My Shingle

The Economy Scares Me Too, But I Know Something You Don’t

by Carolyn Elefant on February 1, 2009 · 18 comments

in Encouragement, MyShingle Solo, Should I Solo?

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If you are a lawyer at a large firm, I know that you are terrified right now.   The carnage at AmLaw 200 is growing:  858 layoffs last week alone, according to Lawshucks.com, for a total of 1528 for the month and 3290 since January 2008.  And even if you’re just a law student, we all know the consequences of the cutbacks: more unemployed lawyers flooding the market, snatching up jobs and squeezing out newbies.

Well guess what?  I’m scared too, at least part of the time.  That’s probably the last thing that you wanted to hear.  After all, I’ve had my own firm for 15 years and I’ve been singing the praises of going solo since 2002, when I started MyShingle.  If being solo in this economy frightens someone like me, what hope is there?

Plenty, if you’re willing to think about starting your own practice.  Because if you’re able to muster the gumption or nerve or whatever you want to call it to birth a new practice out of the ashes of your career, you realize that you can always do it again.  When you start your own firm, you discover a survival instinct in yourself.  You find an invincibility that you never knew you had, because frankly, it never mattered as you dutifully plodded along the path you were supposed to take: law school, enduring the drudgery of document review for several years at biglaw and then making partner or moving in-house or perhaps even leaving the law to start a family.  But just because you chose a safe route, doesn’t mean that you don’t have it in you to start a firm.  We humans have an awesome survival capability and most of us find unexpected strength to rise to the occasion.

Don’t get me wrong.  Starting a firm isn’t a panacea in these troubled times.  Running a law firm is a risky business.  As a solo, from the day I opened my doors, I always knew that I could lose everything the next.  And believe me, I’ve had some major losses- cases, clients, opportunities – over the past fifteen years.  (Of course, as an aside, the realization that our firms are always vulnerable is what separates us solos from the hubris of biglaw, with its belief that the party would never end).

Still, if I know anything for sure from having started a firm, it’s this:  that I could do it again if I ever had to.  If my clients fire me tomorrow, if my phone doesn’t ring, I know that I have it in me to start all over again.  And once you start your own firm, you’ll realize that as well.  Perhaps you will fail, but more likely, you’ll succeed beyond your wildest dreams.  But either way, once you learn first hand what other solos and I have, your life will never be the same.

I’ll be hanging around Legal Tech on Tuesday, February 3 – hope I’ll get to meet some of you there.

  • http://www.lawyerbird.com Kimberly Alderman

    I smoked cigarettes for about ten years, and finally quit three years ago by reading Alan Carr’s book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. He explains that if you wait to quit until after the weekend, of after the holidays, or after that big project, then you’ll develop willpower for the easy times, but as soon as things get tough, you’ll start smoking again. So he says to quit smoking at the toughest, most difficult time to do so, so then the rest of it will seem like cake. Just occurred to me that if you start your solo practice in a tough economy, then it’d be smoother sailing from here on out, and you’d always know you can hang with difficult times.

  • http://www.lawyerbird.com Kimberly Alderman

    I smoked cigarettes for about ten years, and finally quit three years ago by reading Alan Carr’s book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. He explains that if you wait to quit until after the weekend, of after the holidays, or after that big project, then you’ll develop willpower for the easy times, but as soon as things get tough, you’ll start smoking again. So he says to quit smoking at the toughest, most difficult time to do so, so then the rest of it will seem like cake. Just occurred to me that if you start your solo practice in a tough economy, then it’d be smoother sailing from here on out, and you’d always know you can hang with difficult times.

  • http://pittsburghlegalbacktalk.com/ Cliff Tuttle

    When people ask me whether the economy has hurt my law practice, I reply that I have already had my depression. Nobody knows how to reply to that, but I find great consolation in the reassurance that I know I can make it in the worst of times, because I already have.
    CLT

  • http://pittsburghlegalbacktalk.com/ Cliff Tuttle

    When people ask me whether the economy has hurt my law practice, I reply that I have already had my depression. Nobody knows how to reply to that, but I find great consolation in the reassurance that I know I can make it in the worst of times, because I already have.
    CLT

  • http://www.defamationlawblog.com Adrianos Facchetti

    This is the best moment to start a new practice. There is a world of opportunity out there for creative, smart, and reasonably priced attorneys. Go to every network; give everyone your card; do everything. You will succeed, because you must.

