Many lawyers are frustrated by their firm’s dysfunction. For some, an obvious solution is to start their own firm, but fears of going solo hold them back.
As a consultant, I’ve worked with many lawyers frustrated by their law firm’s dysfunction. For some, an obvious solution to escape the toxic environment is to go solo and hang out the proverbial shingle. But counterintuitively, these same lawyers who can confidently tell their clients what to do when faced with legal problems don’t have the faith in themselves to strike out on their own.
Top 10 Fears of Going Solo
The lack of self-confidence is often based on ill-founded fears about going solo, fears based on perceptions that are not reality. Here are my top 10, in no particular order of importance.
1. My Clients Won’t Follow Me
There’s a reason why the conventional wisdom that clients hire lawyers, not law firms, is the conventional wisdom. It’s true. Clients develop relationships with lawyers, not law firms. Few clients care if a law firm has one name or multiple ones. Of course, there are exceptions. But don’t let the exceptions swallow up the rule. While not all of your clients will follow you, trust me that most will. I can’t guarantee it, but it’s a bet that I’d be willing to take.
2. My Job Will Be Less Secure
The only lawyers who have genuine job security are those with clients. The size of the firm makes no difference. So if your clients follow you, and most will, your job will be just as secure as it was at the firm.
3. I Can’t Afford It
Really? You should consider yourself lucky that you are in a profession with relatively low start-up costs. You may not even need a permanent office presence in these post-pandemic days. You probably already have a laptop and a printer, and it doesn’t cost too much to create your own website or hire someone to do that for you. We’re talking thousands for start-up costs, not tens of thousands. And if you don’t believe me, read some of the past posts on this website and others about starting your own firm. Will you have to delay a house remodel? Probably. But you won’t have to take out a second mortgage.
4. My Former Colleagues Will Hate Me
You’re kidding me, right? You are afraid of this? Remember, the primary reason you want to leave is that you either dislike or don’t respect (and oftentimes, both) these same people. Why should you care what they think of you now?
5. Nobody Will Be Around to Brainstorm With Me
A colleague doesn’t have to be down the hall to bounce ideas around with others. Some of your friendly competitors, especially other solos, will be more than happy to talk on the phone or answer a text or email. Join a listserv or chat group. Do some conventional and social networking. The well will not be dry. Just remember to return the favor.
6. I’ll be Lonely
I won’t lie to you. There will be less water cooler talk. Many of you had to get used to a more isolated environment during the pandemic and you somehow managed. In the post-pandemic world, you can get out there and meet people for coffee, lunch, or a drink. In effect, being solo will force you to network more than you probably do at your firm, which of course, should bring in more business. That’s a win-win.
7. I Don’t Know How to Run a Business
Okay, you have me there. You are probably correct. This fear is real, but it should not stop you. While you may not be very capable, you are more capable than you think. Very few lawyers in law firms of any size have business acumen. Fortunately, the availability of good billing and law firm management software can make up for many of your deficiencies while you learn.
Also, think about other solo and small firm owners you know who seem to be making a respectable and decent living. They don’t know anything more about running a business than you do. How do I know? Because I have worked with many. Many are clueless, but for most practice areas, profit margins are so high that there’s plenty of room for error. Further, if you only make a few errors, you’ll make more money than you did at your old law firm.
8. I’ll Miss the Prestige
For those of you who work in Big Law, all I can say is to ask yourself if the prestige is worth whatever beef you have about your law firm. This is especially so if your beef is your emotional well-being. Don’t worry too much. You can still tell family, friends and strangers that you’re a lawyer. That should be enough prestige for most of you.
9. I’ll Have to Turn Down Big Cases
Have you heard of co-counseling and referral fee arrangements? If you are fortunate enough to have that big case walk in the door, plenty of lawyers will be more than happy to help you. This is a good problem to have.
10. I Hate Change and Fear the Unknown
Who doesn’t? Just some hate it more than others. You’re in good company. Isn’t it time to proactively manage your career and not be like most colleagues who make changes only when forced by a crisis? Going solo can be your way to get out in front of the curve.
Cory Booker, the senator from New Jersey, once remarked:
It is better to have your ship sunk at sea than have it rot in the harbor.
Don’t let your career rot at your dysfunctional firm.
While going solo may not always be smooth sailing, the chances are excellent that your solo practice will stay afloat for years to come.