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Lawyerist Media Launches Redesigned Website to Better Help Small Firm Lawyers

Lawyerist Launches Redesigned Website

There’s a new look for Lawyerist. On July 6th, Lawyerist Media launched a completely redesigned version of its popular website, lawyerist.com. In addition to its new look, lawyerist.com offers expanded resources to shepherd lawyers along their healthy firm journey. It also includes new comprehensive guides that pinpoint significant areas of business development, regardless of where firms are on the journey.  

Lawyerist has guided hundreds of small law firms toward a healthier business through free content, resources, and in-depth products and services reviews. With its newly designed and relaunched website, Lawyerist Media continues to position lawyerist.com as the to-go resource for solo and small firm lawyers.  

Doubling Down on Building Healthy Law Firms

The idea of helping law firms build a healthy business is more than just a slogan at Lawyerist. Stephanie Everett, CEO, explains:

“We’re tired of seeing law firm owners suffer because of the broken, traditional law firm model. Our team is on a mission to help lawyers build something different—a business that is client-centered, designed around healthy teams using efficient systems, and is ultimately more profitable. We know lawyers can have what they set out to create—a firm that allows them to spend time with their families, impact their communities, and build for their future.”

The new “Healthy Law Firm” hub lays a clear path for lawyers working toward healthier law firms.

Walk through each step of Lawyerist’s healthy business model, including:


Teaching Law Firm Owners How to Build and Grow Their Business

For years, lawyers have visited Lawyerist Media’s site to learn practical advice to build and grow their business. Lawyerist’s new Complete Guide series will make it even easier for lawyers to find the information they need to begin their healthy firm journey. 

Each guide provides an overview of essential business concepts and easy-to-understand guidance to apply to their business. Everett explains, “We know law school doesn’t teach lawyers how to run a business. These guides will help lawyers understand key business concepts and how they apply to their business.” 

Nine new guides have launched, with plans for more to follow in the future.

Initially, lawyers can access Lawyerist’s Complete Guides to:


The new Complete Guide Series is under Resources at lawyeristbackup.kinsta.cloud. In addition, lawyers can access long-favored tools, including The Small Firm Roadmap book, the Lawyerist Podcast, and the Small Firm ScorecardTM

Lawyers can also turn to Lawyerist Media to find the latest industry, community, and company news in the relaunched News Articles section. And, those who miss the Lawyerist blog will be happy to see it make its comeback.

Lawyerist Media Connects Law Firm Owners With Tools Needed to Run Their Business 

Lawyers ready to build and grow a business know they can’t do it alone. Business owners rely on the right tools and services to help them effectively run their firms. Unfortunately, researching and choosing the right solutions can feel like a second job. So, Lawyerist does the work for you.

Lawyerist Media will continue to ease that burden and make the process easier for law firm owners with an updated Product Reviews section. In this area, firm owners can learn what to look for when choosing products, discover the features that could help them most, and select the best tools for how the lawyer wants to work. 

Software and service providers are now broken down into three easy-to-understand categories:


The Product and Services Reviews section of the website then takes a deeper look at each of the top providers, with detailed service descriptions, editorial reviews, and demo videos. lawyeristbackup.kinsta.cloud is the perfect place for lawyers to start when they are ready to purchase new software and engage a new service provider for their firm.

How To Go Solo from BigLaw

Once you have decided leaving BigLaw is right for you, there are still many practical and logistical questions you need to answer carefully before you can walk out the door. It can be daunting to figure out how much notice to give, anticipate what’s going to happen after you do, and notify clients you are leaving.

But don’t give up. Those concerns are what any responsible, conscientious lawyer would seriously consider and deliberate before giving notice.

We are recent BigLaw defectors who grappled with these questions, and we asked other BigLaw alums about their experiences with leaving BigLaw for solo or small-firm practice, and life after the leap.

Why to Leave

The decision to leave is rarely made on impulse. Short of a full-on breakdown where you run screaming from the office, you will have to grapple with some questions when deciding whether leaving BigLaw to start your own practice is the right move for you.

The most important question to ask when deciding to leave BigLaw is why. Why leave a six-figure salary, health insurance, partnership prospects, a steady stream of business, and a 401(k) to venture into the unknown? If you don’t have good answers for those questions, then perhaps these questions might help:

  • Are you at a point where you aren’t feeling professionally fulfilled?
  • Have you lost track of what it is you are working so hard towards?
  • Have you lost interest in moving up the ranks?

Your answers should help you determine (and might make it glaringly obvious) whether or not you need to leave.

Financial and Practical Considerations

The fear of the unknown and the loss of a healthy salary and benefits sway many to stay in BigLaw. As Cynthia, a lawyer who left a top New York firm, explains:

The biggest concern [on] leaving was (a) the fear that I had been trained to do one thing my entire legal career and I was doing a 180-degree transition to a different practice area, (b) the inevitable pay cut . . . , and (c) the fact that I was taking a major chance giving up on a potential partnership opportunity at a BigLaw firm.

