My Shingle

Going Solo Right After Law School

by Carolyn Elefant on February 7, 2005 · 13 comments

in Questions & Advice, Should I Solo?, Solo Out of Law School

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One of our readers writes:

I graduated law school last year and am finishing
up another graduate degree…and am
taking the bar this summer.  For law students with
little “real world” legal training (some law
clerking), any advice on going solo out of law school?
I read on your site about attorneys getting $40/hr
court appointed cases, but I much prefer non-trial
work.

For starters (and even though my reader didn’t ask this question), I harbor mixed feelings about attorneys going solo immediately after law school.   On the one hand, I absolutely believe that with enough determination and desire, going solo after law school can be done successfully (and when my archives return, I’ll post to links to stories about where that has happened).  Moreover, for new graduates who’ve had careers prior ot law school and potential contacts through that experience, going solo right after law school may be the best way to capitalize on prior work experience.

At the same time, however, I don’t think going solo is an optimal situation for new graduates.  It’s not so much because new grads lack legal experience but rather, they haven’t yet developed contacts in the legal and business community.   Going solo is exhilerating, yes, but it can also be demanding and nervewracking.  It’s tough enough to try to master new skills and run a business and market while at the same time havingthe added burden of introducing yourself to  other lawyers in the community and establishing some credibility with them.

A post-law school job – even one that only lasts a year or two – can help a new grad establish presence and credibility and get paid for doing it.  For example, if you work for a judge after law school, you have an opportunity to meet the dozens of lawyers who appear before the court.  You also have a chance to join the local bar and perhaps organize CLEs or other events which is a great way to get to know colleagues.  All while you’re collecting a paycheck.  Same is true for a post law school job at any firm big or small.  The second advantage of working for a spell before starting a firm is that your former employers can serve as references for the quality of your work if someone is thinking abour referring a matter.

Having said that – and getting to the point of the question – there’s much that  new graduates with no interest in litigation can do to get a practice off the ground.  For starters, they can seek out contract work – either a large document review project or work for other attorneys.  If they’re interested in probate matters, they might want to try to set up a relationship with a PI or immigration attorney and see if those attorneys will refer their clients for wills and estate matters.  New grads can also give talks on business start ups or T&E matters to community groups as a way to drum up business.  And to gain skills, many jurisdictions offer inexpensive or free pro bono training on a variety of areas, including bankruptcy, wills and guardianships which teach the basics.  Usually, the only cost is a commitment to take on a case or two pro bono.

This is just a quick answer – and not entirely comprehensive due to time constraints.  Therefore, I’d like some feedback from readers on tips you have on getting started after law school – and of course, any success stories you might be willing to share.  And of course, keep reading MyShingle.com (and our online guide) for new tips on starting a firm, as they emerge.

  • http://blog.tph-lex.com Tim Hadley

    The people I know who have started out soloing have usually started out in litigation, in the higher-demand personal law areas like family law. I haven’t met anyone yet who started soloing in transactional practice areas right out of law school; even if they do have some transactional work, it seems to be litigation that puts food on the table.
    From a marketing perspective, contacts are indeed a crucial point. When the people I know who have gone from firms (of any size) to solo practice recall the transition, they tend to mention how helpful it was to have contacts in the community already.
    I’ve had nearly two years of experience in a small firm, and although the notion of solo practice crosses my mind occasionally, I’m not planning to go solo — at least, not yet. I want to do business and real estate transactions. Those matters comprised part of my former practice, but commercial and property litigation threatened to dominate. I’d like to broaden and deepen my transactional experience while working with others before I seriously consider striking out on my own (and maybe I never will).
    Of course, I’m sure it also makes a difference that I don’t have extra money to sink into starting a firm of my own.
    So instead of focusing on starting my own firm, I’m focusing on changing locales. That’s challenging enough for now, and it does accommodate the idea of soloing later on, because I’ve answered the question: if I had a solo practice, would I want it to be in Denver or in the Boulder area? (The answer is definitely Boulder.)

