusiastic, Carolyn Elefant’s two new books, Solo By Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be (2011-2012) and Solo By Choice: The Companion Guide (34 Questions that could transform Your Legal Career) can connect you to an army of solo advisors and mentors, and it may reinforce your desire to launch a new enterprise. These books should be required reading for law students and lawyers considering going solo, and for anyone else considering starting a business.

Required reading

“Required reading” does not mean “stack the books on a shelf and plan to read them someday.” Launching a business without heeding Elefant’s advice carries the same risk as sitting for a bar exam without doing a lick of preparation.

Diving in to Solo By Choice

Solo By Choice is really a business development handbook with step-by-step instructions and advice from Elefant and her colleagues. She begins with 39 pages which unpack and analyze the decision to go solo, continues through the launch, follows with excellent counsel about practicing on your own, and ends with a very complete guide to marketing.

If you are overwhelmed when facing a 300-page guide, start with a six-chapter dive. Read Chapter 1 (The Case for Solo Practice), Chapter 6 (Nine Steps to Getting Started), and all of Section IV (Solo Marketing, Chapters 14-17.)

Chapter 1 gives hope and inspiration with seven arguments for embarking on a solo venture: Autonomy, Practical Experience, To Feel Like a Lawyer, Flexibility, To Own Not Loan Your Talent, Opportunity to Innovate, and Career Satisfaction.

What smart business practices did you learn in law school?

Chapter 6 presents the solid business advice sorely needed by English majors who never planned to be in “business.” During my 24 years as a headhunter and career advisor, an all too common response to the notion that law is really a business was “If I wanted to be in business, I would have gotten an MBA.”

Now it’s time.

Using nine steps to getting started, Elefant walks her readers through absolute basics including: bar membership, business structure and other requirements, selecting a name for a firm, purchasing insurance, establishing financial accounts, where to set up the office (with Office Space FAQ), legal research options, making an official announcement, web presence and domain names.

Marketing for smart people

Web-and-social-media-savvy folks may want to skip Chapters 14 through 17. Big mistake. These contain thoroughly professional instructions about marketing, search engine optimization, ethics and advertising, web content and design, advice about posting fees, writing a blog, traditional marketing and networking, branding, client communications, paying for referrals, and much, much more.

The show stopper, though, is this very pointed reminder about the true nature of the enterprise: Successful marketing does not equate to legal competence.

Inspired? Energized? Now read the rest of the book.

The Companion Guide

The Companion Guide is both practical and inspirational. Its 34 questions in 134 pages contain advice, reflection, and the voices of dozens of solos with varying years of experience. Its final pages make the case for solo practice with commentary on autonomy, practical experience, feeling like a lawyer, flexibility, owning v. loaning your talent, innovation, and career satisfaction.

These books contain nuts and bolts, and gem after gem, including Kevin Afghani’s advice:

If you’re in a law firm now and thinking of going solo, my advice is to learn the tasks that are now performed by your secretary since they may soon be performed by you.

And wise words from an anonymous contributor:

In any business, you have four kinds of people: those who find the work, those who maintain client goodwill, those who make sure the work gets done, and those who actually do the work. If you don’t have the personality to do all four, forget being solo.

Why listen to Carolyn?

Why Carolyn Elefant? She has been a solo since 1993, was in the first wave of early-Internet-adopters, harnessing her niche energy regulatory practice to email in 1994 and to the web in 1995. More important, though, is that she is a careful and thoughtful lawyer, and a visionary 21st century solo practitioner. On MyShingle, she is a prolific blogger, dispensing wise and practical advice to other solos, and she leads the charge to continue to raise the reputation of lawyers in solo practice.

Not just for new solos (and not just for lawyers, either)

Experienced solos and other entrepreneurs should read these books, too. Remind yourself why you do what you do, brush up on your business management skills, tweak your social media presence, and learn something new on every page.

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  • Great review, Susan! I also thought Carolyn did a great job with these books. In particular, I thought the Companion Guide did a nice job of demonstrating that there are many paths to success for a solo, that what works for one person may not work for someone else, but that it’s helpful to survey a range of solos to help an individual lawyer figure out what will work for her. It’s encouraging to hear lawyers say that things did not go perfectly for them, that they may have made a mistake or two, but that they have succeeded and love their practices.