Keep Taking Shots But Learn From The Misses
Have you ever watched a pro basketball player miss 10 shots in a row and then, without hesitation, take the 11th? When the ball is in his hands, he isnt worried about those misses. You need to adopt that mindset.
My first few marketing events were total flops. Barely anyone showed up and none of the attendees turned into clients. Was it disappointing? Of course. But I couldnt stop. If I did, my practice would die.
Every failure is a lesson in what doesnt work. With the right mindset, youll keep pushing forward. Eventually, all those lessons will guide you to what works.
Its Time For The Fun Stuff
Are you going to go with a branded name? Maybe something in Latin? Or perhaps you want your name on the door. Whatever you pick, make it memorable so that people searching for your business online can actually find you. Note: Be sure to check ethics rules around trade names for law firms in your jurisdiction
Youll probably need to register your business with your local government, so that they can extract business license fees from you. Youll want to register for federal and state tax IDs, which really only takes a few minutes online these days.
But the real fun comes with bank accounts. Some people say to keep your trust account and one bank, and your operating account at another bank, to minimize accidents. I think thats more trouble than its worth, especially since having them at the same bank makes it easy to transfer funds and to convince your bank to charge any and all banking fees to the operating account. Most practices will need at least a trust account and an operating account.
Last, and most fun: Announce the grand opening. Reach out to your social networks, throw a mixer with family, friends, and professional networks. You want to make sure that everyone knows that you are open for business, as referrals really are the best source of quality cases.
Paul Campos Using Bartons Data To Paint A Worse Picture
In another article on the subject, Paul Campos of the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog posted in 2015 that the median solo practitioner was making just $35,000! Note, this is median, not average, meaning that the middle point between the highest-earning and lowest-earning solos is $35,000.
Im skeptical, to say the least. Particularly because its based on the same data as Barton and that already has some holes in it, as pointed out by Diamond above.
Better move on before we get depressed again:
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Think About Whats Important To You
When figuring out how hard is it to make it as a solo practitioner, first consider what is most important to you. I have heard people say that they went into solo practice for a better work-life balance, but quite frankly, most solos that I know that are making a substantial living do so by working very long hours. If you think that being a solo means youll be working 20 hours a week, that may be true, if you have a very large support staff and/or dont care much about making significant profits. But most people work longer and harder as a solo than they ever did for someone else.
Speaking of profits, you really should outline your financial goals before launching your practice. If you want to be a millionaire, the odds are slim that you will do so through divorce law or DUI defense, though it has happened. For me, my benchmark was simple: Make more in solo practice in my first year that I did in the job I left.
It wasnt a very hard goal to reach, sadly, and I actually did it that first year. I quickly seized upon another goal: like a friend of mine, I wanted to double my revenue each year from the prior year. He went $30k, $60k, $120k, $240k, $500k before leveling out running a fixed-fee volume-based practice. Im currently on that same path since re-launchingI might even 3x last years revenue while weathering a pandemic.
Bar Associations A Prettier Picture
Another source for data on solo law practice income is the various state bar associations. They will often survey the lawyers in their state, asking a large volume of questions .
Theres ton of great info there, but the real treasure for us that that income data.
Ill just highlight a couple of the survey results here:
- State Bar of Texas The datas a little old , but according to their surveys, the average income of a solo attorney is $97,142. Thats a far cry from the doom and gloom above! Note that this is self-reported, which lends itself to possible inflation by the attorneys in question
- Florida State Bar The latest data Im seeing specifically on average income for solos is from 2005, sadly. But its extremely encouraging, at $105,000.
Ill update this post with more, as I discover them.
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Beware Of Involuntary Pro Bono
There is no shortage of clients out there who will gladly allow you to do you legal work on their behalf but arent really interested in paying for it. Its tempting to take a case when someone appears willing to pay $300/hr. But its a major risk.
Getting stuck on a case without getting paid could be devastating for a new practice. The judge might not let you out, and the client could hold a possible disciplinary complaint over your head.