It takes a pretty high level of dissatisfaction and unhappiness for us to consider leaving our comfort zones—especially when it involves a prestigious firm name, high pay, good benefits, and a clear career trajectory—to trek down an unfamiliar path.

Finding Balance and Being Happy Again

Lawyers are risk-averse and trained to define success and happiness myopically. There are reasons why law is the only job with an industry devoted to helping people quit, why “associate attorney” is frequently listed as one of most unhappy professions, and why the annual attrition rate for associates in BigLaw consistently hovers around 18%. When you find yourself dreading getting out of bed every morning and drinking copious amounts to rid yourself of Sunday-night anxiety, it may be time to seriously consider your alternatives.

Among those we interviewed, the most common theme motivating departure was sustainability. Whether they were talking about the lack of work-life balance, feeling like a cog in a wheel, or yearning for something more professionally fulfilling, most people who chose to leave said life in BigLaw was simply not sustainable or compatible with the life they hoped to lead. Cynthia felt that her decision to leave BigLaw was motivated by a need for more control over her life. She said her desire to leave was based on two factors:

  1. Obtain more predictable work schedule. “The demands of BigLaw were too great for someone who wants a life and a family.”
  2. An opportunity to branch out into different practice and “try something new.”

Professional Fulfillment

Others we spoke to were not deterred by the long hours, unpredictable schedule, and intense demands of BigLaw, but were discouraged by the lack of personal and professional fulfillment that comes with exclusively representing large corporations in multi-million-dollar business transactions.

“The biggest [reason] was a search for meaning. If I was going to work the long hours required by BigLaw, I wanted to put in the hours for something that really moved me,” Daniel, an attorney who left BigLaw to start his own legal consulting practice, tells us. “I liked the experience of BigLaw on an intellectual level, but I just didn’t have the passion I was looking for and wanted to direct my energy towards something more personally fulfilling.”

Gaining More Autonomy and Control

For others, including the authors of this article, a combination of both factors made the departure inevitable and the decision to start our own firm a foregone conclusion. Personally, we found the environment and culture of BigLaw to be extremely rigid and, at times, uninspiring and unfulfilling. We found ourselves envying an entrepreneur’s ability to build something from the ground up—from what computers to use to what sort of culture and environment we wanted to develop for ourselves, our employees, and our clients.

The desire for more autonomy, fulfillment, and control were at the core of why we, and many others, left BigLaw to build our own practices.

When and How to Leave

The best way for you to leave BigLaw will depend on the circumstances surrounding your relationship with the firm, your level of seniority, and the type of practice you are starting when you leave.

Obligations to Your Future Employer, Savings, and Benefits

Lawyers leaving BigLaw to start their own firm in the same practice area as their current firm should prepare to be escorted out the same day they give notice.

Other factors to consider when leaving are:

  • Maximizing the time you have left with a steady stream of income to determine your game plan post-departure.
  • Deciding whether it is worth staying on long enough for your 401(k) to fully vest.
  • To get your bonus or use your remaining paid vacation time.

Take the time to strategically plan your departure

Leaving on Good Terms

Almost all of the attorneys we interviewed made it very clear leaving on good terms was an important factor (and asked us not to use their full names, just in case).

Depending on what your new practice will be, a tense departure may be inevitable, but the fear that this could all be a huge mistake leads many to try to burn as few bridges as possible. How much notice you give (more is better than less) and when you give notice (ideally not in the middle of a big case or a busy season) is critical.

Giving Notice: When and How Much?

While two-to-three week’s notice is the industry norm, attorneys going solo generally have more flexibility with their start date and may stand to benefit from leaving on good terms.  Recognizing this, many offered longer notice periods of several months.

Daniel explained the importance of leaving on good terms:

I gave four months notice to my firm when I left. Staying on good terms with the firm was important to me and has proved very powerful in the long run, as my old firm has been a huge source of new business for me, and has taken a vested interest in supporting my new consulting practice.

While a generous notice period is ideal, the flexibility of your new “start date” also depends on the plans in place for the new practice and whether you want to take any time off before hanging a shingle. Most of the attorneys we interviewed tried to carve out time for a vacation following their departure from BigLaw, indicating that the allure of a smartphone-free trip after several years of “working vacations” was too strong to pass up.  Others were eager to get their new practices up and running as soon as possible.

One attorney, for instance, had several potential business opportunities in the near future they wanted to pursue out of their new practice immediately or risk losing the business. In our case, we had found the perfect office space and had to sign a lease that would become effective in just a few weeks.

Even when you have flexibility, what makes leaving BigLaw even more difficult is the inability to predict your firm’s reaction to your departure. If you are escorted out of the building the day you give notice, you don’t want to be left scrambling to get an office up and running in a matter of days. On the other hand, if you are asked to serve a longer notice period, you don’t want to spend your precious start-up capital on several months of rent for unused office space.

As one partner said to us when we gave notice: “The only thing anyone will remember about you after you are gone is how you left.”

