Why Young Solos Want to Partner Up and What They Should Do Instead

Should I partner with another attorney when starting my practice?

This is a question often asked by young lawyers who want to go solo. And the answer often given by seasoned solos is either ‘no’ or the more emphatic ‘hell no.’ This response is usually accompanied by a horrifying story of a partnership gone bad that wrecked the credit, reputation, sanity, etc. of one or both of the partners. Hence, the response, don’t partner up.

Why Young Lawyers Really Want a Partner

Few of the young lawyers seeking a response to this oft-asked question are really looking for a partner. I think what these young lawyers are really looking for (as I was when I was in their shoes not long ago) is confidence.

These young solos are scared. For many of them, every lawyer that they share their solo plans with has negative things to say. Having a partner gives them someone to share their struggles with, someone to review their work and someone else with the seemingly-crazy idea of going solo. It also means instead of just having a solo practice that rests squarely on their shoulders, they have a “real” firm with more than one attorney. This gives young lawyers starting out a sense of legitimacy.

While some young lawyers will greatly benefit from partnering with the right person, having a partner in their solo venture will not solve the ‘lack of confidence’ problem. Additionally, the loneliness, responsibility and work review can be dealt with in a much simpler way.

What Young Solos Should Do Instead

As many a seasoned solo has told a young solo, taking on a business partner is like getting married. Therefore, finding the elusive “right” partner is like finding a spouse - often requiring years of searching. And, of course, maintaining the relationship is just as much work as maintaining a good marriage.

As any married person will tell you, being single is much simpler than being married. And the last thing a young solo needs is to further complicate the process of starting and running a law practice.

The fears that come up when considering the solo life can be resolved with one bold action:

Put yourself out there.

Announce your freaking firm to the world! Tell every lawyer, law student, recent grad, law professor, judge you know that you’re going solo. Attend conferences and other networking opportunities and tell the lawyers you meet that your a new lawyer and you’re going solo. And don’t say you’re thinking about it when you’ve really already decided it. Don’t downplay what you’re doing. Talk about it. Don’t sheepishly hide in your office. Put yourself out there.

Do this, even though you may run into negabots who will not be supportive of your solo plans. In my experience and the experience of many other young solos I know who have done this, you will make connections with colleagues who remember the fear (and exhilaration) they experienced when they went solo. They will support you. They will respond to your emails and send you resources. They will become mentors and friends.

That’s how you obtain mentors who can give you guidance and a boost of confidence when fear comes up. That’s how you obtain solo peers you can commiserate with when things are tough and celebrate with when things are going great. Its also how you get advice and referrals, find out about relevant events and develop a community of cheerleaders and friends in fellow lawyers. Coincidentally, its also how you will find the right business partner, if that is the right path for you.

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®.

This entry was posted in Guest Bloggers, Solo & Small Firm Practice and tagged Rachel Rodgers. Bookmark the permalink.

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7 comments on “Why Young Solos Want to Partner Up and What They Should Do Instead

  • Great post Rachel. Building up a network of friends in various areas of the law can also give a new solo the confidence she needs. And never be afraid to seek out mentors in your chosen area of the law. The mentor always benefits from the mentee’s fresh approach to marketing, legal theories, practice management, etc. So eventhough it may feel like the new solo is the only one who benefits, nothing could be further from the truth.

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Scott! That is a great point that us mentees may not realize. And I totally agree that having a network of solo friends definitely helps build confidence.

  • This was a very interesting article. It comes at a time when I am mulling over the “to partner or not to partner” question. I think another practical reason that many new solos want to form partnerships is because they are working some place other than their firm. I know a lot of attorneys that have made the move to go solo but also must maintain consulting and/or document review positions to make ends meet.

    That is the situation that I have been in for the last year. Having a steady document review project has allowed me to invest money into the firm i.e. getting the website, stationary, and other things that allow the practice to have a professional look. However, having a document review job doesn’t make it easy to put in the sweat equity that the practice really requires. There is no amount of time management that will allow a person to get their practice off the ground while also working 65+ hours a week at another job. In this situation it is easy for a solo to reason that collaborating with another attorney will allow them to collectively have the time to move the practice forward and making it profitable enough that they can leave the dreadful world of document review.

    • Hi Valina!

      Thank you so much for your comments! I have been there as well. I worked about 30-35 hours per week for a firm for a few months when I first started and I did have to get up at 5am to work on my practice, then work on my practice in the evening and on the weekends. However, if you have a job demanding more than 40 hours per week it can get very difficult to grow and get clients.

      However, I don’t think a partner would really help your situation because if a partner is working in the practice full time and you are working part time that could definitely lead to trouble in the relationship. What I would do is hire a per diem Virtual Assistant and/or Virtual Paralegal to handle everything that can be outsourced. That way when you are working in your practice, you can be focused on those high level activities like client work, meeting with clients, speaking at a workshop or writing articles. And you know you have people on your team who can move things forward when you are at work.

      I would also be strategic about changing the situation. It sounds like maybe you need to create an exit plan for your job and a growth plan for your practice.

      BTW – Let me know if you need referrals for a VA or VP. :)

      I hope that helps!

  • The earlier you tell people you are definitely going solo the better. Attorneys look at you like a cute puppy when you are in law school, especially when they know you are not looking for a job from them. They love to help. Some people will tell you not to go solo, but a few will become so invested in your success that they’d do just about anything to help you. It’s amazing. And now I tell opposing counsel I am new. Anytime I get a new case I take the other attorney to lunch to talk about the case and also to get their perspective on the practice. Almost every opposing counsel I’ve had is now someone I call with questions. No reason to hide who you are when doing otherwise can help so much.

  • I just found this Article and you have made many great points. I practiced for over 26 years and started a firm right out of law school with 2 of my classmates. I guess you might say we were naive back then but fortunately every thing worked out, although we went separate ways after about 10 years. I now teach “Relationship Marketing” especailly to new lawyers who have gone out on their own or those in practice for the most part under 5 years. One of the things I have seen here recently is for lawyers to rent and office in what I would call an “excutive type suite” This seems to work for a number of reasons: 1. Initial low expnditure, 2. Support staff avilable, the rent usually provides for a receptionist, 3. The appearance of having a “Law Firm”, 4. Possiblilty of developing business from other renters, and 5. Other lawyers also renting.
    The other lawyers also renting serves a couple of purposes: 1. someone to talk to about what they are doing as far as growing their practice etc, 2. someone to share ideas on cases with, 3. the possibilty of referring cases to each other.
    I hope that these thoughts will help lawyers who are considering opening a practice.

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