To avoid this, figure out who is willing to pay for yourservices by charging for a paid consultation and requiring a retainer deposit. Itsa major red flag if someone isnt willing to pay $100 to meet with a lawyer foran hour to discuss their case or to pay a $5,000 deposit on what will likelyend up as a five-figure legal bill. Obviously, there will be exceptions but, asa new attorney, youre not positioned to assume this kind of risk.
Id also caution you to be careful with contingency-feecases. Think hard about why someone would come to a first-year attorney forassistance with their supposedly great case.
If you decide to start your practice right out law school,good luck!
Myth : Solo Attorneys Are Slackers Who Dont Work Hard
If the comparison is between the life of a solo and a first-year associate that works eighty hours a week, thats not a fair comparison. I dont work eighty hours a week. I usually work about 50-55 hours a week and its rarely much less.
Im usually in my office for about 8-9 hours a day, with no lunch break. I also usually work another 1-2 hours at night after the kids go to sleep. I also teach two classes at a local law school and write for Lawyeristwhich usually happens at night or on the weekends . And dont forget about , networking, and presenting CLEs.
Im not saying young associates at firms are not required to do marketing, networking, and all those extra things, but I think its much more critical to creating and sustaining a solo practice. At a firm, it might be a plus if you do those things. If you run your own practice its a necessity.
Frankly, it would be near-impossible for a true solo attorney to work on active cases eighty hours a week on a consistent basis. There would be no time for client intake, marketing, networking, blogging, managing your finances, etc. Id say I spend about 30-40% of my time on all of those things.
So yes, most solo attorneys do not work 80 hours a week on active cases. But they probably spend 50-60 hours a week on lawyering and running a business.
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Opening A Solo Law Practice In California: Incorporation Vs Sole Proprietorship
The article below was published in 2012.
Congratulations on starting your own solo law practice in California! But first, youll have to decide what form your practice will take sole proprietorship or corporation. Those are your only two options because partnerships and limited liability partnerships are out. By definition, a solo attorney does not have a partner. The LLC option is out because the California Legislature says so it has prohibited licensed professionals, including accountants, doctors and lawyers, from organizing as limited liability companies . Corp. Code §17701.04.
And thus, you are left with two options: sole proprietorship and corporation. Sadly, the decision ultimately turns on how much income you expect to make and the tax consequences associated with that choice. So, youre making the choice based on a guess. Its the first of many.
Thankfully, whatever you choose, you can always change it going forward or have both a corporation and a sole proprietorship running in parallel. On a personal note, at the end of 2011, I dissolved my law corporation after three years and now operate as a sole proprietorship. Looking back, I wish Id done it sooner.
Find A Great Location
Can you find a location with a nice view for your law firms office? If you can, then it will add value to your business. Your clients will get good impression of your law practice.
In legal profession, an image of your law firm is a key to win the clients. You would surely like to impress those who visit your office.
If you locate such a view for your law firm office, take it immediately even if the rent is a bit costly. You will make an impression on the potential clients to win them easily.
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Overwhelmed Now Its Time To Get Started
If reading this article already has your head swimming, thats perfectly normal. Take a deep breath, maybe take a few days, and then ask yourself again whether you should become a solo attorney.
For me, no job has ever been as exciting as my career as an attorney. I really feel that the most happiness I have ever gained professionally has come from being a lawyerprenuer. Every night, Im thinking of new marketing strategies, new technology I can plug in to make my practice more efficient, new verticals or products I can launch, etc.
So I guess its back to Sister Mary Clarences advice: If you wake up in the morning, and you cant think anything but , then you should be a , girl!
Itll take planning, itll take a budget, itll take more time than you ever expected to deal with all of the business, marketing, lawyering, and technological barriers that get in your way, but at the end of each day, youll know that all of the work you put in was towards building a business that is uniquely you. Its hard to make it, but its absolutely worth it.
We published this blog post in September 2020. Last updated: July 20, 2021
Ensure Good Web Presence
Every small business is on the Web these days. Your solo practice also needs to be on the internet. Thats why you need a website and a Google My Business profile with your contact details to help locals find your office. For example, people looking for personal injury lawyers in Illinois will use a phrase like personal injury attorneys Illinois or Illinois personal injury lawyers to search for them online.