Post-Departure: Regrets, Surprises, and Life after BigLaw

Across the board, lawyers felt good about their choice to leave on good terms and provide as much notice as possible. Daniel said:

I have no regrets about the way I left. My ability to maintain good relationships has allowed me to build a practice that is quite attractive to other firms.

For our part, we are happy we did everything above board and did not leave our former colleagues in the lurch or prevent our clients from receiving seamless service throughout our departure period. The clients who liked working with us reached out regardless of when or how we left. And the additional time spent “gainfully employed” let us work on setting up our new practice on evenings and weekends, while still receiving a salary, without going behind anyone’s back.

For those who did not leave on the best of terms, such as Alicia, an attorney who left her firm to strike out as a solo practitioner in the same field as her BigLaw employer, the lack of a relationship with her prior firm has not been hugely problematic:

While I was definitely concerned about being blackballed, in the end I’ve been able to remain outside their radar and build my own practice. While being a one-woman shop can certainly be stressful and overwhelming at times, the pride I take in my work and the ability to be my own boss and still make a healthy living makes the challenges worth it to me.

It pays to stay on good terms with your prior firm, but you can’t always predict or control their reaction to your departure. In the end, remember you are leaving for a reason, and it is possible to succeed with or without their blessing or support.

Making the Tough Call to go Solo is on You

There is no one right or wrong way to leave BigLaw and no formula for a perfect departure. The one constant among all the former BigLaw lawyers we spoke with, however, is no one had any regrets.

Originally published 2016-02-01. Republished 2020-01-23.

How to Get Clients as a New Lawyer

You might be the smartest attorney in the world, but you can’t run a law firm without clients. And believe it or not, getting clients and practicing law are two distinct skills. Finding creative marketing ideas for law firms can feel overwhelming. 

Getting your first client can be stressful, nerve-wracking, and quite humbling. And for the most part, it’s a two-step process: mental preparation and some old-fashioned pounding the pavement.

Be Realistic and Lower Your Expectations

Your first client is going to memorable for all the reasons you don’t expect. Whether you’re turning to creative marketing ideas or lawyers or using what you’ve heard works from other attorneys, it’s unlikely to be a home run right off the bat. 

You are not going to represent Google in your first case. You are not going to defend a wrongfully accused defendant in a high-profile murder trial. You are not going to shake the foundations of the legal community with new precedent.

Those are all great goals, but nobody gets there on their first attempt.

I still have lots of phone calls, coffees, and lunches with young attorneys who are about to go solo. The biggest assumption many of them make is that they will “only do the big cases.” All of us only want to do the big cases. It just doesn’t work that way. There’s a reason lawyers always talk about their big cases — they just don’t happen every day.

Keep that in mind when you are trying to land your first client. If you think you are too smart or have too high of a GPA to draft a basic estate plan for $300, then you need to re-think your decision to start a law firm.

Once you have humbled yourself, you are ready for step two.

Recognize the Value in Gaining Experience, Not the Money

Good news: you have swallowed your pride. Bad news: swallow it even more.

I’m hoping your business plan accounts for, and assumes, that you will not make much money for the first few months.

Depending on your life experience and your experiences in law school, you probably need to focus on learning how to be a lawyer. There are a number of skills you need to learn: how to sell a client on you, how to talk to opposing counsel, how to counsel a client, how to run a business, how to keep your business moving forward, how to deal with the unexpected, and how to deal with a bad client.

That does not mean you should give away your time. One of the things you need to learn is that your time is valuable. Once you start valuing your time, so will your clients.

What all that means is that in the long-term, you need to develop skills that put you in a position to regularly succeed as an attorney. Everyone can get lucky and land one big client or case. The attorneys that regularly get those cases get them because they have a reputation for being a good attorney. They also have strong client relationship skills. And they probably know how to run a business too.

If you aren’t ready to take on “regular old cases” or think you’re going to strike it rich with your first client, you will go out of business before you get your first client.

Every client has monetary value, including your first client. But the more important value in your first client is the opportunity to gain experience. The valuable experience might not even be the legal work; it could be the experience gained in learning to manage client expectations. Or it could be dealing with an unexpected good or bad event in the case.

Whatever the experience is, it is experience you currently lack. Now that you have no expectations and recognize the non-monetary value in getting experience, you are actually ready to take a case and a client.

Creative Marketing Ideas for Lawyers 

Here’s an easy way to get your first client: let other attorneys know you are looking for work. If you are lucky enough to be working in a shared office space, tell those attorneys you are looking for work.

Don’t send them an email. Don’t leave a note in their mailbox. Go to their office and introduce yourself. Tell them who you are. Tell them you just started. Tell them you are looking for work. Tell them you are ready to take on whatever — because you are looking to gain experience. If you have this conversation with ten attorneys, I can almost guarantee one will send you a case. It might not be a great case, but it will be a case — your first case.

If an attorney tells you “I don’t really refer many cases out,” offer to help out on a case. Don’t offer to work for free. But you can say something like, “I’m really looking for some experience in a civil case and I’ve heard you are an awesome attorney. Any chance I can help out on a case?”

