Should you go Solo? The Pros and Cons

By Hillary Mantis

The number of recent graduates going into solo practice right after law school is on the rise. In the Class of 2011, approximately 6 percent of all graduates went right into solo practice after graduation, according to the National Association for Law Placement. This is the highest it’s been in recent years, up from 3.5 percent in 2008.

It’s hard to find a good job these days. Some of you might be thinking about taking the bull by the horns and starting your own practice after graduating law school and becoming admitted. Is this really feasible? Here are some Pros and Cons. 

PROS:
It’s easy to do legal research online these days, and less expensive than it used to be. Thanks to digital technology, it is also much easier to run a practice without spending money on office space.

“The information is out there now, it’s tangible,” according to Evan White, who started an employment law practice in New York several years ago.

It’s also easy to get advice and help from other lawyers who have set up their own practice. Almost every bar association, including the American Bar Association has a committee for solos, which provides resources on everything from finding clients, to setting up your office. Most committees accept student members.

There are hundreds of websites for solos such as www.myshingle.com and books such as "Solo Contendre: How to go directly from law school into the practice of law without getting a job." You no longer have to live in a vacuum if you are attempting to set up a solo practice.

CONS:
The bottom line is that you have to find a way to get clients

“Having a source of clients is very important,” cautions John McCarron, a Pace law graduate who started a solo practice.

This might be easy for some, with deep ties to their community, but extremely challenging for others.

You also have to learn to handle potential issues for clients without a lot of training, or partners to seek out for advice and mentoring. It’s a hands on job.

However, many solo practitioners end up sharing office space or suites with other solos, so they do help each other out, and sometimes give each other referrals.

If you are thinking about becoming a solo practitioner, start to make connections while you are still in law school. You can use your school’s alumni directory or LinkedIn group to find established solos, and network with them.

Many schools have a mentor program where you can connect with alumni and shadow them for a day or so. Who knows, maybe one of them will have room to bring in a junior attorney?

I would also take as many practical courses as you can while in law school so you will have as many skills as possible. Take advantage of law school clinics, drafting courses, and anything else that will teach you to work with clients.

Finally, look for practice areas that are expanding. Family law and certain criminal law niche practice areas are good potential  areas, as well as foreclosure, bankruptcy, and elder law, according to McCarron.

“Elder care is going to be a huge area in the next 20 years because of the baby boom,” he predicted.

It might be challenging to establish a solo practice as a junior attorney. On the other hand, it ultimately might give you more control over your career.

Hillary Mantis works nationwide with law students, lawyers and pre-law students. She is the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers and Jobs for Lawyers: Effective Techniques for Getting Hired in Today’s Marketplace. You can write to Hillary at altcareer@aol.com.

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