If you have a keyword-optimized website and an updated GMB page, your online leads can easily find your business. Fortunately, it is easier to set up a simple website that describes your latest accomplishments, legal expertise, and contact details. Make sure the website is attractive, mobile-friendly, and loads quickly to keep your target audience engaged.
You should also promote your practice on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Display your legal expertise to earn leads through social media. You can talk about local legal news, express your opinions on current legal affairs, and offer general legal advice to your potential prospects through blogging, social media posts, and videos.
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Determine The Tools You Need To Start On The Right Foot
If youre concerned about starting on your own without the resources of a larger firm, tools and technology can help. Leveraging tech like legal practice management software can improve your efficiencysaving you time and money that youll need for your solo operation.
Clios cloud-based software helps solo practitioners more easily manage the business of running a law firm. By leveraging legal-specific software like Clio, you can streamline client intake and automate time-consuming administrative tasks. Legal practice management software like Clio also helps you better manage and organize cases and documents.
With the right tools to help you be your most efficient, you can remove certain time limitations and barriers that might otherwise hold you back from focusing on certain legal practice areas as a solo.
Professor Benjamin H Barton A Look At Irs Data
In 2015, University of Tennessee law professor Benjamin Barton in which he looked at IRS income data to derive an average annual income for solo attorneys: $49,130. This, as he points out, is for all solo lawyers, including those who have practiced for a full career. It comes at the tail end of a period in which solo practice attorneys have struggled for a quarter of a century.
The article is essentially several paragraphs of doom and gloom for the profession, with a bright side for clients.
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Why Is A Solo Practice Worth It
Many reasons would prompt you to go solo. Essential among these reasons is the monopoly of control that going solo presents. Youll also have the opportunity to source for diverse clients without having to seek approval.
As a solo practice, there are notable cost differences in operations as compared to big law firms. As such, you are likely to derive higher net profits in the long run. Further, with the monopoly of control comes the ease of decision making on critical legal and operational issues.
Most solo legal practitioners derive satisfaction from having custom working hours. You will get to enjoy the rewarding benefits of being your boss, which enhances flexibility. Attorneys who decide to go it solo also derive greater reward from the venture through higher return on investments.
Overcoming The Challenges Of Running A Solo Law Firm
By: SimpleLaw 9/3/20 10:15 AM
Let’s start with the goal in mind: a successful solo law firm where you spend more time practicing law than anything else. So, how do you get to that goal? In some ways, it’s not as tough as you think. On others, it’s tougher than you may believe. The difference is all about you.
For every. single. person. This is a big one. Taking control of your time is the biggest opportunity for everyone. So, how do you do it? It’s all about being proactive. Consider your work week. Set a start and stop time. For some, early morning is great. One of our team members is usually up and at ’em at 5am. Another person is usually online later at night… as late as 11:30pm fairly regularly. So think about your ideal time to work. Set that start and stop time and try to stick to it.
From there, think about your day in chunks of time and priorities. So, maybe the first priority is all about working on current cases – focused time on the law. Then schedule some time to deal with the admin stuff. Depending on how you manage it, it will only take a short while. But if you are doing everything manually using excel sheets, it will take a lot longer. But you get the idea. Schedule time to get that done. Then think about business development. And so on. Of course, things come up during the day and you will need to shift or scrap the plan entirely. That’s ok. It’s important to have a plan.
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Why Im Writing This Blog Series About Starting A Solo Law Practice Now
This blog post is the first step in a new journey of mine. I have long wanted to share my experiences and hard-earned lessons in starting and building my own law practices with fellow attorneys. With this post I am declaring that I am going to do that, starting right now, right here, with these words. I am doing this right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis for several reasons:
1. As I explained in my COVID-19 series, Im working from home along with most of the rest of the country, and therefore have several hours each week available that were previously consumed in my commute.
2. The response to my ongoing COVID-19 for lawyers blog series has been extremely positive, and Ive been told by many lawyers that its given them hope and called them to take action now to serve their clients and communities, and secure their futures.
3. I know that there are a lot of employee attorneys who have lost their jobs or are at risk of that happening imminently. If information that Ill share in this series can help those displaced lawyers open their own law firms rather than trusting their fate to the government and the hiring plans of other lawyers, then I feel that I will have contributed to making their lives better.