By working with another attorney, you are not gaining your first client. But you are gaining an opportunity to learn new skills, and to showcase your skills to another attorney that can send you clients in the future.

Even if you don’t share an office with other attorneys, you can take another attorney out for coffee (it’s cheaper than lunch) and have the same conversation. Other attorneys are the single best way to get client referrals. There is a common theme here, though: you need to put in some face-to-face time and effort to get referrals.

Sending an email is lazy, impersonal, and unmemorable.

If someone doesn’t return your request for coffee, ask again. If they still ignore you, forget it. They aren’t worth your time anyway. It may not be flattering to beg for clients, or beg for work, but it will get results.

Another option is to use a referral service. Stay away from “lead generators” or “national” law firms that want to send you their local cases. Those can be malpractice bombs waiting to go off. But referral services from your local bar associations could be a nice starting point for four reasons:

  1. Local bar associations are unlikely to use unethical or illegal referral practices.
  2. Clients use them. I know plenty of other attorneys that get clients from the bar association.
  3. A local bar association referral usually means the potential clients are actually looking to hire an attorney, versus looking for free legal advice.
  4. The fees for referrals from the local bar associations are not unreasonable.

Announce Yourself to the World

Nobody knows you are in business until you tell them you are in business. So let everyone know that you are open for business and ready for clients.

As a starting point, make sure you have a working phone number and website. Even if your website just has your picture, name, and contact info, that is better than nothing. And it is much better than “coming soon!” It takes approximately ten minutes —maybe an hour — to create a static page with basic info.

Then start yelling from the rooftops, blow up Twitter, have coffee/lunch/drinks with everyone you know. You don’t have to make it awkward, just be yourself, and your new endeavors will certainly become a topic of conversation.

That said, use the opening of a new business to be more self-promotional than you usually are. If you are reluctant to promote yourself, use this as your first chance to get over that. You are no longer just practicing law, you are also running a business.

Getting your first client is not easy. But with the right mental approach and some hustle, you’ll have a full caseload before you know it.

Originally published 2016-01-11. Updated 2020-01-22.

Legal Structure for a Solo or Small Law Firm

If you work in a large firm, one question you never have to ask yourself is what business entity makes the most sense for your law practice. Strike out in any entrepreneurial venture, however, and this becomes a key threshold question as you set about your work.

What You Need to Consider

Your choice of business entity has many ramifications, many of which have nothing to do with ethics rules or considerations specific to lawyers. Here is what you need to begin considering when making a decision:

  • Type of business. What type of law firm do you plan on operating? A non-profit may have different needs than a for-profit firm.
  • Number of lawyers and their roles. Is this a solo practice? A partnership? A single principal with associates?
  • Financing. Will you be seeking business loans for the firm? If so, you may want to insulate yourself from personal liability on those loans if the lender will lend to you as an entity.
  • Ongoing recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Some entities have more reporting obligations than others. If you are going to be a true solo operation, you probably don’t want more reporting requirements than necessary. If the entity will have more hands on deck, you can afford to have more requirements.
  • Management. The person making the decisions on how the firm is run can impact your choice of business entity. A general partnership with two or three equal decision makers may make sense for some; solos may not need to have a lot of structure in management.
  • Taxes. One of the biggest concerns for every business entity is how it will be taxed.
  • Non-tax costs. Some non-tax costs are directly related to the type of entity you create. An LLC carries a hefty annual cost in some states but only a minimal fee in others.

Leaving the general considerations applicable to all businesses aside for the moment, there are some issues particular to lawyers that you need to consider when choosing an entity. Here are two critical questions that need answers:

  1. To what extent can you insulate yourself from liability?
  2. What specific entities are permitted for law firms in your state?

Limiting Liability

For any business, one of the primary benefits of using an entity is to limit your potential liability for debts of the business. For this reason, any analysis for a business begins with the question of liability insulation.

For lawyers, we are of course concerned about debts a firm may incur, and typical entity liability rules will apply to regular bills such as those owed to vendors. So if your law firm is an LLC and the LLC owes a document reproduction company, the company can only recover from the LLC.

What you should be concerned about, though, is malpractice claims. No business entity can protect you from personal liability on your own malpractice claim, because the tort of malpractice is recoverable against the individual who committed it. For this reason, no business entity takes the place of malpractice insurance.

However, a business entity can help shield you from vicarious liability for malpractice committed by others in your entity. This is a tremendous benefit and a vast improvement from old-school general partnerships where each partner was liable for the acts of others. To take advantage of this benefit, you must strictly comply with your state’s rules for lawyers operating as entities. You may be required to register the entity with the state bar or ethics board, for instance, in order for the protections to be triggered.

Options for Business Formation

Each state regulates for itself the form in which law firms may operate. For specifics on your state, check with your state bar and statutes governing business forms. Generally speaking, law firms are permitted to operate in the following forms:

Limited Liability Partnership

LLPs are a very common way for partnerships of all sizes to operate in a more protected manner than a general partnership. Most of the biggest firms are LLPs, as are countless small firms. In an LLP, the partners are not responsible for the debts of other partners. States that allow law practices to operate as LLPs may also require that they be registered with the state bar.