  • http://www.defamationlawblog.com Adrianos Facchetti

    This is the best moment to start a new practice. There is a world of opportunity out there for creative, smart, and reasonably priced attorneys. Go to every network; give everyone your card; do everything. You will succeed, because you must.

  • http://www.AmicusCapitalServices.com Bill Tilley

    I agree that it is a great time to start a solo practice and many other great businesses are created during down cycles by necessity. Depending what side of the fence you are on. IE: Defense vs. Plaintiff I have found that while Defense/Corporate firms struggle during challenging economic times plaintiff firms tend to do better. I expect plaintiff firms business’s to improve over the next several years and for jury awards to increase as jury’s show more empathy when they are struggling in their individual lives.

  • http://www.AmicusCapitalServices.com Bill Tilley

    I agree that it is a great time to start a solo practice and many other great businesses are created during down cycles by necessity. Depending what side of the fence you are on. IE: Defense vs. Plaintiff I have found that while Defense/Corporate firms struggle during challenging economic times plaintiff firms tend to do better. I expect plaintiff firms business’s to improve over the next several years and for jury awards to increase as jury’s show more empathy when they are struggling in their individual lives.

  • http://www.JohnHGraves.com John Graves

    I don’t know about everyone else, but my practice continues to grow. I began building my own client base while with my previous firm and went out on my own in July. While the economy is frightening, it is very reassuring to see the numbers every day and know that I control overhead costs. My flexibility to add and promote new practice areas as the market forces dictate make me much more nimble than bigger practices. The responsibility of being a true solo is immense but much more energizing than being an employee. All in all, couldn’t be happier.

  • http://www.JohnHGraves.com John Graves

    I don’t know about everyone else, but my practice continues to grow. I began building my own client base while with my previous firm and went out on my own in July. While the economy is frightening, it is very reassuring to see the numbers every day and know that I control overhead costs. My flexibility to add and promote new practice areas as the market forces dictate make me much more nimble than bigger practices. The responsibility of being a true solo is immense but much more energizing than being an employee. All in all, couldn’t be happier.

  • Patrick Minton

    The economy is indeed scary but busts are always followed by booms :)

  • Patrick Minton

    The economy is indeed scary but busts are always followed by booms :)

  • http://www.jeenabelil.com Jeena Belil

    Great post. Great comments. My little solo practice continues to see incredible growth as well. We are witnessing history, folks. People are yearning for value and personal attention. This is evident all around us – look at all the Big Box stores closing. Solos and other small businesses can weather this storm. Although solo life is not easy, I consider myself very lucky right now.

  • http://www.jeenabelil.com Jeena Belil

    Great post. Great comments. My little solo practice continues to see incredible growth as well. We are witnessing history, folks. People are yearning for value and personal attention. This is evident all around us – look at all the Big Box stores closing. Solos and other small businesses can weather this storm. Although solo life is not easy, I consider myself very lucky right now.

  • http://entrepreneurs.dirtylawndry.com/ Dirty LAWndry

    Being a solo isn’t always easy, but I love the freedom that I have in choosing my rates and practice areas. The economy is a little nerve-wracking at the moment, but I had to endure tougher times. As a result, my solo is thriving.

  • http://entrepreneurs.dirtylawndry.com/ Dirty LAWndry

    Being a solo isn’t always easy, but I love the freedom that I have in choosing my rates and practice areas. The economy is a little nerve-wracking at the moment, but I had to endure tougher times. As a result, my solo is thriving.

  • http://judgementproof.blogspot.com Elizabeth

    Great post! Especially the end part about succeeding beyond your wildest dreams. That little nugget will help me sleep tonight.
    I second what previous posters have mentioned. Even though this economy bites, I see great opportunity. My husband and I hung our shingle after graduating in May 2008 and it has been one heck of wild ride. We live and breath our firm, and we haven’t got our first client yet. (It’s been one month).
    I’m glad I found your blog.

  • http://judgementproof.blogspot.com Elizabeth

    Great post! Especially the end part about succeeding beyond your wildest dreams. That little nugget will help me sleep tonight.
    I second what previous posters have mentioned. Even though this economy bites, I see great opportunity. My husband and I hung our shingle after graduating in May 2008 and it has been one heck of wild ride. We live and breath our firm, and we haven’t got our first client yet. (It’s been one month).
    I’m glad I found your blog.

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