7 Lessons from My First Year As A Solo After Working At A Traditional Law Job

Number-7Welcome to 2016 Fellow Solos! January marked the 1-year anniversary of my practice. As I reflect back on my first year in business, it almost feels like a dream. I spent much of the year experimenting with new things, worrying about things that were ultimately out of my control, and a fair amount of time pinching myself because I’d actually done it – I quit my job and started a business. For a girl that’s had a job of some kind since she was 14 years old, that was a big deal.

So for this month, I’ve decided to list the top 7 lessons that I’ve learned in my first year as a solo. I know Rachel Rodgers did a great article on this a few years ago from her perspective as someone starting a law practice right out of law school, but I wanted to take the perspective of someone leaving a traditional law job for the solo life. So here goes…

  1. Celebrate Your Exit.  Attention is not really my thing. I was never one of those people to arrive fashionably late to a party to make sure everyone saw my outfit. However, when I decided to leave my traditional legal job to start my practice, I stepped out of my comfort zone and threw a “Going Away” dinner. I invited every business colleague, acquaintance, and adversary I knew. This one act had an amazing impact on my business from the beginning. By making those personal connections, I was able to get referrals and per diem business almost immediately.   This went a long way in calming my fears from not having a steady paycheck as I began to build my practice.
  2. You Don’t Need A Million Bucks, But Save Some Cash Before You Quit.  Before I left my job, I saved enough money to keep me going during my first year of business. Now it wasn’t the year’s worth of expenses as is often recommended. I didn’t want to set a figure that I would use as an excuse to never leave. However, to compensate for the small funds, I cut down my expenses and paid off my credit card debt. Once you truly cut down on expenses, you’ll be surprised by how much money you actually need to keep going.
  3. There Is Power In Discernment and Routine.  When you have some cash saved, it’s really easy to spend it. I love online business and tech gadgets generally, so I was like a kid in a candy store when I discovered all of the apps, courses, pdfs and webinars that you can buy for your business. However, every shiny object isn’t the best object for you. More importantly, some of your best business moves are the routine things that everyone tells you to do like meeting new contacts for lunch, sending thank you letters, and writing blog posts. Develop a routine and be as consistent as you can. It will pay off, and when making purchases, remember that less is more.
  4. Invest in Your Business and in You.  People talk about the entrepreneurial mindset, but no one talks about the amount of energy it takes to acquire and sustain it especially if you’ve been an employee for many years. Day in and day out, you have to learn the best ways to market, sell, and provide quality legal services to your clients. You also have to tackle the chorus of thoughts and fears in your head. The ones that keep saying, “you know, getting a job is probably easier,” or “ how, exactly, are you planning to cover your expenses this month?”  So while you are investing in CLE classes and legal guides, be sure to add some self development books, coaches, and courses to your list too. As a solo, you are intrinsically tied to your business and if you want it to grow, you have to grow out of the employee mindset and into an entrepreneur.
  5. Dear Overachiever, You Really Can’t Do Everything.  As lawyers we are taught that we must turn over every leaf and become an expert to effectively represent our clients. To do this we expend lots of time, mental effort, and energy to read, study, and review everything.   In doing so we feel ready to win. Well business is not like that. You will never know or be the best at everything, and honestly, you should stop trying. Your job is to focus only on the tasks that are essential to your practice i.e. business development and legal work. Everything else should be outsourced to someone else who is an expert already.
  6. All the Good Stuff is on the Other Side of the Jump.  I was at a conference a couple of years ago where one of the speakers stated the following, “Jump and a net shall appear.”  At the time this sounded too impractical for a risk adverse lawyer like me and totally against my training. However, at the risk of sounding airy-fairy on a blog for lawyers, the truth is no matter how much you plan and do, ultimately you have to trust that things will work out in your favor. More than just trusting it, you have to know it. The common theme that runs through most success stories is that they simply knew they would accomplish their goal. They didn’t believe it because the opposite side of that belief is doubt. They knew it would happen just like one knows that 1 + 1 = 2. Once you know it, the ”jump” is not a jump at all. It’s a necessary step in the right direction toward your goal.
  7. Make Time to Think and Plan. Things will get very busy for you very quickly. I’m often amazed at the length of my to-do list. However, creativity and insight need time to germinate and grow. You need time to think, plan, doodle and dream to do you best work. If you habitually schedule time to think (See No. 3 above), you’ll be amazed by what you come up with.

Ok solos, you’ve seen my top tips, now it’s time to share yours. If you’ve been in practice for a while or are just starting out, what were your big “ahas”?  What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

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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4 comments on “7 Lessons from My First Year As A Solo After Working At A Traditional Law Job

  • Toya, great article! I’m not an attorney but am in the real estate industry. It’s always great to learn from other solo entrepreneurs. Thanks for sharing and I wish you more success in your practice.

  • Ahhh Toya – love these! #6 is dead on!

    What I know five years into living my own solution is that we’re all so much more than simply a law degree. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience that we took with us into law school and that’s what we need to own and celebrate :) I see too many colleagues minimizing the talents and experiences that make them unique – and ultimately our clients are “buying” us – so what I wish someone had said early on to me – “Be you. Be completely you. And yes all the good is on the other side of scary.”

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