In California, for instance, an LLP operating as a law firm has certain strict requirements, including that every member of the LLP be a lawyer and that the LLP be registered with the state bar. Failure to register automatically precludes the LLP from invoking the limits of liability set forth by statute.

Corporation

States have various forms of corporations which can be used for law practice. In New York, the corporate form for lawyers is the Professional Service Corporation; in California, a corporation registered with the state bar to operate as a law firm becomes known as a law corporation; and Texas allows a professional corporation to operate as a firm.

Limited Liability Company

Most states allow law firms to operate as LLCs or as professional limited liability companies. For example, New York and Florida allow PLLCs, and Texas allows law firms to be LLCs. California explicitly does not allow lawyers to be LLCs, as no business for which a professional license is required can operate as an LLC.

Professional Association

Some states also offer law firms to operate as “professional associations” which can have different meanings depending on the state. In Florida, a PA is a corporation registered to provide professional services; in Texas, a PA is a different entity than a professional corporation.

The business entity options allowed for lawyers vary from state to state, as do the specific requirements ensuring that the limitations on liability rules apply to the entity. It is imperative that any entity being formed be fully researched and the state requirements complied with strictly.

And remember, when choosing and implementing a business entity for your firm, no amount of corporate structure can prevent malpractice exposure for your own actions.

Originally published 2015-02-23. Republished 2020-01-17.

How to Ask Another Attorney for Help

One of the toughest aspects of being an attorney (especially a solo) is that you can find yourself living in your own little bubble. Whether you are calling another member of your firm, or another attorney that you know, reaching out for help is easier said than done.

Regardless who you ask, be respectful of the other attorney’s time and advice.

Step 1: Know What You Need To Ask

It is best to determine how much help you need before picking up the phone. To get started, here are some basic questions you should ask yourself.

  1. Do you need information on one or two issues related to the claim?
  2. How much time will you need to discuss your questions?
  3. Do you need to be taught a practice area?

The answers to those questions should guide how you ask for help, and what kind of help you are asking for.

You should also use the correct medium when requesting assistance. I would much rather have a ten minute call than a chain of emails throughout the day. If it is a detailed discussion, I would prefer lunch for an hour over numerous phone calls. However, it’s always good policy to ask the person what they prefer first.

If you think you need more than a lunch meeting, then you should really consider asking someone to co-counsel or simply refer the case. There is nothing more awkward (and frustrating) than someone that buys you lunch, and then regularly wants to “bounce a few ideas off of you.” If they are someone you just met, you are burning down that bridge before you can even build it.

Step 2: Be Respectful of Their Time and Schedule

Do not call someone out of the blue at 3:30 in the afternoon, and tell them you need to talk them right away about a case.

At that time of day, most attorneys are either putting out their own fires on a case, or starting to plow through work pushed aside earlier in the day. This is especially true if you do not know the person.

To be fair, there are situations where you might need an immediate answer. If that is the case, try reaching out to attorneys you have built relationships with. I would happily take phone calls from my close colleagues at any time of the day.

If you need to cold call someone, make sure your introduction follows these three important rules: you are respectful of their time, you have an estimate of how much time you need, and you offer an opportunity to set a meeting at their convenience.

If you are asking the right person for help, they are probably busy, so make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. If you send an email or leave a voicemail and do not get an immediate response, wait a few days. Remember that your emergency is not another attorney’s emergency.

Step 3: Respect Their Advice

If you are asking for advice, it is likely you are unsure of your client, the case, and procedural status. You may not be clueless, but you lack confidence in your position.

Keep that in mind when you ask for advice. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing over an interpretation of the law, facts, rules, and just straight up ignoring rock solid advice or common sense.

For example, I regularly get calls from attorneys that want to pursue a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA protects consumers against abusive and unfair debt collection. It also requires that the debt at issue must be a consumer debt.

I have had more than one conversation that goes like this:

Them: “Yeah, so they went out of business and now these collectors are threatening them with garnishment and harassing them.“

Me: “Wait, so this is a business debt?”

Them: “Yeah, it’s their business credit card that they used to buy stuff for the business.”

Me. “It has to be a consumer debt to bring a FDCPA claim, so your client doesn’t have standing. The other side will realize that immediately, and your case will be over before it starts.”

Them: “What? Oh, whatever. I’m just going to file it and see what happens.”

Not only did the attorney ignore me, they dug the hole deeper by professing their intention to plow ahead with a frivolous claim.

To be fair, it is not always that cut and dry. There is nothing wrong with having a discussion about an undecided fact, rule, or law. But be respectful about how you discuss it. If you are wading into unknown territory, remember that the other side probably understands the situation better than you.

Originally published 2013-09-14. Republished 2020-01-15.

How to Announce a New Law Firm

You have taken the plunge and decided to open the doors of your own firm. Now you just need to let the whole world know. This article will focus on different practices you can use to call attention to your new venture.

