The 5 Dumbest Things New Solos Do


We’re thrilled to have Lee Rosen pen a guest post every now and then for our Solo Practice University blog.  Whether he’s in Bulgaria, Hong Kong or the remote hinterlands, he stays fully connected, practicing law and sharing his very worthwhile no-holds-barred advice. Here’s your first dose of Rosen-isms.

When you go out on your own, you need to focus on getting clients. That’s it. A one-track mind is critical. Think of nothing else. Just go, go, go get a client.

Once clients are hiring you, then you can worry about everything else. For now, do nothing but get clients. Everything else is avoidance behavior. We work on other stuff because getting clients is hard, it’s scary, and it makes us feel vulnerable.

New solos spend all kinds of energy on things unrelated to getting clients. They’re busy doing busy work. They get distracted by unimportant issues. They run errand after errand, and they find themselves without time to chase clients. Doing anything—thinking about anything—other than getting clients, before you have clients, is dumb.

Here are my top five dumbest things new solos do:

1. Partner up. 

They decide to open a practice. They have no revenue. They promptly decide to partner up with another lawyer. Now they get to divide zero by two. Plus, they get to spend hours debating practice management issues like how to divide profits and what the partnership agreement should say. It’s crazy. It’s also amazing how they rationalize the decision. They say things like “We have different practice areas and there’s a synergistic effect,” “She’s good at management and I’m good at marketing,” or “My fees come in infrequent lump sums and hers will help us meet monthly overhead.” They believe their own bullshit. Forming a partnership is something frightened people do; it’s in the “misery loves company zone.” Don’t drag someone else along with you—you’ve already got enough to worry about.

2. Rent unnecessary space. 

You don’t have a client and you’re renting office space? You’re spending hours driving around in the real estate broker’s Lexus? For what? Is the space going to be your meditation room? Will you build a shrine in the corner? You’re renting space instead of getting a client because it makes you feel productive. You’re not being productive—that’s self-deceptive behavior. Worry about space later. There’s no shortage of office space. When you have a client and need some space, it’ll take a few hours to arrange. This is a very low priority concern.

3. Hire prematurely. 

New solos love to hire someone. What’s that about? You’re feeling powerless and an employee gives you something to control? You don’t have enough work for yourself and you’re handing it off? Come on—this is crazy. Don’t hire anyone until you’re bringing in at least $25,000 a month. (That’s at least 28 hours a week, and that’s when you’ll start to be too busy to get it all done.) Don’t even think about hiring anyone, okay?

4. Buy malpractice insurance. 

New solos usually buy insurance right after they open the business bank account (which they don’t need). Maybe it’s required in some places? Let me help you with this: if there’s no money coming in, you don’t need a bank account to put it in, so why are you comparing banks? It’s the same deal with malpractice coverage: if you have no clients, you can’t commit malpractice. Don’t worry; you can commit malpractice later. There’s plenty of time for that, and you’ll want the insurance before you do it (unless, of course, you’re judgment proof).

5. Form an entity.

This one is my favorite. We form corporations and LLCs for ourselves. Why? Why not? We know how to do it, it feels like work, and it keeps us busy. Like the rest of the dumb things on this list, it’s not important early in the game. There’s something that is important, and spending our time forming an entity is a tactic we use to avoid doing the marketing. Worry about entity formation later. When? When you have clients.

What are the smart things to do? Get busy getting clients. Get those clients to sign retainer agreements and pay a fee. Once you’ve got folks hiring you, then you can do everything mentioned above. In fact, at that point, you’ll have the resources to pay someone to do them for you.

How do you get clients? Get visible in your community.

  • Do it by meeting prospective clients and referral sources and start building relationships.
  • Do it by building a content-rich website or blog.
  • Do it by advertising on Google AdWords.
  • Do it by speaking to civic groups.
  • Do it by renewing old friendships and building new connections.

Spend your time getting clients. Don’t spend your time creating the structure of your law firm. You won’t have a law firm for long if you don’t get some clients. Stay on that track and get clients. That’s the smartest thing you can do.

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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11 comments on “The 5 Dumbest Things New Solos Do

  • Good post Lee. However, I think you are wrong about #4 (Buying Malpractice Insurance) although it may depend on the jurisdiction.

    Here in Nebraska, all “active” lawyers are required to have malpractice (professional liability) insurance (Neb. Ct. R. §3-803). Generally speaking, “active” means a lawyer who is engage in the practice of law or in any manner holds himself or herself out as authorized or qualified to practice law in Nebraska. Thus, new lawyers in Nebraska seeking clients must have malpractice insurance.

  • I thoroughly disagree about the malpractice insurance being a dumb move early on. Sure, I suppose there is no reason to get insurance while you are moving furniture into an office but once a lawyer starts answering phone calls or emails there is the risk of malpractice claims or grievances. It takes some time to obtain coverage so while the attorney is hunting for office space he or she should be applying for malpractice coverage so once the attorney starts rolling out advertising and communicating with potential clients there is coverage from the start. Malpractice insurance for new-ish attorneys is often very reasonably priced and the benefit of coverage far exceeds that cost.

