An interview with Solo Practice University Founder and CEO Susan Cartier Liebel by Nancy Patterson of LITIG8R TECH
Susan Cartier Liebel is passionate about changing the way law schools educate their students and the way the legal community receives solos and small firms. A former solo practitioner and small firm owner, she understands first-hand the issues facing law school graduates and attorneys who are considering going solo or small firm. Today, she is the sole proprietor of a growing online educational and professional networking e-learning community called Solo Practice University®. Approaching their 1,000th subscriber this month, Solo Practice University (SPU) was founded in 2009 as the only online educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students wanting to go solo or small firm. The seed for SPU was planted years earlier while Liebel was teaching a law school class entitled How to Hang a Shingle Right Out of Law School. We caught up with Susan recently:
LITIG8R TECH: How different is the syllabus for your How to Hang a Shingle Right Out of Law School course compared to what SPU is today?
Susan Cartier Liebel: It’s dramatically different! SPU has more than fifty faculty teaching almost 1,000 lawyers and law students the nuances of what they know best from marketing to technology to the nuts and bolts of handling a personal injury case to social media to legal ethics to taxes for solos and so much more – over 700 individual classes – versus just little ‘ol me teaching about the business-side of going solo to thirty law students.
LT: What do you think are the top three indicators of success for going solo?
1) Drive to succeed and a commitment to surmount obstacles regardless of what they are. If more than 50% of lawyers are solo then there is no new obstacle that hasn’t already been overcome by those who went before you or those who will come after you.
2) Keeping overhead to a minimum. This doesn’t mean not spending money. It means spending money wisely. Learn to repurpose what you already have, accept that it’s okay to grow into the practice you want and you don’t need to have it all from day one.
3) Recognizing you must reach out to others for help and mentorship in person and on line. Sometimes it is simply easier to connect through social media. I can’t tell you how many people I work with whom I’ve never met but we connected online. Going solo doesn’t mean you go it alone and you shouldn’t.
LT: How has technology helped the solo practitioner and small law firms?
SCL: Technology has evened the playing field from marketing to practice management software to legal research and virtual help. Many of these tools can be found for free or very low cost and are a good starting point. You can outsource so much of the backend of your practice (not your professional and ethical obligations, though). It has also helped the consumer of legal services because with the advent of virtual technology, solos can have a greater demographic reach if they create a practice which has an online component, if not all online. The costs of these technologies are peanuts and as a result they can accomplish much more while spending less and staying competitive with those who do not take advantage of these technologies. It does require time management skills but these can be learned and should be implemented on day 1.
LT: The current shift in the legal landscape has left many lawyers not practicing law and many law students without a job after graduation. What is your message to these lawyers?
SCL: If you know you want to practice law then you have to find a way to do so that doesn’t require you to go the traditional path from law school to a large firm or clerkship. You have to get creative. You have to see opportunities where others don’t. For some this could be focusing in on an area in the practice of law where lawyers need help. You could develop an app or you could develop a service to serve the lawyers. I know many who have done just that. You can consider starting a solo practice if you know you must serve clients. It’s not for everyone and it’s hard work but it is among the most gratifying ways to practice law.
LT: Tell us how someone can join your online learning community and make the most of it:
SCL: Whether you are in law school, working a BigLaw job, or just curious about certain practice areas, Solo Practice University provides an environment where you can learn about the 360 degree experience of going solo – everything you weren’t taught in law school – and with similarly-situated peers. When you enroll you have access to absolutely everything we offer and depending upon the time period you enroll (monthly, quarterly, or annually) you also get unlimited online CLE. If you’re sincere about learning how to go solo, Solo Practice University is eminently affordable, the education is priceless.
More about Susan Cartier Liebel: Susan is a coach/consultant for solos, entrepreneur mentor for LawWithoutWalls.org, attorney who started her own practice right out of law school, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law for eight years teaching law students how to open their own practices, frequent speaker, columnist for LawyersUSA Weekly, Connecticut Law Tribune, The Complete Lawyer, and Law.com, she has contributed to numerous legal publications and books offering both practical knowledge and inspiration.
- Nancy Patterson