  • http://blog.tph-lex.com Tim Hadley

    The people I know who have started out soloing have usually started out in litigation, in the higher-demand personal law areas like family law. I haven’t met anyone yet who started soloing in transactional practice areas right out of law school; even if they do have some transactional work, it seems to be litigation that puts food on the table.
    From a marketing perspective, contacts are indeed a crucial point. When the people I know who have gone from firms (of any size) to solo practice recall the transition, they tend to mention how helpful it was to have contacts in the community already.
    I’ve had nearly two years of experience in a small firm, and although the notion of solo practice crosses my mind occasionally, I’m not planning to go solo — at least, not yet. I want to do business and real estate transactions. Those matters comprised part of my former practice, but commercial and property litigation threatened to dominate. I’d like to broaden and deepen my transactional experience while working with others before I seriously consider striking out on my own (and maybe I never will).
    Of course, I’m sure it also makes a difference that I don’t have extra money to sink into starting a firm of my own.
    So instead of focusing on starting my own firm, I’m focusing on changing locales. That’s challenging enough for now, and it does accommodate the idea of soloing later on, because I’ve answered the question: if I had a solo practice, would I want it to be in Denver or in the Boulder area? (The answer is definitely Boulder.)

  • http://www.alnyethelawyerguy.com Al Nye

    I’d suggest buying Jay Foonberg’s book HOW TO START & BUILD A LAW PRACTICE. My review of the book is located on my blog here: http://tinyurl.com/44vsa
    Al Nye

  • http://www.alnyethelawyerguy.com Al Nye

    I’d suggest buying Jay Foonberg’s book HOW TO START & BUILD A LAW PRACTICE. My review of the book is located on my blog here: http://tinyurl.com/44vsa
    Al Nye

  • http://www.bluecollarlaw.com David Galalis

    I have always had visions of owning my own firm ever since I decided to go to law school. (The reasons are deeply intrinsic and too expansive to discuss here). I will be launching my “blue collar” practice in Brooklyn, New York, in January 2006, after my clerkship with the Massachusetts Superior Court ends and I’ve had time to settle into my new home. (I originally had intentions of putting down roots in Boston, but hey, life is what happens when you’re making other plans).
    Something important to consider in the equation of WHEN to go solo is the fact that starting a business is risky no matter when you start it. So, better to start a business when you don’t have much to risk.
    For me, as a young twenty-something with no kids, no mortgage, no elderly parents, and a rediculous excess of energy, now is that narrow window in my life when I have very little to risk. My legitimate concern is that the longer I wait before making the leap, the more difficult it will become. And eventually, that window will close–I’ll have become satiated on a steady paycheck, I’ll have much greater family obligations, a taste for luxury, and no amount of experience or contacts will be able to give me the push I need to step out into thin air.
    So, my advice is this: do it while you have the energy, while you can afford to take some risks. That energy will eventually fade, and life’s obligtations will have a tendancy to make you paralytically risk-adverse. And as far as experience, you’ll gain it the same way a first year associate does–through other attorneys. The only difference is that these attorneys will be other solos or small firm practitioners with more work than they can handle, but who don’t have the means to hire a full time employee. So, they’ll hire you instead on a contract basis, and a necessary element of that contract will be the guidance and advice you need to complete the assignment.
    But in the end, only you know what your dreams are, what your motivations are. If being solo is the only way you can be happy, regardless of the risk of failure, then you’ve already made your decision. Life is short. Do it while you can.
    Cheers!
    David Galalis, Esq.

  • http://www.bluecollarlaw.com David Galalis

    I have always had visions of owning my own firm ever since I decided to go to law school. (The reasons are deeply intrinsic and too expansive to discuss here). I will be launching my “blue collar” practice in Brooklyn, New York, in January 2006, after my clerkship with the Massachusetts Superior Court ends and I’ve had time to settle into my new home. (I originally had intentions of putting down roots in Boston, but hey, life is what happens when you’re making other plans).
    Something important to consider in the equation of WHEN to go solo is the fact that starting a business is risky no matter when you start it. So, better to start a business when you don’t have much to risk.
    For me, as a young twenty-something with no kids, no mortgage, no elderly parents, and a rediculous excess of energy, now is that narrow window in my life when I have very little to risk. My legitimate concern is that the longer I wait before making the leap, the more difficult it will become. And eventually, that window will close–I’ll have become satiated on a steady paycheck, I’ll have much greater family obligations, a taste for luxury, and no amount of experience or contacts will be able to give me the push I need to step out into thin air.
    So, my advice is this: do it while you have the energy, while you can afford to take some risks. That energy will eventually fade, and life’s obligtations will have a tendancy to make you paralytically risk-adverse. And as far as experience, you’ll gain it the same way a first year associate does–through other attorneys. The only difference is that these attorneys will be other solos or small firm practitioners with more work than they can handle, but who don’t have the means to hire a full time employee. So, they’ll hire you instead on a contract basis, and a necessary element of that contract will be the guidance and advice you need to complete the assignment.
    But in the end, only you know what your dreams are, what your motivations are. If being solo is the only way you can be happy, regardless of the risk of failure, then you’ve already made your decision. Life is short. Do it while you can.
    Cheers!
    David Galalis, Esq.

