You Ask…I Answer – Going Solo But Not The Typical Situation

(A friend forwarded this question from a listserv he frequents because he wanted to know what I thought. Woulld love your contributions, too.)

I live in a major market and go to a T2. I am about top 35% so while biglaw is not an option [nor did I want it to be], I could hopefully get a job at a smaller firm if I put the effort in. My area of interest is wills, trusts, and estate planning, but more specifically, this practice area within a certain sub-sect of the community [a specific religious faith who have their own set of inheritance laws]. As far as getting clients is concerned, I grew up in this area and have family ties to most of the wealthy businessmen within the community—while I will likely have to do some work to get clients, I am pretty sure this will not be an issue for me. Not only do I know a lot of these people, but having seen me grow up, they are the type that would root for me and refer their friends to me as well.Aside from this, I am graduating with no debt and having a working spouse–not making 80k my first year is not an issue for me.

My basic concern is 1) being able to have time for a family and to pursue my other interests, and 2) practicing law in an area that interests me to some extent—I do not need a booming practice. It would be nice. I just don’t want to waste my degree.

So my question is, I know that the general consensus is to NOT go into solo practice straight out of law school, but do you think that for someone like me that has a specific niche that the general advice is also applicable? What do you think are the potential pitfalls of doing this?

Also, do you have any advice as to what steps I can take right now to prepare me for solo practice?

Well, this is a problem I think many graduates today would like to have; no law school debt, a working spouse and no need to earn a ton a money to make ends meet! Not the typical situation.

While you are certainly not in the majority, the fact is there are many who don’t necessarily have financial burdens who do want to go solo and face the same issues – should they go directly into solo practice from law school or still try to find a job to gain that ever more elusive ‘experience’.

You have many, many things going for you:

1. No pressure of pending student loans

2. A built in niche

3. A community where you know everyone and everyone knows you.

4. Ties to people who are community leaders and will gladly refer you business and rooting for your success.

The only thing you are lacking is experience. Some may see that as a brick wall. It’s absolutely not.

Besides the logistics of how you want to set up your practice, having experience in your particular area of law is not necessarily a prerequisite to starting your solo practice. What is important is having an experienced lawyer who you can turn to oversee, collaborate, keep you on the right track so you don’t make critical mistakes impacting your client and ultimately your fledgling career.

This does not require you to put your solo practice dreams on hold. Nor should you get caught between a rock and a hard place – trying to get a job when there are no jobs to be gotten in order to get experience first in order to open your own practice.

Given you seem to have a lot of connections in your community and people who support you and want you to succeed, your best bet is to affiliate with another lawyer who will agree to serve as Of Counsel to your new practice. This lawyer should be a seasoned trusts and estates lawyer in your community. You can learn from him or her as they should be willing to be both mentor as well as oversee your work in exchange for compensation as permitted by your jurisdiction. Rachel Rodgers wrote a great piece on Adding Of Counsel which you may want to review.

Trusts and Estates is generally considered a family-friendly practice area. Not that there isn’t hard work and time commitments. It’s just not as strenuous a schedule as one that is driven by a packed court calendar and the needs of opposing counsel.

As for what you can be doing in school, start connecting with those very people who know you and want you to succeed. Let them know your plans upon passing the bar and see who is willing to enter into an arrangement with you for an Of Counsel position. They may find it very attractive on many levels because it can be an additional source of income for them as well as an opportunity to provide you with clients they don’t choose to work with for any number of reasons. Ask if you may learn from them while you are in school, get a feel for the practice area and the document flow. Maybe they’ll let you sit in on a client consultation so you can learn the interview process and pertinent questions. See some of the techniques used when dealing with sensitive subjects for the client including presenting your fees.

It seems as if you are entering into a very friendly environment, or at least you are comfortable with the environment. Being in school and knowing what you plan to do upon passing the bar makes every moment in school a safe place to start laying the groundwork. I find those who don’t pay attention while in school and fail to make inroads early are the ones who struggle the most when reality sets in…this job market is not hospitable.

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2 comments on “You Ask…I Answer – Going Solo But Not The Typical Situation

  • I have been in solo practice as a tax and estates attorney for over 30 years. I went to John Marshall in Chicago and then the NYU graduate tax program and got an LLM in tax. I worked in big 8 accounting firms in their tax departments for a few years and then I went out on my own. The problem as discussed is your experience level and actual wisdom for getting involved in estates and trust work. Law school is such a small part of the equation here. You must get experience and a mentor, your law school knowledge is not enough. Even my LLM and law school was not enough. Also, there is a lot of other factors involved in having your own shop. It is a business and you better know what to do in that area. Also, in the world we live in having an internet presence with a website, blog, social networking involves a lot of time. This is a big undertaking, more than you realize. My final point is that at 60 I am working even harder than before because of the internet and other current economic forces. Having said all that I would never work for a large or medium firm because having your own firm is the best. Just work in a situation where you can learn the most even if it means working for peanuts. Continue to learn and practice and observe. Stay determined and it will all work out. Hope this helps you.

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