Solos: Do You Really Want a Partner?

In the legal profession, there are many solo practitioners. The ABA estimates that half of the country’s lawyers “hang out their own shingles.” Over the course of a career, most of these solos occasionally give serious thought to the idea of joining forces with another lawyer. Such a decision should never be rushed. It should always be well-thought-through.

Here is a brief rundown of the up- and down-side of going to the altar with another lawyer.

Synergy between the Solo Practices

Whenever a solo practitioner considers tying the knot, the main factor should be that the two practices relate to one another in way that creates synergy. In other words, one plus one equals more than two. If the sum is not more than two, then why take the risk?

Synergy occurs most often when the practice areas are identical or go hand-in-hand with one another in a way that the lawyers often work together on certain matters. Under these circumstances, there are often cross-marketing opportunities. In addition, coverage while one attorney is away on vacation is usually simpler than relying on staff or another solo attorney.

Shared Overhead

A frequent justification for solos partnering up is the potential cost savings of shared overhead expenses, especially the cost of office space and personnel. In many of these instances, however, there is no genuine synergy or attraction between the parties.

Typically, one or both parties want to minimize the impact of an earlier bad business decision – taking on too much space, for example, or over-hiring. These partnerships are like shotgun weddings, and we all know how well they work out. A solo lawyer may be far better off dealing with the bad business decision than dealing with the consequences of a marriage made you-know-where.

Solo Practice Is Lonely

Solo practice can be lonely in two respects. First, it can get pretty lonely sitting at a desk all day by yourself. Second, it would be nice to be able to bounce an idea or two off of another attorney.

Sharing office space with other attorneys, without merging practices, kills two birds with one stone. You can a hang around the water cooler to discuss recent football games. You can walk down the hall to ask another lawyer if he or she has a copy of the form that you’ve misplaced.

Another tactic for the lonely solo is to get involved with your local bar association, which offers a range of weekly activities. Who knows, you may even get a referral by attending. Finally, pick up the phone and schedule some coffee and lunch dates. You already know that networking is the most important business development tool in the box. As a bonus, it also benefits your mental well being.

Finding a partner is not the only way, and is rarely the best way, to deal with the isolation factor of being a solo. There are very realistic alternatives.

Don’t Underestimate the Risks

If you’re already successful as a solo practitioner, chances are good that one of the reasons for your success is that you are a solo. Do a bit of self-reflection before partnering up. You like the ability to call all of the shots. Why ruin a good thing?  Should you become a partner, you now have to make all major decisions about the practice with someone else. What makes you think that will be so easy?

Many readers of this post are presently involved in a romantic relationship. Do some more self-reflection. Even the best personal relationships become difficult at times. Similarly, having a business relationship will introduce a fair share of problems. Why add this additional worry to your successful solo practice? Plus, if you do tie the knot and things don’t work out, separating the practices can get pretty messy.

Size Matters

Bigger isn’t always better. Becoming business partners with another attorney is a serious commitment. Do your homework before tying the knot.

My thoughts on this issues are based primarily on the experiences of my lawyer coaching clients. Admittedly, it’s not a huge sample. If you were once a solo practitioner who later merged practices with another solo, how did it go? Please share your story.

(photo: Placement of asphalt shingles from Shutterstock)


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