The key to success is doing a variety of things to get the word out, not just one main event. I recommend strategizing a medley of contact points, including a formal announcement, an event in your office, press and blog attention. My advice  is fairly classic, as I have found that gimmicky concepts can be risky and unprofessional when you really want to get off on the right foot with your audience and jump-start your revenue plans.

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Nine Myths About Solo Attorneys

In law school, the best and the brightest get jobs at Big Law, P.A., or get a clerkship with the Supreme Court and then move onto a glorious job at Big Law, P.A. Usually, the only talk of becoming a solo attorney is “well, you can always go solo if you can’t find anything else.”

The truth is, some attorneys actually want to go solo and start their own firm. And surprise, surprise, we work pretty hard—but we actually can make a comfortable living. In fact, the lawyers in our Lawyerist Insider and Lawyerist Lab communities are often very successful and focused on building great firms and careers.

There are several myths about becoming a solo attorney how much solo practitioners make and we’re here to debunk them.

Myth 1: Solo Attorneys Couldn’t Get a “Real” Job

I did not understand this stigma before going solo and I definitely don’t understand it now that I’ve run a firm for many years.

To be fair, I think the strength of the stigma depends on where you practice and where you go to law school. I graduated from a Top 20 school that tends to send it’s graduates to big firms, awesome clerkships, and other highly-sought positions. Apparently, that does not include starting your own firm.

I can’t remember a lunchtime CLE presented by a solo attorney on how they went solo/why they went solo/why you should consider starting your own firm. Again, my school is known as treating going solo as “you failed.” To varying degrees, that stigma exists at other schools and within the legal community as a whole.

Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll discover that many people at big firms and awesome clerkships have outright respect (and perhaps some level of jealously) for attorneys who run their own firms. The perception of “solo = loser” seems to be most prevalent amongst law students that have OCI ingrained in their skulls and relatively new associates that think working at a firm is the only way to go.

Talk to senior associates or partners at big firms and many of them understand just how tough it is to keep a successful solo practice running. I’ve been told by more than one person “there’s no way I could do what you do—I just couldn’t do make it work.” Some even say things like “I’ve got it easy, your job is way tougher than mine.”

I know a number of individuals that currently work at big firms as a fallback to their own failed attempt at starting a solo practice. Yes, working at a firm was their second choice, not their first.

Look, there are positives and negatives on both sides. But don’t believe that solo attorneys couldn’t find another job.

Myth 2: Solo Attorneys are Slackers Who Don’t Work Hard

If the comparison is between the life of a solo and a first-year associate that works eighty hours a week, that’s not a fair comparison. I don’t work eighty hours a week. I usually work about 50-55 hours a week and it’s rarely much less.

I’m usually in my office for about 8-9 hours a day, with no lunch break. I also usually work another 1-2 hours at night after the kids go to sleep. I also teach two classes at a local law school and write for Lawyerist—which usually happens at night or on the weekends (happy Mother’s day!). And don’t forget about marketing, networking, and presenting CLEs.

I’m not saying young associates at firms are not required to do marketing, networking, and all those extra things, but I think it’s much more critical to creating and sustaining a solo practice. At a firm, it might be a plus if you do those things. If you run your own practice it’s a necessity.

Frankly, it would be near-impossible for a true solo attorney (no support staff) to work on active cases eighty hours a week on a consistent basis. There would be no time for client intake, marketing, networking, blogging, managing your finances, etc. I’d say I spend about 30-40% of my time on all of those things.

So yes, most solo attorneys do not work 80 hours a week on active cases. But they probably spend 50-60 hours a week on lawyering and running a business.

Myth 3: Solo Attorneys Don’t Make Any Money

I know plenty of solo attorneys that make just as much, if not more, than partners at big firms. I also know plenty of solo attorneys that only make enough to take home a minimal salary. From my entirely unscientific polling, I’d say most solo practitioners take home between $50,000 – $70,000 a year. My unscientific poll also indicates that most solo attorneys don’t work the same number of hours as big-firm counterparts.

A successful solo firm probably generates six-figures (or close to six-figures) in gross income each year. If they know how to balance the books (which does not mean saving every penny), that should still leave a pretty decent amount of money left over.

Is that less than what a big firm counterpart makes? Absolutely. Do solo attorneys work fewer hours? Probably. So it’s quite possible that a successful solo attorney could work fewer hours but actually make more per hour than a big firm associate. For example, a solo attorney makes (takes home) $50,000 per year, but works 40 hours per week. Third-year associate takes home $80,000 a year but works about 80 hours a week. The solo attorney is making much more per hour than the firm associate.

Of course, there are other important considerations when it comes to money. Working as an employee (at least in the short term) guarantees a set income as long as you are employed. Working as a solo attorney does not have the same benefit. If you are good with the cash flow you can control that to a degree, but it’s not absolute. On the flip side, working as a solo attorney can have a bigger upside (short term or long term) if you can get and continue to get “big” cases. To be fair, the same is true to an extent at a larger firm. If you are working crazy hours, you will likely be rewarded with a bonus at the end of the year.

