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These days, pretty much any lawyer with a laptop, a cell phone, and a bar membership can start her own solo practice. There's no need for the wood-paneled offices or stacks of legal reporters. Solo practice can offer you more control and greater flexibility in your work, but it also requires that you take on the role of manager, accountant, marketer and more -- in addition to your legal responsibilities.
Lawyers thinking about opening their own practice should carefully consider their options beforehand. Here's three questions to ask before you go solo:
1. How Will You Make Your Money?
Where will your business come from? Do you have established clients who will follow you to your own practice or a strong network of potential new business? Or will you have to start from scratch, putting together an entirely new Rolodex? Lawyers thinking of going solo should seriously consider their likely billings and how much business they will need in order to stay afloat.
Before you go solo, put together a conservative estimate of your potential business and as well as expected costs for support services, office space, legal research, malpractice insurance and other operating expenses. Make sure the numbers work out.
2. Are You a Salesman?
If you want your solo practice to last, you'll have to know your ABCs -- that is, how to "always be closing." Being a solo practitioner means you need to be more than just a lawyer -- you're also a salesperson, so get your pitch ready.
For many lawyers, this might not be a major problem; the client development and retention skills you've developed at a firm are just as applicable to solo practice. But, if you're shy about sales, remember, once you're solo there's no one there to bring in business except you.
3. Can You Economize?
Goodbye feast, hello famine. If you're moving from big firm to your own firm, get ready to tighten your belt. It's not just the perks that will disappear -- you'll now be paying for those divers home, fancy client dinners and bar dues -- but some of the basic services you may have come to rely on, like ample paralegals and an in-house IT department.
Be realistic about income as well. Few lucky solo lawyers get rich after they hang their shingle and many work for years just scraping by. If you're thinking of going solo, make sure that you'll be able to survive on a more modest income, at least a first.
But, if you can get your clientele, marketing and finances firmly established, you might just make it after all.