How to make it as a solo practitioner

With so much talk about not finding jobs upon passing the bar, many law students and grads seem interested in exploring solo practice as on option. Conventional wisdom has long cautioned against striking out on your own right after graduation — after all, if it is true that law school doesn’t teach you how to practice law, then simply starting out as a new associate comes with a steep enough learning curve. Imagine learning it all on your own, without the safety net and resources of a firm.

That said, there are recent grads who have made solo practice a successful career path. If you’re considering this as an option, you should make sure you have a mentor (or several mentors) lined up whom you can consult with questions and turn to for guidance, stresses my colleague Robert D. Armano, a professor at the Massachusetts School of Law who entered solo practice soon after graduation and frequently speaks about successful solo practice. Armano shares the following other tips:

  •  Make sure that you know where to turn for continuing education and practical knowledge. Plan to have resources in place that you can use, and don’t undertake representation of a matter you cannot competently handle or adequately fund.
  •  Plan your business structure, marketing and advertising carefully. Unless you already have a ready-made clientele, you’ll need to build your client base through word-of-mouth advertising, traditional and non-traditional marketing and advertising, networking with other attorneys, friends, colleagues, professional contacts and family members; joining professional associations and community organizations and signing on with bar advocacy/referral groups.
  •  Don’t give your time away! The occasional “pro bono” case notwithstanding, clients must understand that your time is a valuable commodity.
  •  Keep diligent track of your time, your billing, your business and your finances.
  •  Plan your budget. Identify all of your fixed costs and expenses first, and then account for discretionary expenses.
  •  Plan for long-term financial growth. Your main goal should be to keep your business afloat — some say that you can’t expect to take a draw from your law practice for the first year after opening it, so plan accordingly.
  •  Present yourself in a professional and confident manner when you first meet with a client.
  •  Don’t promise more than you can deliver: Clients have long memories where results are concerned.