“If I can make it here, I’ll make it … anywhere.”
- Frank Sinatra, lyrics to New York, New York
In most of my writing, I focus on the positive aspects of practicing law as a solo. It’s not because I want to dupe recent law grads and other attorneys into following in my footsteps. The real reason why I tend to talk about how amazing going solo is … is because going solo is pretty amazing. It has been a tremendous experience of growth in my life and led to the career satisfaction I once thought was not achievable in the law and remuneration (to pay back those pesky loans!). So how could I not evangelize about its many merits, right?
That said, there are a few not-so-amazing aspects of solo practice. And while the benefits of designing my own law practice have outweighed any of this sucky stuff, by far … I thought I would share a short list of what I deem to be the ugly side of solo practice.
1. Client Resistance. Legal fees are like taxes – a necessary evil. And like taxes, when it comes to legal people try to avoid handing over their funds like the plague. No one really enjoys paying legal fees. So you may feel like you are fighting an uphill battle in that no one really wants to buy what you are selling. And some folks will try anything to avoid hiring a lawyer. Hence, the rise of Legal Zoom and a nation of pro se litigants. Early on, there were days I wished I was a web designer instead. Seems like everyone wants to spend their money on a pretty website, right?!
Even though it can be frustrating to talk to some potential clients who don’t see the benefits of registering their intellectual property or are convinced that they can handle their own complex divorces themselves, there are still plenty of people out there who need (and understand the value of) a solo’s services.
2. Regulations. The law is a highly regulated profession. There are many regulations to sift through in order to conduct a law practice. Not only do you have to deal with state and federal limitations to where and how you can practice; you’ve accepted the responsibility to know, understand and comply with the professional rules of responsibility as well as the huge amount of ethics opinions and court opinions interpreting said rules for every state that you are admitted in. It is a necessary but exhausting.
Lucky for us, we lawyers are trained to do legal research. Its the one aspect of solo practice that law school actually did prepare us for. So go ahead and dig in to those rules and opinions! It might be a major time-consuming pain, but I liken it to shopping for the perfect dress – there’s always a chance you might find something really interesting.
3. Administrative Time & Costs. Due to the highly regulated nature of the legal profession, as a solo you must spend a significant amount of time and money on complying with all of those regulations. You have to maintain your law license which involves staying on top of annual registration applications and dues. You have trust accounting requirements and CLE’s to battle. When you work for a firm or government agency, they take care of much of these administrative requirements for you. They hold in-house CLE classes or provide you with a complimentary membership to a CLE provider. They may even have a department that automagically handles your license maintenance and all you have to do is provide a signature.
Of course, me being the uber-positive person that I am, I think there is a really positive side to these challenges in solo practice. The truth is that if you can build a successful law practice with all of the restrictions on how you practice law and the inherent client resistance you have to overcome, then you can build pretty much any other business. Unless you want to build a commercial spaceship, you will probably not face as much regulation in any other type of business, as you do in the law. In this economy, that is powerful because knowing how to build a profitable business is the only thing that can provide you with job security.
So its true, I do wish it was someone else’s job to remember the deadline for my attorney dues and figure out which CLEs I have to take. However, I’ll take a little bit of trust accounting if it means having the freedom to practice law the way I want to and having a flexible lifestyle that allows me time with my family and time to travel.
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®.