The Ugly Side of Solo Practice

“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®.

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

Enjoy our blog posts with lunch! Enter your email address and we'll send you an email each time a new blog post is published.

Want your free copy of Business Call is Back and Attorney Guide to Virtual Receptionists? Subscribe by email below and you will be able to download them immediately.

12 comments on “The Ugly Side of Solo Practice

  • Rachel,
    As always a great nuts and bolts list for new and rezooming solos to follow.
    It is very important to know the i’s to dot and the t’s to cross
    when running solo.
    Great post
    Debra Hamilton

  • I like the reference to taxes, as accounting faces similar difficulties. I find it oftentimes a challenge to convince the market that spending the money often concludes with better results.

    • Its true. Accounting is similar to the legal industry in that regard. And as a business lawyer, I know just what you mean. I have had potential clients shy away from creating an entity for their business that could save them on taxes at the end of the year. I find that with the right marketing, there is a way to attract (mostly) the types of clients who already recognize the need for and value of your services.

  • All very true…especially the part describing how solo practice is worth the pain of resistant clients, administrative regulation and professional regulation. Of course, these pains exist in both solo practice as well as while working for someone else. For me, the biggest challenge involved with solo practice is properly preparing your mindset, and personal financial position, for the inevitable ups and downs in generating legal fees. Most solo practices experience times of increasing and decreasing legal fees, and a new solo must understand that just because business may be slow now does not necessarily mean new busines will not flow tomorrow. You must be prepared for the ups and downs. To me, this is the primary “ugly” side of solo practice. Small price to pay, in my opinion, to have the freedom to practice the way you choose.

    • Very good point, Joseph!

      The ups and downs of income when just starting are a pain! I am sure it varies depending on the practice area you are in. I also don’t think it lasts forever. I have a pretty reliable, consistent income in my practice now but it certainly wasn’t like that in the beginning.

  • Rachel,

    Thanks for the bit of inspiration. It’s always good to step back and remember why we chose the solo route, even when we’re buried under piles of accounting and administrative tasks. Keep up the good work!

    Amanda Breen

  • This. The regulations and the administrative time and costs associated with the regulations are a huge, HUGE burden (particularly if you are venturing into ‘new’ territory, like virtual practice or cloud computing). I, too, am mostly thrilled with my decision to go solo, but I wasn’t properly prepared for how much time and energy this would suck up – the time/cost is now a line item on my budget/business plan.

    • I agree that the admin stuff can really be tedious and time consuming and frustrating. I recommend hiring a bookkeeper, using a membership service for CLEs, calendaring all of your licensing requirement deadlines for the next year and utilizing the ethics hotline often. These things have kept me sane and minimized the admin stuff as much as possible for me. Hope that helps!

  • Rachel you have inspired me over the past couple of months from reading your blog articles and e-mails. I am now making the move to a small solo virtual office. =) Thanks

    • Congratulations, Sarah! I am so humbled to know that my writing has been helpful to you. Thank you for the kind words. You totally just made my day!

      Best of luck to you on your virtual-solo journey!

Comments are closed automatically 60 days after the post is published.