Going Solo Right Out of Law School — To Partner Up or Not?

by Law School Toolbox
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Please welcome back to the blog Rachel Rodgers, the intellectual property and business lawyer for digital Rachel Rodgers headshotentrepreneurs. Rachel is here to talk about a subject a lot of young lawyers think about – starting a solo practice and whether to find a partner in the venture.

You can hear more great advice from Rachel at the Catapult Conference – where she’ll be a speaker!

Welcome, Rachel.

Many times, after deciding to open a practice rather than joining an established firm, people start to wonder if they really should go it alone.

The question of “Should I partner with another attorney to start a practice rather than go solo?” is one that I hear a lot.

If you ask a new lawyer or law student, you’ll often get an answer that supports joining forces. But the answer I most often hear from more experienced lawyers is no, or more resoundingly, “Hell no!” So why the disconnect?

The Benefits of an Early Partnership

Starting a solo practice is a very scary idea and often times, the amount of negative feedback you’ll get from every long lost relative or well-meaning friend can be overwhelming.

Simply having a partner who has already bought into the idea of starting a practice with you can be very reassuring.

There is at least one other person who doesn’t think you’re crazy for this dream you have.

Plus that elusive partner will also help share the burden of starting a practice. Because let’s get real here, starting your law practice is going to be an immense undertaking and just the idea of having someone to help you is going to be enticing. They’ll be there to share the workload (and the financial investment) and be a sounding board as you build the practice.

The One (Big) Drawback

However, there are some serious drawbacks by partnering with another young lawyer early on.

By adding a partner you are greatly increasing the money you need to generate from day one.

The financial stress of building a practice is substantial, but it is much easier to support one person with a fledgling practice than it is to support two. We all have dreams of starting a practice and earning $20k a month immediately but the reality is that it takes time to generate that level of revenue. Those early, lean months are much easier to survive if there is only one partner to support.

While some young lawyers could greatly benefit from partnering with the right person, having a partner in your new venture will not provide the support you really need.

Another young lawyer in the exact same situation as you, will have the same questions and struggle with the same issues you’re struggling with.

Additionally, the issues of loneliness, significant responsibility and having someone to bounce ideas off of can be dealt with in a much simpler way. Building a network of other solos that can support you and, in turn, that you can support is a much easier and more effective way to build your practice.

Building a Supportive Network of Solos

Building a supportive network of attorneys is a less-risky, more efficient way to build your practice. Use social media, conferences and bar events to make connections with your colleagues who have already gone through building their own solo firm. They’ll remember the fear they experienced when they went solo and they’ll probably also remember the excitement.

These supportive people are the ones who will help you as you build your practice. They are the ones who will respond to your emails and send you resources when you need them. And, as you grow and learn, you’ll be able to do the same for them. There’s also the added bonus of client referrals, information about everything from productivity apps to helpful books, and developing a community. Coincidentally, it’s also how you will find the right business partner down the road, if you eventually decide partnering is right for you.

Going at it alone IS scary, I’m not going to lie. But it can be done.

I had little experience at running a law firm when I started my practice with $300, an old laptop and 2 clients. It’s true that I had a one-year judicial clerkship after law school and that clerkship definitely built my confidence. But clerking is not practicing law and it did not prepare me for building a solo practice.

Building Your Confidence as a Young Solo

I recommend reading Jay Foonberg’s How to Start & Build a Law Practice. He spends the first few chapters of the book making a case for going solo right out of law school.

One of the excellent points that he makes is that there is no job out there that will prepare you for really practicing law as a solo.

Practicing at big firms for several years doesn’t guarantee you’ll have any transferable skills to starting a small solo firm. And even working at someone else’s small firm may not help you acquire the skills to run your own practice.

There are really only a few requirements for starting your own solo practice right out of law school:

  • First, you have to graduate.
  • Second, you have to pass the bar.
  • Third, you have to want to do it.
  • And lastly, you have to be prepared to work your ass off in the process.

Those four things are truly all you need to start your practice.

Having a partner is not likely to make it easier. And in fact, it may make it harder.

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