  • I agree with the malpractice insurance to a point. In California you are required to provide written notice to a client that you don’t have malpractice insurance. I was worried at the beginning that this would mean if I had to disclose this to clients they would not hire me. Now I’m not so sure that is the case. The first few clients you get are willing to give you a shot and probably wouldn’t care so much if you gave them that notice. That being said, I think that after about a year or so if you are still serious about going forward with your practice after representing your first few clients then absolutely get malpractice insurance.

    I agree with everything else for sure. Thankfully because I’ve been reading Mr. Rosen’s blog for a long time the only mistake I made on this list was getting malpractice insurance too soon.

  • I rarely comment on articles these days but this piece was spot on. I do, however, agree with the others who recommend procuring Professional Liability Insurance from the get-go. Why? Malpractice insurance is relatively inexpensive. I’ve been in the litigation business for 14 years. Litigation involves all sorts of statutes of limitations and other deadlines yet I’m only paying a few thousand dollars–with an Associate for that matter. If you have only a couple of clients, your premium will be tiny. You may also qualify for part-time insurance.

  • I totally agree that a new lawyer’s focus should be on bringing in quality business, in an area of law they want to do. This takes careful thinking and related ACTIONS. And, this can’t stop when the lawyer gets busy with a few cases. It is a challenge to avoid the tendency to “expand the work into the time”, feel you are “busy”, and stop marketing. Some of the critical things you suggest, like creating a content rich blog and/or website, take some WORK, but pay off in multiples. They also take TIME, but it is time well spent.

  • You nailed it when you talked about people believing their own bullshit. The first step should always involve an honest, raw, and real self-evaluation. Clear away the fog of your ego. Once you have awareness of where you stand, only then can you start to see the forest from the trees. Once you have a good grasp on the landscape, you can plot a course. Then set out on your adventure, like you said… with your first client or two. Try out your new tools. Try to improve them. Try to use them better. Learn your craft.

    Some say that the best marketing is good legal work. You’re right though, you need clients in order to do good legal work. Thus, the age old adage of spending money to make money, seems to be true to some extent. The point here, though, is just to be smart about the financial decisions you make.

    New solos should avoid being flashy about the appearance of their practices, when there really is no practice. First, they can’t afford it. Second, no one is impressed. At the very beginning it’s best to stick to finding opportunities to work and building one’s reputation. Do that and the rest will follow in time, when it makes sense.

    It seems like there should be a down-and-dirty, keeping-it-real, snap-out-of-it / intro-to-business-esque type class in law school.

    Great post!

  • Overall a decent article, and 1-3 are spot on. However, the author goes overboard to make what is basically a good point. I agree that “faking it until you are making it” is not a good idea. Two people who don’t have a clue triples each of their problems. However, advising to put all else to the side until you have a client is NOT a good idea. Once you do have the clients and are getting busy is not the right time to back-track and start building your foundation. Starting your practice without a business entity that takes all of an hour to form, and getting the ball rolling on malpractice insurance, and other foundational basics is like building your new home on sand, rather than pouring a solid foundation. Once you are running around like crazy trying to get good results for your new clients is not the right time to do the basics. Much better to start off with the basics, form the company, get the insurance, put together your very basics of software and systems (what is the point of getting a client if you can’t send a proper bill on a regular basis?), policies and procedures, should be done before you open your doors. The author should have stopped at 3 to make his point, but by taking it too far – he basically started to advise new attorneys that, by analogy, it is better to go food shopping and buy a cash register, table and chairs for your new restaurant AFTER you have a line of people who just ordered lunch…

  • I usually like Mr. Rosen’s advice. However, I disagree with most of these points. All of these administrative tasks take time and when you start a practice, the one thing you have early on and won’t have later on is time to do these things right. When I started my practice, I took the extra time to negotiate a partnership agreement with a person who had a complimentary practice area. I also took the time to prepare a proper employment contract, hire my first employee and figure out the complexities of remitting employment taxes. I also started drafting an office manual that included instructions and policies on everything from bookkeeping to the outgoing office message – because I had the time. We also rented and renovated space in an appropriate location that helped to increase our credibility and opportunities for business networking. Finally, we both set up professional corporations. This helped manage our personal tax liabilities which is critical in the first few years. Of course, we also got insurance right away. The moment we open our mouths at the coffee shop, we’re open to potential liability so it would be STUPID not to do so ASAP. Sure, I want to “choke” my partner from time to time (and I’m sure that she feels the same about me at times), but I don’t regret any of those early decisions or the corresponding investment of time. I agree that they have to be done with the goal of growing your business and serving your clients, but they are not a waste of time as long as they serve that ultimate goal.

    • Michelle, Thanks for visiting us! Just curious how long you had been practicing prior to opening your own practice? Did you come with clients in hand, or your partner? These all influence priorities and availability of time.

  • Lawyers nitpicking about how we all need professional liability insurance are (1) demonstrating that they’re lawyers who can say “yes, but…” with the best of them, and (2) willfully missing the tone of the article.

    Lee is telling us the important truth that we all need to get business and avoid busy work. You want insurance? Fine, but don’t spend more than 1hr getting while fantasizing about your big cases. Get a client. Then worry about it.

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