How am I going to do this? Where do I set up my office? What areas of law should I plan to practice in? How much money should I spend on a desk? Do I want to be a general practitioner or have a niche area? These are all valid questions that should be running through your head when you decide to start solo. However, before you tackle such issues as acquiring firm capital and looking at office space you should determine either on your own or with your partner(s) why you want to go solo.
I firmly believe, and from what we have gleaned from solos and other attorneys we have talked to, that if you make this decision in a default mode (that is, you decide to go solo because you couldn’t find anything else) then you may find yourself struggling more than others. However, if you come into this adventure having pondered the various reasons you want to start solo or begin a small firm then you are more apt to have the mindset required to make this work. I was first turned onto this concept by both the professor of our Law Practice Management course that Ben and I took (more on that in another post), and the book we used, How to Start and Build a Law Firm by Jay Foonberg. Ben and I had and continue to have many discussions about why we want to start solo, and what our goals are for our firm (both individual and mutual).
I mentioned in my first post that I made my decision to open my own firm after I interned with a small firm in Indianapolis after my 1L year. That is true, but what is worth discussing is how I came to that conclusion because it is directly related to why I want to start solo. I was a high school teacher for almost ten years before I made the difficult decision to come to law school. I left a community of students and teachers that I loved and a school that I loved. Crazy, right? Although I loved my students and my peers, it was time for me to leave education: time for new challenges, time for new opportunities, and time to provide more for my family.
I decided that if I was going to leave a job and a community that I loved I was going to do it my way. Given the still precarious status of the legal market I didn’t want to end up at any firm that would hire me. I didn’t want to work in an area of law that didn’t interest me just to gather a paycheck. I had invested too much of my time and effort to not do this exactly the way I want. I want to advocate for my own clients rather than through a supervising attorney, I want to work for my own bottom line, and I want to build something.
On a deeper level, I want to follow in the footsteps of my grandfathers and great-grandfathers. They built businesses–a successful regional drugstore and a corn seed company respectively. I want to follow in their footsteps in both the successful way they built their businesses, but the way they did it–with integrity, honesty, and hard work. I do not want to toil away day after day for senior attorneys/partners only to see my efforts realized by their gains. Granted, I am not railing against big law nor do I think that working for medium or large firms is by any means wrong. Many attorneys have had very fulfilling careers doing just that. But for me, I want to focus all of my efforts on my client’s objectives as well as try to build my own successful law practice. I want to do this to honor my parents and grandparents as well as show my children what it means to work hard for something you want.
These deep seeded reasons for why I want to start and build my own law practice help keep me focused on my goals and gives me direction. In later posts we will discuss specifically what next steps to take after you have identified the various reasons why you want to start solo. Once you identify those reasons, continue to revisit them as this is a long process, and you will occasionally need to remind yourself why you have chosen this road.