Lessons for Solo Practitioners from a New Freelancer

When lawyers go out on their own it’s called going solo or hanging a shingle. In other professions it is often just called freelancing. I recently sat down with a newly minted full time freelance designer. The lessons she has learned since going out on her own are definitely applicable to any aspiring solo practitioner.

Have Enough in the Bank

Abby Gleason, owner of A.Gleason Design & Photography, made the decision to leave her job a few months ago. She originally intended to wait a little longer to leave, but once she made the decision it was tough to stick around. As a result, she left with a little less money in the bank than she had hoped. Now, several months into her career as a freelance designer, Abby wishes she had put a little more money in the bank. With 20/20 hindisght Abby recommends having at least six months worth of living expenses saved up. I would add that a year of living expenses is ideal, but potentially difficult to achieve. Either way, a six to twelve month buffer can take, in Abby’s words, “loads” of pressure off your first few months as a solo practitioner. Then, after your first six months, hopefully you can look ahead and try to focus on the positives.

Expand Your Network

As a solo practitioner, it’s easy to feel like a lone sailor in a sea of law firms. That’s one reason why it is important to create a quality network of attorneys you can count on for advice or referrals. But it’s just as important to have a network of other professionals you can call. Looking for local groups on Meetup.com is a great way to find like minded individuals. Don’t just search for lawyer groups though. Any small business group is a terrific opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs in your area. Those entrepreneurs could be your future clients. Also search for your interests to see if there are related meetups. The groups are pretty diverse. In Pittsburgh I was able to find meetup groups for runners, WordPress users, and geeks.

Never Stop Learning

We all know that aside from some skills classes, law schools generally don’t teach you how to practice law. And that’s just the start of your educational deficiency. What about business concepts? Nobody has ever taught me how to manage a business’ bank accounts or write a business plan. Luckily there are several places you can go to get the knowledge you need.

Abby recommends Lynda.com, a site aimed at teaching you how to use various pieces of software. It’s only $25 a month and covers quite the array of applications. You can learn how to program in several languages, use Quickbooks, or create fancy Excel spreadsheets. There isn’t any commitment, so if you don’t find it useful you can just cancel the membership.

The Solo Practice University is a large repository of lectures on subjects aimed at, you guessed it, solo practitioners. At $125 a month it’s a much larger investment. But the content is more focused on the legal profession, so it may be more valuable depending on your needs. Solo Practice University also has a lot of free audio lectures that you can listen to before enrolling.

A great free place to go for advice is the Lawyerist LAB. It’s an active group of lawyers and legal professionals from around the country, and everyone is always willing to lend a helping hand.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jim-sf/2663243769/)

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  • Thanks for this helpful post. I’m an attorney who co-founded a firm in the late-1990s, built it to a successful small-sized firm, and then spun off to go solo in a specialty field (litigation graphics and case consulting). I couldn’t agree more with your section on “never stop learning,” in particular the importance of learning new-media communication/design/tech skills that most attorneys need and have to learn on their own since it’s not what you learn in law school. My recent post “Legal Media and Tech Skills for Attorneys: Advice to Help You Get Hired and Improve Your Practice” http://cogentlegal.com/blog/2012/01/10/legal-media-and-tech-skills-for-attorneys/ goes into more detail if your readers are interested.

  • Josh, thanks for listing Solo Practice University in your piece on resources available to solos. I just want to expand upon what you wrote. $125 monthly is just one option. Should a student enroll quarterly or annually, they receive free unlimited online CLE and the price per month ultimately drops to less than $58 per month for annual. The rates are even lower for law students and the content remains the same for all – a vast resource for the solo practitioner as well as community, mentoring, and discounts on products and services, including malpractice insurance, hand-picked by us without any affiliate fees.

    Across the internet there are so many worthwhile resources for those who wish to go solo and it’s about time :-)