Starting Solo

Making the decision to start your own law firm


May 2016

Building Your Safety Net-work

One of the most important steps that you will take in opening your own practice is creating and maintaining your Safety Net-work.  Your Safety Net-work is a way to mitigate the risk of hanging your own shingle.  Connections you make have the ability to add to your book of business, advise you on best business practices, and even guide you in your own practice of law.  There are many ways to build and maintain your network and our way is not necessarily the best, but it works for us.  Below is how J.T. and I have built our own Safety Net-work:

Networking 101

One of the best opportunities I took advantage of in law school was attending a social function directed in part by the IU McKinney Office of Professional Development.  The OPD enlisted the help of a professional connector, a person whose job it is to network and connect individuals across the professional spectrum.  The event was open to all professionals spanning the professional spectrum; it was our task as law students to engage and network with as many of these professionals as possible.  Prior to mingling and stuffing our faces with the hors d’oeuvre as any self-respecting law student does, the professional connector lent us some advice on how to properly and effectively “work” the crowd.

He said that we should group together prior to entering the network function and learn at least three facts about each other: (1) professional interests (really, what type of law are you interested in); (2) hobbies; and (3) a fun fact about yourself.  Armed with at least the above three things about each person in your small group, you hit the network floor and introduce yourself to as many people as you can.  Once you start talking with someone, guide the conversation by asking questions that may answer one or more of the topics you know about each of your group members.  Ask questions like: What do you do professionally?  Do you have any hobbies?  Etc.  The answers from the individuals you talk to will align at some point with one or more of your colleagues interests.  It is then your job to introduce this person to your colleague for which there is a shared interest.  If done successfully, you will have multiplied your coverage of the room by the amount of people in your group as each person is looking out for the best interests of each other.  This method works great.  In a room of probably 500+ people, I was able to meet more individuals with whom I shared an interest than I would have if I had done it on my own.  I was also able to help my colleagues make valuable connections.  Try it for yourself.

Managing Your Safety Net-work

Making connections is usually the fun and easy part of building a professional network.  Alternatively, maintaining your existing network can be damn near exhausting depending on the size of the network you wish to maintain.  J.T. and I have worked hard to connect with as many individuals as possible in order to widen our book of business, but a widening book of business requires structure and organization to effectively maintain.  Through trial and error, combined with a little bit of research, we came across Judy Robinett‘s book How to Be a Power Connector:  The 5+50+100 Rule for Turning Your Business Network into Profits that gave us some ideas on how to stay connected with our network.  Robinett’s book essentially teaches you ways to organize your network to make your network work for you.  By organizing your network in categories, you allow yourself to be more effective with your network.

Keep Your Eyes and Mind Open

Do not, do not, do not, do not, I repeat, DO NOT limit with whom you network.  Networking is supposed to not only expand your connections within your industry, but is also to expand your connections globally.  You never know who will be able to give you that invaluable lead or what business-changing advice you may receive from someone you least expected.  With no technological knowhow and no thought of working in a technology field, I made a connection with a software designer who ended up giving me a wealth of business advice.  You see, he was not just a software developer, but had started dozens of businesses of his own.  Although there are many differences between the business structure of a software company and a law firm, the business ideas helped guide the planning of the firm.  You never know where that lead or next big idea will come from, so keep your eyes and mind open to new opportunities.

We may supplement this blog post as we go forward, so check back for updates!


Attend Solo/Small Firm Conferences

Networking is an essential step in building your practice. One of the best decisions we have made thus far was to attend the Indiana State Bar Association (ISBA) Solo & Small Firm Conference. We were able to receive scholarships through IU McKinney’s Office of Professional Development.  Which, by the way, is another great reason to get connected with IU McKinney’s (or your own law school’s) Office of Professional Development.  We didn’t know that this conference existed or that we could receive scholarships to attend, but getting connected with the Office of Professional Development afforded us this opportunity.

The ISBA Solo/Small Firm Conference is routinely held in French Lick, IN. The conference is a three day whirlwind with cocktail hour meet-and-greets and sessions on technology, best practices, client matters, etc. The conference was a great chance for Ben and I to start to get to know other solos from around the state. We heard war stories, gleaned advice, and got to know people. One of the best parts of the conference is that new attendees are matched up with conference veterans or leaders in the ISBA. We were luckily matched up with Brandon Tate and Kevin Bowen of Tate and Bowen. We spent the conference chatting it up with newly minted solos and 20 year legal veterans. We spent time sharing our business plan with others and we soaked up as much advice as we could. One piece of advice that may seem obvious to some is that rather than attending sessions together Ben and I split up and attended different sessions. We met up after to share notes and compare impressions. It spread our reach and allowed us to cover more ground.

The The ISBA Solo/Small Firm Conference or any similar conference in your area is a great place to get quick feedback on your business plan, meet other solos, and start to make connections with not just other attorneys but with your state bar association as well. If you’re considering working for a small firm or going solo or even if you work for a medium to large-sized firm head to the ISBA Solo/Small Firm Conference. 2016 ISBA SSFC Brochure

What computer should I buy?

If you have gone through the process of deciding whether or not to start your own firm then I am sure you have begun to consider what technology you will need.  We will discuss specific tech items in other posts, but in our modern world an attorney really needs two things: his or her brain and a computer.  The question then becomes: what computer do I need?  There are countless blog posts out there about what type of computer to get.  These range from a full-fledged support for Macs and arguments for either from The Frugal Lawyer, but as Ben and I got started we found articles from Lawyerist to be quite helpful.

More than anything we have to agree with the Lawyerist article linked here and above.  You need to decide what you can afford and what you are comfortable with.  Ben and I decided to go with Macs.  The main reason we have done so is the compatibility with other apps and products we plan to use as well as Mac’s ease of use.  Further, we are limited in our resources so we didn’t want to have to budget for IT help.  I have used Macs since college (back in the early 2000s), and I used them when I was a teacher.  They are steady, secure, powerful, and they do what you want without fuss.  This was key for us as our laptops are going to be one of our most valued tools.

The takeaway: get what you are comfortable with, but be cognizant of what type of IT support you may need and what your budget limitations are.

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