Solo attorneys have it rough.
People assume we aren’t good enough to work at a big firm or get a “real” job. Other people think we run our practices out of Starbucks or a beaten down jalopy.
I’m a man on a mission, and there are more myths to dispel. Let’s do this.
All solo attorneys practice law as a hobby
I’ve already covered (lack of) prestige of not working at a big firm. Apparently, the level of ignorance goes even deeper than that.
Not only do people presume I couldn’t get a job for big law, they also presume that my “practice” is some form of hobby-like operation (complete with no-office). As in, I show up when I want, dink around the interwebs, maybe do some work, leave early, and bring home just enough bacon to cover some expenses. Wrong.
I don’t have attendance policy, but I need to get in by a certain time everyday, so that I can leave at a certain time each day. And on most days, I’ll still have more work to do when I leave (depend on the % of time spend dinking around on the internet). And I need to bring a couple of pounds of bacon each month, otherwise my family is eating boxes of mac n’ cheese (generic variety).
I know there are solo attorneys whose income is supplementary to another household income. I know there are solo attorneys that basically step back from a big firm gig and only take on a small caseload. But some does not = all. I’m not going to say my practice is my life, because my family is my life. But my practice is what feeds my family and keeps a roof over our heads.
And I have hobbys, like reading and collecting comic books. That takes up about an hour a week. The time spent running my practice is slightly higher than that.
All solo attorneys are general practitioners
When you run a solo practice, you tend to network with other solo attorneys. I cannot think of one solo attorney I know that operates a general practice. I can think of some attorneys that delve into too many practice areas, but even they don’t advertise themselves as general practitioners.
The overwhelming majority of solo attorneys I know have niche practices. In my office suite there is a bankruptcy attorney, a consumer rights attorney that handle Fair Credit Reporting Act cases, another small bankruptcy firm, and another consumer rights firm that handles Fair Debt Collection Practices Act cases. I’m very familiar with the local consumer rights bar, and almost every attorney only handles a certain type of case: credit reporting, foreclosures, debt collection, repossessions, etc.
Frankly, I don’t think a solo practice would work very well as a general practice. My practice is growing and becoming more profitable because I am becoming more efficient with my cases and more experienced with my practice area. I regularly turn down other kinds of consumer law cases because I don’t have the requisite time to research a new area of law. I’ve seen young solo attorneys try to open a general practice, and they seem to spend their entire day trying to figure out one little part of some unknown area of law—in an attempt to get a client. That is not a good use of time.
Of course, there are situations where it’s possible. Attorneys living in rural areas typically run something close to a general practice. Attorneys with years and years of experience could probably operate a more general practice, because they’ve encountered a fair number of cases in multiple practice areas.
Solo attorneys don’t know how to run a business
True and false
You can’t really be a solo attorney without some basic business skills. To be fair, however, the vast majority of solo attorneys did not go to business school and/or previously run a business.
That means things like running finances, designing a website (and updating it), client intake (aka customer interactions), marketing/networking, etc., are all foreign concepts to most new solo attorneys. Most of those skills/tasks are things that you can teach yourself. Although, learning how to interact with people and getting along with them is fairly innate. If you don’t get along with people, the solo route is probably not for you.
Frankly, many solo attorneys outsource many of the business logistics to other staff or professionals they hire. For example, hiring an accountant to do the books, or hiring support staff to answer the phone, greet clients, run the books, work on marketing, etc. But outsourcing doesn’t mean an attorney doesn’t know how to do it, it just means they recognize the value in having someone else do it.
I guess that means every solo attorney knows how to run a business, but not all of them know how to run a business well.