Maybe you’ve been thinking about setting up your own solo law practice. Maybe you think about it a lot. Is it feasible? The idea feels attractive, but you’re not sure if you can (or should) make the leap. There are top-producing lawyers who absolutely thrive on their own; and there are others who don’t fare so well as entrepreneurs. But, let’s say you’re pretty sure leaving the mothership is in your future. You’re ready for more control. You want more autonomy. You want to reap the rewards for all the time and effort you put in.
Here are tips to keep in mind from some independent lawyers in our virtual law firm who made that leap.
You’re a startup. Start out lean.
When you start out, keep your costs to a minimum. A nice office is great for client meetings and can be a point of pride. But the fixed cost of leasing an office puts pressure on you to win and maintain more business right out of the gate. Can you run your practice as a virtual law firm with no office space? Many can. Working remotely may feel like a big adjustment at the start, but can really extend your startup runway. To meet the need for client meeting space, consider a membership like Fueled Collective (www.fueledcollective.com) where you can leverage meeting rooms and networking opportunities at a fraction of the cost of a lease.
The same goes for hiring. Do you absorb administrative duties at the beginning until you get a feel for the sustained volume of work? In the startup world, they like to talk about the MVP—minimum viable product. In the legal verse, it’s you. You’re the MVP. Start there and hire later.
Control means you’re the guy/gal.
Yes, you are going to have a ton more control when you’re out on your own. You make the calls. You’re not beholden to any company higher-ups. Let that sink in. That’s exactly what attracted a lot of us to work on our own.
The flip side of that coin is support. When you set out to get your own practice off the ground, there’s no longer that corporate brand behind you. No advertising budget or name recognition. No finance department, IT department, or paralegals (unless you hire them). No admin support. It’s you. Choices about hourly rates or fixed bids, digital security, cloud storage, video conferencing all fall on you… and the majority of us didn’t take electives in accounting, human resources or IT back in law school.
Nine times out of ten, when there’s problem you’ll figure it out. But, recognize your limits. You have to know how to cost-effectively source outside help (i.e. tech support, accounting, etc.) that in a corporate setting would simply be another department on another floor. Getting in with a network of other independents can help you network and source the quality support you need.
Build your book. And your brand.
Your book of business is the business. Do you have the volume to operate on your own?
Be strategic about what clients you have, what clients you can get, and how big the gap is between what you have and where you’d like to be. Your existing book of business will give you the foundation to build on. From there, you have to get after it.
Plan on launching a website and updating your LinkedIn profile. Get the word out. Other social platforms can certainly be a plus. Identify the industry events & networking opportunities you’ll want to target. By the time you close one case or finish one retainer, you want that next project primed and ready in the pipeline. In the ebb and flow of client demands, be prepared for times when you’re overloaded. Are there outside resources you can tap into to satisfy your clients when you’re flooded? Other lawyers in your area who, conversely, might refer work your way?
It’s more than being a great lawyer.
You’re about to leave structure behind. Starting your own virtual practice is where you stretch your business skills… your entrepreneurial skills. Success involves becoming (more) fluent in current technologies, in accounting and budgeting, in project management, and, for some, in hiring and personnel management. This is where you flex your business savvy. It helps to start out with the perspective that your skills as a lawyer are only one spoke of your new business life. If that excites you, fantastic. But if you only want to hone your legal skills, take that into consideration.
Use technology to your advantage.
Stay up-to-date. Be efficient. Know what’s available and what’s worth the investment. You’ll need to operate efficiently and ensure security for yourself and your clients. It may feel like a pinch to shell out for software licensing and equipment, but as a lean operation, you can’t afford to be inefficient or behind the curve. Prioritize your solo practice essentials:
- Good computer, mobile phone, tablet
- Office printer, scanner, wireless headphones or headset (hands-free is the way to be)
- Microsoft Office
- Outlook or other quality email program
- Adobe Acrobat
- Fax software
Then consider document management systems, cloud storage/collaboration and conferencing:
- Microsoft Teams/ Microsoft 360
- Dropbox or OneDrive or Box.com
- Uber Conference
Finally, carefully evaluate purpose-built legal software & platforms that can make you more efficient in your practice area:
- Tabs3 (time and billing)
- Clio Practice Management
- BoardVantage (board books)
- And others to fit your area
What makes you successful as a lean law operation is being able to replicate the work of a broad team quickly & efficiently all by yourself or with a virtual team. The right technology shrinks distance between you and clients or your collaborators and accelerates work processes. If you know what you’re looking for.
Know your lifestyle & life goals.
This one’s sometimes overlooked. Put focus to why you want to strike out on your own. Are you shifting gears to crush it? Are you feeling the drive to do more work and reap the benefits? Are you changing to find greater independence and create more space for all the things in your life? Is finding a better work-life balance a factor? There are lots of different motivations. Now is the time to set goals for your family life, career path, travel tolerance or preference, time for hobbies and volunteering and service. This is your vision.
Let’s return to the tip above about control versus support. It doesn’t have to be all one or all the other. The legal landscape is evolving. There are other options out there between joining a huge herd and being a lone wolf. Let’s talk about the solo practice hybrid.
Virtual legal firms like Practus operate under a different model. We seek to combine the control of being autonomous with the support of being connected to a team without adding overhead or requiring everyone to co-locate. At Practus, our virtual law firm approach makes you feel more supported and part of a tight-knit team. But it’s still your book of business to run the way you see fit. The firm brings to the table support services including marketing/branding, business technology, support staff, peer advice and referral business. We make it easy to follow the tips above because we’ve already laid the groundwork. We want even more entrepreneurial lawyers to feel empowered to spin off on their own.
It wasn’t that long ago when we were working the traditional career path. Frankly, it was a grind. It wasn’t satisfying in the ways we were looking for, so we got the heck out of Dodge. You can, too.
Practus is an innovative law firm that is disrupting the outdated ways of practicing law. By leveraging mobile technology, cloud-based solutions, and an agile infrastructure to deliver legal services, Practus is pioneering a more visionary approach to the way attorneys practice law.