10 Things I Hate About Being A Solo Practitioner (and Why I’m Still Happy Being Solo!)

From the “Big Law to Solo” column

When Susan and I first discussed this month’s column, my initial thought was that coming up with ten things would be easy. But it was harder than I imagined; in fact, it was downright difficult. You see, I kind of dig being a solo. Still, when I put my mind to it, I did come up with a list of things that suck about being a solo. In no particular order:

1. I HATE the look I get from BigLaw attorneys: the one that says, “You went solo? Were you fired or did you just lose your mind?” I hate that look almost as much as I enjoy the look of envy on their faces when I tell them that this was a conscious decision, that I’m happier than I have ever been and that I love practicing law more than I ever have.

2. I HATE NOT HAVING a paralegal, or a full-time assistant for that matter. Yes, indeed, it is no fun having to do your own filing, basic drafting, and exhibit preparation. You get over it. The long hours I spent at BigLaw chasing the billable hour are now spent catching up on administrative tasks. One day maybe I’ll hire a staff to handle these things, but for now I’ll settle  for a college kid who catches up my filing and data entry every week or two.

3. I HATE HAVING TO screen prospective clients. Some clients expect that all solos are GPs. Saying “no” to a good potential client is never easy, but the flip side makes it all worth it: I get to have a “No Assholes” policy that lets me reject a prospect or an existing client if I think they are just a jerk. And I do. For every good client I refer out, there is a bad one I screen out. Plus, I get to focus my practice on the cases that really interest me without trying to be a Jack-of-all-trades.

4. I HATE SAYING “no” to a lot of social activities. This equation is simple: No Time + No Money = No Social Life. Alright – so that’s overly dramatic. I am busy building my firm, and my income is not what it was at BigLaw. I do say no to dinners out with friends and other social outings more than I used to when I worked at BigLaw. Of course, I’m less stressed-out than I used to be and less in need of a girls’ night out to blow off steam. And I get a lot more time with my wonderful husband.

5. I HATE NOT HAVING a regular salary. It was nice to get a big fat paycheck every two weeks, like clockwork, when I worked at Big Law. I was also on anti-depressants. Since I’m still in start-up mode, my cash flow is not yet at a point where I can guarantee my own salary every month. It’s getting there, slowly.

There is no salary high enough to make up for being miserable, and there is no salary low enough to make me go back.

6. I HATE HAVING TO market. At BigLaw, we had a marketing director who did a great job getting articles published, getting ad space in the right publications, and putting on big events that attracted clients and referral sources. As a solo, you are your own marketing department. I have to figure out who my ideal client is, when and where they look for legal services, and how best to make sure that they find me when they are looking. It’s not as simple as putting up a web page; it’s getting your page ranking up to the top of Google’s search results. You can’t just hand out your business cards; you’ve got to do  your own follow-up with everyone you meet at networking events.

Being a solo means that marketing is my second career, like it or not.

On the plus side, I have all the control over my image and reputation. On the down side, I have all the control over my image and reputation.

7. I HATE HAVING TO BE my own janitor. No one cleans my office unless I do it. There is no up side to this except that I don’t have to be careful about leaving a client file open on my desk to avoid ethical complications. Of course, I’m Type-A enough that I usually have a clean desk at the end of the day.

8. I HATE SHARING my office with the cat. The litter box is literally in the same room, albeit concealed inside a nice-looking cabinet. Not to mention the cat’s habit of meowing loudly whenever I’m on the phone. And he knocks stuff off my desk. To be fair, the cat had the room first and I’m the intruder here. Having a home office means that home will intrude on the office. It pays to create some boundaries: literally (I divided my former Florida room into two parts: my office, and space for storing outdoor stuff, pet supplies , etc.)  and figuratively (I get up, shower, dress and go to work every morning just like I did before I had a home office). Bonus: my commute is awesome!

9. I HATE the isolation some days. It can be awfully quiet here by myself. I miss having another lawyer down the hall to bounce ideas off of, to grab lunch with or to complain to. So I volunteer with our local Legal Aid Society, and I stay involved with two local voluntary bar associations. I had lunch today with two of my former BigLaw colleagues, and I periodically get together with some of the people I graduated from law school with. Having a strong peer network is what let me go solo in the first place, and it’s what keeps me sane on some days.

10. I HATE the attitude that having a virtual (online) law practice and a home office means that I’m not a “real” lawyer. Although I shouldn’t, I spend a lot of time justifying the way I practice law to luddites who think that only “real” lawyers have a brick & mortar office and at least three support staff.

They probably also think that transactional attorneys aren’t “real” lawyers, but I digress. When I tell them that I have clients I’ve never met face to face they seem skeptical. When I tell them that I have a 90% collection rate in my virtual practice , they seem much more interested. You see, my automated system lets me bill my clients immediately when the work is done, I explain, and clients pay fastest when they get the bill concurrently with getting the work done. Suddenly, I seem much more ‘real’ to those attorneys who were skeptical.

There you have it. Being a solo is no bed of roses. You have to love what you are doing more than you hate the little things that drive you nuts!

What do you hate about being solo and how have you come to love solo practice?

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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10 comments on “10 Things I Hate About Being A Solo Practitioner (and Why I’m Still Happy Being Solo!)

  • Suzanne, you make excellent points which extend to any virtual business owner. I’m thankful for blogs like this one and social media to help me connect with other legal professionals. It definitely helps with the isolated feeling. I have learned so much about the legal industry because of social media. Funny, I never had time for that while working in a brick-and-mortar firm.

    • Jennifer, that’s your secret weapon…their disdain leaves them vulnerable. Seriously! I can’t tell you how many times I got a clear shot at their flanks and took them down because they were unsuspecting. You go, girl!

  • Great blog! Thanks for sharing. The other day an opposing counsel was shocked that I had just met my client face-to-face for the first time. He went as far as to imply there was something wrong with this procedure — right in front of my client!

  • Just today I found out a BigLaw attorney bad mouthed me to a client. Never mind the ethical implications of their even speaking to my client knowing he is represented. They told him that they called him when they could not reach me (not true – I have the caller ID logs) and that I was probably unavailable because I was “out chasing ambulances.” My client knew I was actually in a deposition, and thankfully he did not fall for it. But I cannot wait for the conference call with that attorney today.

  • What’s crazy to me is how many attorneys try to turn me off of going solo, as if there are so many other choices out there. “Go work for somebody for 10 years first, get the training and pay off your loans.” Excellent idea. Perhaps I will leave my family for Natalie Portman and start a reality show with Charlie Sheen while I’m at it. And virtually all of the people saying it can’t be done have never done it, but in the next breath tell me how miserable they are. Why push me down when you are so unhappy? Like I want to be like you? Dumb.

  • I don’t miss having to wear a suit and stranglehose everyday and having to follow someone else’s regimented schedule that doesn’t work for me. I like being master of my own working time. I don’t ‘work’ on Fridays and do not schedule any client meetings. I use my Fridays as needed either to work uninterrupted on client matters, to tend to the other business duties necessitated by being a solo practitioner, or to play hooky and do whatever I want.

  • “There is no salary high enough to make up for being miserable, and there is no salary low enough to make me go back.” – That comment nailed it. This post was dead on and a great read. Despite the things I dislike about being a solo (and not having an assistant is #1 on my list) – I finally love being a lawyer. Interesting tradeoff. When I made googobs of money in BigLaw – I hated it. Absolutely hated it. Now I make less money and finally love what I do every day. Sadly, I can count on 1 hand the number of my BigLaw (and even in-house) friends who can find joy in their work.

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