Gift of the New Solo

(I know, sounds like ‘Gift of the Magi’.)

I chose this title specifically because it is particularly important for the new solo.  Life is about perspective and it is important you understand as a new solo you do bring gifts to the profession.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Nassau County Bar Association in conjunction with Hofstra University.  I only had one hour to speak about ‘Going Solo in a New Economy‘.  I clearly can’t teach anyone how to go solo in an hour, new or old economy,  but I did take the hour to help lawyers understand much of their success as a solo practitioner will turn on perspective. With the right perspective in approaching the solo option, whether by choice or circumstances, the odds of success are greatly improved.

First, let me get a few things out of the way for all those out there who think that rightly or wrongly new solos lack experience, they must simply stop now before they commit all types of grievable professional atrocities. That’s absurd.  A barred lawyer, new or old, who understands their responsibility to get mentors, work with more experienced counsel on matters they are uncomfortable with or simply beyond their ability to learn in a timely fashion, will have no problem opening a solo practice.  It is assumed they will value their license and their clients enough to  honor themselves and their profession so as to seek out the guidance they need.

What I hear over and over, again, is this idea that new solos have nothing to offer in exchange for mentorship.  They feel they are bothering other attorneys.  They say they have no experience, there is too much competition out there, they don’t want to go up to another lawyer and hand them their business card and ask for (fill in the blank).  Well, quite frankly, this attitude of an empty-handed beggar coming to the professional party is what kills those who are going solo.  They are acting as if they are the unwashed homeless  going to the back door of the Ritz begging for crumbs.

Snap out of it!  This couldn’t be further from the truth whether you are 25 years old or 80 years old.

The smartest lawyers in the world look to cultivate new solos because they know what these new solos don’t know about themselves.  Just because they may not have 10 years of experience, new lawyers have lives…lives filled with connections to potential clients the mentoring lawyer doesn’t.  And that sphere of influence is about 250 people from an intimate to a ‘touching’ relationship.  And every one in that sphere also has a sphere of influence of about 250 people.  These are spheres the mentoring lawyer may not have access to but for engaging with the new solo seeking mentoring.

What the new lawyer also needs to remember is this sphere of 250 have been waiting for you to graduate and pass the bar because they want bragging rights in saying their ‘cousin, brother, friend, spouse, business partner’ is a great lawyer.  They are anxious for you to succeed.  They want to promote you.  Understand, this group of evangelists doesn’t really care about your technical savvy with the law.  They already ‘know, like and trust’ you and are already invested in your morality and ethics.  They know already that if you can’t handle the work or don’t choose to do it you will refer to a lawyer you trust.

So, for all you new lawyers who just took the bar exam, while you are waiting on the results you need to be out there connecting with more experienced lawyers in the areas of law you have interest.  You need to be letting them know you are going to be opening your own practice upon hearing the results of the exam and it is now that you are seeking out those who will accept your referrals.  Yes, you are giving gifts.  And depending upon who you line up for referrals, you can determine who you wish to have as a mentor, collaborator, that ‘more experienced’ lawyer to assist you on those matters you want to do but need ‘assistance.’  There’s no begging going on here.  You come bearing gifts to more experienced attorneys who are smart enough to understand this.  (Make sure you check out all rules governing fee-splitting, collaboration, etc.)

It’s all about perspective.  So, get out there and line up the coffee and lunch dates!  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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4 comments on “Gift of the New Solo

  • I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Susan during my first stint in solo/small law firm practice.

    An obvious alternative to going strictly solo is to go “small,” by which, I mean, start your own small law firm with compatible and like-minded lawyers. To various consumers of legal services, a small firm may have advantages over a solo practice in terms of credibility. I’m now on my second such venture (after experimenting with a different practice area in between), and, I’m happy to report, business is good for all of us. Aside from the credibility advantages, havinf more than one lawyer around provides other benefits, including cost sharing, cross-referrals, a social network, and the unavoidable fact that several heads are almost always better than one when it comes to strategy.

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