The number one reason why startup solos fail in their efforts to start a law firm is a lack of commitment. This is especially true now, when many newly-minted lawyers are deciding to start their own firms. Many are simply resigned to solo practice because they feel they have no better options, and decide to be solo until “something better” comes along. This is a recipe for failure.

Enlist your partner

It takes more than just your own commitment. Everyone who matters to your success must also be committed. Before I decided to go out on my own, my wife (then my girlfriend, actually) and I agreed to commit for three years, barring complete failure. Without that conversation, I do not think my firm would have lasted three months.

We set the length of time based on my conversations with at least a dozen friends and family members who started their own businesses. I talked to construction contractors, physicians, dentists, lawyers, and more. I wanted to know how long it took before they felt like they had enough money in the bank to make it through a slow month, and like they had a fairly dependable pipeline of business.

The answers varied a bit, but not much. Most said it took two to three years before they felt secure in their own business. So that is what we used for our checkpoint.

Commit to your practice

You must commit to starting your own firm. This means working your tail off to make it succeed. It means not being afraid to take clients, and it means you stop applying for jobs so you can focus on your firm.

It means spending money to make money. Not a lot, necessarily. But you will need a law firm website, business cards, letterhead, and you will need to schedule lots of coffee, lunch, and beer with potential referral sources and clients.

In other words, acknowledge that you are in business, and give that business every chance you can to succeed.



  1. Avatar Tim says:

    This should be required reading for anyone who has even an itch to go solo.

  2. Burn the ships!

    Whether it’s for 1, 3, 5 years or longer, while you’re committed to starting your own firm or business, don’t give yourself a means of retreat. It’s human nature to take the easy road. Remove the easy road, and you might just be surprised what you can accomplish!

  3. So true. I am just past the “it takes money to make money” phase, and we are fully committed. In fact, my husband just quit his job a week ago.

    I like your advice to stay committed for a period of time especially because too few authors tell new solos about the scary “What have I done” period that happens once you start taking on solo work. It takes a while to get your bearings when you first start out. That said, if you really give your time and brainpower to mastering the new practice, you will provide good representation to your clients, because you have no other choice than to forge forward with this new career path and make it work.

  4. Great advice. Especially the get your wife/girlfriend/partner involved. Without that support nothing good can happen. 6 months in and ready for more!

  5. Avatar Matthew says:

    I am just over a year out of school. I started working for a solo with the understanding that I would try to build my own practice. The first year was a disaster. My biggest problem is getting people to call me. I have a website (maybe not the best, but I did it on my own), I am listed on most free listing sites, I am social in my neighborhood. For 2011, I am going to enter the “spend money to make money” phase. I am keeping my goals small and attainable: Three new clients each month. Another issue I am having is figuring out what I want to specialize in.

    Any other suggestions would be helpful.

  6. Very good article overall!

    Two friends of mine started their own law practice in the Silicon Valley. It took the first one a couple of years to get to “full speed”. The second one started with a big client under his belt – a smart move in such a difficult economy.

    It seems that new practice rely a lot on referrals from old colleagues. It just shows, once again, the importance of building a strong professional network!

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