10 Mar Why I Went Solo
Even though I am something of an introvert, I actually like meeting new people. Of course, when meeting new people, the familiar question comes up, “What do you do?” meaning what do you do for a living. If I am feeling a bit snarky, I might respond with “Depends on the day.” But I usually follow up with “I am an attorney on most days.” When meeting non-lawyers, the most common question I get is “What kind of law do you practice?” Which is fair and leads usually to some good conversations. When I meet other lawyers I might get the same question, or perhaps I might get “What firm are you with?” To which I reply “My own.”
Since I became a solo attorney, I have met a fair number of solo attorneys, through bar functions, through networking events (formal and informal), and sometimes just randomly. Often the early conversation with other solos will be, “Why did you go solo?”
I wish I could say it was a conscious choice, made with a clear head and a clear plan. Alas, that is not so. Looking back I wish I had more of a plan, but I was with a good small law firm that gave me a lot of learning in a very short period of time. However, it was a litigation firm and while my bosses where not the kind of people who wanted their associates working 70+ hours a week, my schedule really was not my own. I also found myself learning how to be a litigator and not really developing a deep understanding of any one aspect of the law outside of civil procedure.
I found myself dissatisfied with how my life was. When I met clients there was always a big problem, either they needed to sue someone or they were being sued. I just didn’t like that atmosphere, it can be so negative and exhausting. As a litigator, your time is controlled by court schedules, deadlines of one type or another, by the actions or inaction of opposing counsel, and the demands of clients in a very stressful situation.
I look back on my “decision” to go solo and realize that at the time, subconsciously, I had been leaning toward solo for a while, I just hadn’t seen it.
So to answer the question, when I made the commitment to be a solo attorney, I wanted a few things out of my practice.
- I wanted it to be a positive experience for my clients and ultimately for me. That meant make a conscious decision to avoid saying “No.” Too many clients see lawyers as a obstacle, I wanted to find a way to say “Yes” to clients.
- I wanted to be an advisor, someone who can help clients achieve their goals, not just fix problems after they arise. For many lawyers, they find themselves in a reactive state (I certainly was as a litigator). Clients come to lawyers with problems and say “Fix it.” I wanted to be someone that clients could trust to talk about ideas.
- I wanted to be able to be constantly learning new things from clients. The law is a “learned” profession and I wanted to learn the law, but I also wanted to learn the businesses I was representing.
- Most of all, I wanted to do it myself. So I don’t have any paid staff, I don’t have any associates, and while I generally work five or six days a week, I don’t have to do it in business hours format. I realize if I don’t work, I don’t get paid, but I can accept that balance.
Going solo is not for everyone, but for me, it has allowed me to begin to build a practice and a professional life that engages my mind. I could have achieved the first three goals above in a traditional law firm, but I have learned so much more having to rely on no one but myself and my family.
I am building something and succeed for fail, no one can take the effort and lessons I learn from this experience away from me.