Solo Wannabee wonders whether you can start a law practice part time. Surprisingly, the conventional wisdom on this question is no, that solo practice demands full time commitment to make it and that client demands are full time. But that’s not my view. As I’ve said before, there are as many right ways to hang a shingle as there are shinglers – and a part time practice can work just fine provided you manage expectations properly.
One of the misconceptions of part time practice, and one that I made myself when I was working part time, is that part time means a twenty or twenty five hour billable work week. But that’s not the case. I mean, you could just work 20 billable hours a week – but what happens when that work dries up and you’ve not been diligently marketing?
In reality, a twenty or twenty five hour work week means that you’ll be
spending at least five hours a week on networking events or other
client development (including blogging), and a few hours on
administrative tasks. So when all is said and done, you might just be
billing 15 hours a week. You may also have to exceed your hours some weeks or work odd hours to meet client demands.
And that’s another misconception of part time practice: it doesn’t always seem part time. Before my girls were in school full time and I worked a reduced schedule, I often spent several
hours putting in time on weekends or evenings to make a deadline
because I was watching my daughters during the day. My husband and
parents wondered why I was always working, but in reality, I was merely
just making up time that I’d lost during the week.
Many times, I was also frustrated by the limitations of part time
practice. Sometimes, I’d have to miss an interesting networking event
because I didn’t have childcare at a particular time to watch my
daughters or turn down work because it was too erratic.
But to my mind, while succeeding at a part time practice may be a bit more of challenge, the benefits are well worth the extra effort. For example, even if you can only put in ten or fifteen billable hours a week, if you’re averaging even $100 an hour for
that time, that’s not a bad annual take for a part timer. More importantly, in
contrast to a part time job at a law firm that reduces your schedule but has you working 35 hours a week and throws you off partnership track, when
you work part time for yourself, you build up equity in your practice
and reputation little by little. So when and if you decide to go full
time, you’ve already laid the ground work.