Myth 4: Solo Attorneys Work out of Their Cars

It’s possible I’m overly sensitive. It’s also possible that when you’re a solo attorney, you get asked lots of stupid questions. One of my favorite questions is “oh, you have your own practice, do you have an office?” Pay attention: I don’t get asked where my office is, I get asked if I have an office.

Yes, yes I do. I also have furniture, a website, a full caseload and I run a business in my spare time. I even wear big boy clothes when I go to court.

Ok, I admit, some solo attorneys do not have an office. Today, however, I would say those attorneys are in the minority. At a minimum, nearly every solo attorney I know at least has a virtual office. Even so, that still counts as an office and virtual offices are usually just a placeholder for new solos starting out.

All of the solo attorneys I know with full caseloads have actual offices. I need an office because I have a full caseload, but I also think I have a full caseload because I have an office and spend lots of time there. Go ahead and debate the chicken and egg theory, if you will.

The bottom line is that the next time you meet a solo, please don’t ask them if they have an office.

Myth 5: Solo Attorneys are Scared of Big Law Attorneys

Nope. Not at all. Some big-name partner might “handle” my case, but I usually deal with a young associate. Said associate is usually younger than me, less experienced in the venue, and less knowledgable in the substantive law. Advantage: me. In other cases, it’s obvious that the other side is churning the case (billing time in order to bill time). I’m trying to win it. That’s always going to work out to my advantage.

Even in situations where I went toe to toe with someone, that went to blah blah law school and worked on the important case and is a partner at the firm of somebody I don’t know and someone I’ve never heard of, I’m not scared. The rules of civil procedure don’t change. I present CLE’s on my area of law—opposing counsel calls it the Fair Collection Practicing thingee. Advantage: still me.

I had a case last year where I represented a consumer against a debt collector. One of the big firms in town represented the debt collector. At the pretrial, the Magistrate came out and said: “nice to see you again Mr. Ryder.” The Magistrate then turned to an allegedly high-ranking partner from the big firm and said: “I’m sorry, what’s your name?” The Magistrate then proceeded to tell the partner that his client should settle the case, because “Mr. Ryder knows what he’s doing.”

On another case (different big firm), a partner sarcastically asked me why I was bringing my FDCPA case in federal court because the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over these cases. I politely informed them that it’s a federal statute, so I’m fairly certain a federal court will hear the case. At the pretrial, I asked them to explain to the judge why the pleaded lack of subject matter jurisdiction as an affirmative defense in their answer. All I heard was crickets chirping. I believe the case was resolved shortly thereafter.

But go ahead and keep thinking I’m afraid. Let me know how that works out.

Myth 6: Solo Attorneys Use Outdated Technology

Of course they do, they can’t even afford to have a real office. Oh, wait.

By and large, solo attorneys use technology that is at least as cutting edge, if not more cutting edge, than big firms. I recently visited someone that worked at one of the large firms in town, and they complained about how lousy their computers and technology were. I think his laptop was running some outdated version of Windows. I’m pretty sure he drooled when he saw my MacBook Pro and Thunderbolt monitor.

Big firms have technology committees and IT departments. I’m guessing the members of those committees read Lawyerist for advice on law firm technology. Take note: Lawyerist was started by a solo attorney writing about technology. Take another note: most of the articles written on technology are still written by solo attorneys.

I can only imagine the intense debates about if/why/how the firm should move away from BlackBerrys to iPhones or other smartphones. I’m assuming the debate took quite some time, which is why it took most firms years to start using iPhones.

Here’s it works at a solo law firm: “oh that looks helpful, it will save me time, I’m going to buy it.” Then we’re off to the races. I use technology as efficiently as I can because I need to use it that way. I don’t have a secretary that files all of the documents in various cases, or a paralegal that can compare a revised document to a previous version. But I can use systems and programs to do those tasks efficiently and quickly.

And I don’t need an IT person to tell me whether or not Dropbox is a security risk. As noted above, I wear big boy pants. I read the rules, I read advisory opinions, and I decide if it’s appropriate or not (yes—Dropbox is perfectly acceptable).

Myth 7: All Solo Attorneys Practice Law as a Hobby

Not only do people presume I couldn’t get a job for big law, but 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 an attendance policy, but I need to get in by a certain time every day 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 hobbies, 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.

Myth 8: 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 handles 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 in 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 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.

Myth 9: 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. These are things that they Lawyerist teaches in Lab.

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, 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.

Originally published 2013-05-13. Republished 2019-12-11.

New Law Firm Basic Technology Shopping List

Law school classes don’t generally cover choosing a laptop, vetting a Law Practice Management System, or determining which document scanner is the best for your practice. But you can’t start a law firm without using at least a minimal amount of legal tech. With all the choices out there, however, one can get overwhelmed, quickly. To make things simple, and to keep you from having to do a lot of research, we’ve curated a standard list of basic recommendations.

