My Shingle

Biglaw Associates Find Happiness in Solo Practice

by Carolyn Elefant on February 2, 2007 · 10 comments

in Biglaw to Solo, Solo Practice Trends, Solo Profiles

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Via Stephanie West Allen, I learned about this article, Who Says Being A Lawyer Has to Suck? from a recent issue of San Francisco Magazine.  The article describes how Gen Y lawyers are making “lawyering something that doesn’t bore everyone to death at a party?”  And guess how they’re doing it?   By starting their own law firms.

Consider the case of one attorney mentioned in the article, former firm associate, Joshua Ridless.  From the article, here’s his story:

“Before I started my own firm, I was depressed, overweight, and didn’t have time for a personal life,” he says. Now, Ridless spends almost half his time doing something he’s always wanted to do–advising clients on their business plans. He complains if his work is interfering with the hours he needs to spend each day training for triathlons, fulfilling his duties as president of the Barristers (a group for lawyers who’ve been practicing less than 10 years), or doing pro bono work for local community centers. “I have time to do everything I want to do,” Ridless says.

Two other biglaw expatriates, Kassra Nassiri and Charles Jung also started their own firm, litigating “multimilllion dollar cases.”  And they’re doing even more good by hiring stay at home moms who found life at biglaw too demanding to allow for a decent work life balance.

Still, the question remains:  should these lawyers have bypassed biglaw
entirely and started a practice straight out of school?  I say no, and
the article supplies some evidence for my position.  The first time out
as a solo, Nassiri’s firm failed, and he nearly went bankrupt.  So he
retreated to a large firm to regroup, before jumping ship two years
later.

Had Nassiri not worked at a large firm before going solo, he’d likely
have never had a chance to return.  When you start a firm, you
shouldn’t plan for failure, of course.   At the same time, if you have a great
opportunity waiting after law school, be it a prominent judicial clerkship or a position with a well known firm, there are some advantages to taking that kind of position for a couple of years to keep your options open.  You never know when you
may need a biglaw credential on resume.

I’m not implying that these kinds of credentials are necessary for success as a solo.  As I’ve said many times, anyone can succeed at solo practice from any background, so long as they’ve got determination, resourcefulness and passion for running an independent practice.  At the same time, just because you decide to go solo, doesn’t mean that you should abandon conventional advice about keeping other options open, if they’re available to you.

  • Sam

    I agree that being a biglaw associate is a miserable life. I’ve been doing it for less than six months and I’m ready to leave. I’ve been saving as much as I can so that once I get admitted I can move to a lower cost of living area and hang my own shingle. Biglaw is not worth it.

  • Sam

    I agree that being a biglaw associate is a miserable life. I’ve been doing it for less than six months and I’m ready to leave. I’ve been saving as much as I can so that once I get admitted I can move to a lower cost of living area and hang my own shingle. Biglaw is not worth it.

  • elguapo

    I worked at BIG(f?)LAW for 4 1/2 years before quitting and hanging a shingle. It’s less money, but the QOL is a lot better.

  • elguapo

    I worked at BIG(f?)LAW for 4 1/2 years before quitting and hanging a shingle. It’s less money, but the QOL is a lot better.

  • http://dysonlaw.justia.net Tamar I. Dyson

    I worked for two Biglaw firms. I think that the experience was invaluable because I never had to wonder “what if?” and the credentials are good. But none of my clients even know what the terms Order of the Coif or Mofo mean. They just know that I care about them and their business plans and purposes. I can pick and choose the clients I want to handle and remain available for my teenage daughters. Life cannot get better than this for me. “The Happy Lawyer!” Now there’s a niche practice for you.

  • http://dysonlaw.justia.net Tamar I. Dyson

    I worked for two Biglaw firms. I think that the experience was invaluable because I never had to wonder “what if?” and the credentials are good. But none of my clients even know what the terms Order of the Coif or Mofo mean. They just know that I care about them and their business plans and purposes. I can pick and choose the clients I want to handle and remain available for my teenage daughters. Life cannot get better than this for me. “The Happy Lawyer!” Now there’s a niche practice for you.

  • http://www.kimbrolaw.com Kimbro

    I think lawyers better serve their clients when they are content with their own lives and careers. I started my own online law practice so that I could stay at home with my young daughter (now 13months!) and continue to practice law. Having the flexibility of managing my own firm and caring for my family at the same time makes me less stressed as a person and that means that I can focus more on the projects I do for my clients. I hope more young men and women in our profession (parents or not)find out that it is a great option that’s out there.

  • http://www.kimbrolaw.com Kimbro

    I think lawyers better serve their clients when they are content with their own lives and careers. I started my own online law practice so that I could stay at home with my young daughter (now 13months!) and continue to practice law. Having the flexibility of managing my own firm and caring for my family at the same time makes me less stressed as a person and that means that I can focus more on the projects I do for my clients. I hope more young men and women in our profession (parents or not)find out that it is a great option that’s out there.

  • JD

    I’m sorry, I know there is enthusiasm for small firm / solo life here…but as a former biglaw lawyer, I can tell you, life on your own is gutwrenching. Not knowing when you are going to pay yourself, not knowing if you’ll be cut off by a client who just wants a biglaw firm…I find it unnerving.
    Sure, I have more free time, but I spend all the time either freaking out about my future, feeling depressed about the possibility of admitting failure and the humiliation it brings, or trying to distract myself. Hanging a shingle is MUCH harder than working at a biglaw firm.

  • JD

    I’m sorry, I know there is enthusiasm for small firm / solo life here…but as a former biglaw lawyer, I can tell you, life on your own is gutwrenching. Not knowing when you are going to pay yourself, not knowing if you’ll be cut off by a client who just wants a biglaw firm…I find it unnerving.
    Sure, I have more free time, but I spend all the time either freaking out about my future, feeling depressed about the possibility of admitting failure and the humiliation it brings, or trying to distract myself. Hanging a shingle is MUCH harder than working at a biglaw firm.

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