  • http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2005/02/to_solo_or_not_.html Legal Blog Watch

    TO SOLO OR NOT TO SOLO? 3L WANTS ADVICE…

    A 3L student has written to Soloist Carolyn Elefant and asked her for advice on whether to hang out a shingle right after graduation. Elefant weighs the merits — and her own mixed feelings — about attorneys going solo immediately

  • http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2005/02/to_solo_or_not_.html Legal Blog Watch

    TO SOLO OR NOT TO SOLO? 3L WANTS ADVICE…

    A 3L student has written to Soloist Carolyn Elefant and asked her for advice on whether to hang out a shingle right after graduation. Elefant weighs the merits — and her own mixed feelings — about attorneys going solo immediately

  • http://www.sctriallaw.com/-92-starting-your-own-practice-out-of-law-school.html South Carolina Trial Law Blog

    Starting Your Own Practice Out of Law School

    A third year law student wrote to Carolyn Elefant of Myshingle and asked the following question: I graduated law school last year and am finishing up another graduate degree…and am taking the bar this summer.  For law students with little…

  • http://www.sctriallaw.com/-92-starting-your-own-practice-out-of-law-school.html South Carolina Trial Law Blog

    Starting Your Own Practice Out of Law School

    A third year law student wrote to Carolyn Elefant of Myshingle and asked the following question: I graduated law school last year and am finishing up another graduate degree…and am taking the bar this summer.  For law students with little…

  • Carlos

    David Galalis, thanks a lot for the info. I will also be starting a solo in Brooklyn, though I plan to do contract work first for gain experience and confidence. Your post was very helpful because it spoke about the intangibles like energy and opportunity and hit on concerns I am facing now. I haven’t been able to get a FT job since I graduated law school in 04 so I’m going to have to make my dream of owning my own firm happen sooner than I thought.
    Tim, I also found your respose helpful because I am also interested in transactional Commercial and Real Estate work, but I wonder if one can start off as a solo and work themselves into those type of deals, or do you feel the experince can only be gotten from working at a firm first? Would I have to cultivate mentors to lead me through each new deal as a senior attorney would?

  • Carlos

    David Galalis, thanks a lot for the info. I will also be starting a solo in Brooklyn, though I plan to do contract work first for gain experience and confidence. Your post was very helpful because it spoke about the intangibles like energy and opportunity and hit on concerns I am facing now. I haven’t been able to get a FT job since I graduated law school in 04 so I’m going to have to make my dream of owning my own firm happen sooner than I thought.
    Tim, I also found your respose helpful because I am also interested in transactional Commercial and Real Estate work, but I wonder if one can start off as a solo and work themselves into those type of deals, or do you feel the experince can only be gotten from working at a firm first? Would I have to cultivate mentors to lead me through each new deal as a senior attorney would?

  • Chris

    There is no doubt that more and more law students will be going solo after attending law school. That is why sites like yours are so important and why I started http://www.lonelysolo.com for solo lawyers to network. I really hope that the experienced generation will take the time to help eachother and the newer generation without charging them tons of money that they already don’t have.

    My main concern is that many students leave with 100s of thousands of dollars of debt and as soon as they graduate when they try to start a solo practice they are bombarded with fees from the bar, incorporation fees, practice management fees, fees for phones, virtual office space, and more. The last thing they need is tohave to pay for a solid mentor. Shouldn’t the legal community help its younger members get on their feet in these difficult economic times instead of taking their money and still letting them start failing solo practices?

    I hope the legal community agrees.

    Chris
    http://www.lonelysolo.com

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