This isn’t a list of the latest and greatest legal tech tools for everyone to go out and buy (we talk about which products are best in other parts of this website). And we don’t necessarily cover everything that you may want to have. But this is what it will take to get started in the legal industry. At the very least, you’ll need a computer, a scanner, a printer, and a way to back-up all of your client information. Additionally, you’ll need a way of tracking your case information, basic word processing software, a way to handle your accounting, and a professional email suite.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon, 13″ MacBook Pro, or maybe the Surface Pro

If you are only going to have one computer, it should be a laptop small enough to slip easily into a regular bag, but powerful enough to handle everything you need to do on it.

PC or Mac? It doesn’t really matter when it comes to this buy for legal tech.

If you prefer Windows, you can’t do better than the Lenovo ThinkPad X-Series Carbon. ThinkPads are rock-solid and last forever. The 14″ screen is the perfect size, and the keyboard is fantastic.

However, the Microsoft Surface Pro may just be the most compelling computer on the market right now. It’s small enough to work as a tablet, but runs Windows—the real deal. If you aren’t wedded to the laptop form factor, at least try out a Surface Pro before you make up your mind to get a laptop.

If you prefer Mac, the 13″ Apple MacBook Pro is the one to get. The MacBook Pros are thin, light, and powerful. Although to be honest there’s nothing great about Apple computers right now. With the MacBook Pro you get a pretty pointless Touch Bar and a keyboard that feels like banging on an aluminum slab. But it’ll do until Apple figures out its product lineup and update cycles. (If you are thinking about switching to Mac, I would wait for another product cycle to see if things improve.)

ScanSnap iX1500

First of all, you do not want a multifunction printer/copier/scanner/toaster. There are a lot of good reasons why not, but they are outside the scope of this list. The point is this: just get a good document scanner and laser printer.

We’ve been recommending Fujitsu ScanSnaps for years because they are great scanners with unsurpassed ease of use that mow through stacks of documents like a hot knife through butter. The ScanSnap iX1500 will also scan wirelessly to your computer, mobile device, or to the cloud. You should have one as part of your legal tech suite.

If that doesn’t persuade you, read our review of the iX500.

HP LaserJet Pro M15w

A printer is not the most exciting thing on your shopping list, but you do need a fast, reliable one. It needs to be fast so you don’t have to wait around when you need to print out a stack of documents the night before a trial or right before a real estate closing. And it needs to be reliable because you don’t want to replace it very often. And get a laser printer because inkjets just aren’t worth it.

Our current top pick is the HP LaserJet Pro M15w. It’s not exciting, but it is a solid laser printer and a great value. It prints duplex (on both sides of the page) and works wirelessly, which means one less wire you need to plug in every time you set down your laptop.

WD Elements 2TB or Time Capsule 2TB

You’ll want two backup methods: one local, one remote. For the local backup, an external hard drive is the way to go to keep your legal tech up to date.

If you use Windows or just want the most inexpensive option, get a WD Elements 2TB. This basic drive will work fine with Windows Backup, Time Machine, or any other backup software if you plug it into your computer. It may work plugged into a wireless router, but it depends on your setup.

If you use a Mac, get the Time Capsule 2TB, which works with Time Machine to back up your files wirelessly. It also functions as a wireless router, so it’s more cost-effective than it may seem at first glance.

Microsoft Office

You can get by without Microsoft Office, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. Just get it. The home and business versions let you install Office on up to two computers. Now that you can use Office for iOS and Android for free, there is really no reason to subscribe to Office 365, particularly since the business plans aren’t a great value by comparison. (The versions of Word, etc., are the same.)

Google Apps for Work

The best email, calendar, and contact management is from Google, and it is now called Google Apps for Work (f/k/a Google Apps for Business). You can use it in two ways. I prefer the web interface for all Google’s products because then I have the same experience no matter where I am. But you can also use the Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook and you will never know you are using Google Apps.

It’s way better than the email provided by your ISP.

Law Practice Management Software

I won’t try to take sides on what I think are the best practice management software options currently on the market. Instead, read our user guides to pick the right one for you and give them a try. In fact, probably the best way to decide on this legal tech for yourself is to follow our 5-step process and then use some on at least one case, and pick the one with the user experience you like best.

Xero or Quickbooks Online

I have used QuickBooks for Windows, QuickBooks for Mac, QuickBooks Online, and Xero for my law firm accounting and for Lawyerist. If I were starting a new practice, despite some complaints, I would use Xero. I much prefer it to any incarnation of QuickBooks.

That said, QuickBooks is basically the industry standard small-business accounting software. Your accountant probably uses it, but definitely knows how to work with it. You can’t really go wrong with Quickbooks Online, except that it really isn’t very good. Xero, on the other hand, is very close to good, and within spitting distance of great.

Cloud Backup

For remote backup, you’ll want something automatic and unobtrusive. CrashPlan is rock-solid, very secure, and offers unlimited storage for your backups. You can even set up your own backup server (I use an old Windows PC) to keep an extra copy under your own control.

Want more help upgrading your tech? We have numerous tools in our Insider Library to help you do just that. Become an Insider today!

Originally published 2011-10-06. Last updated 2017-04-25. Republished 2020-07-08.