Over the past few months, it seems to me that the number of lawyers starting their own practice is on the rise. My perception is based largely on anecdotal evidence, from increased traffic to this site (both direct hits and from search terms like “starting a law practice,”) a bump in sales of Solo by Choice, announcements of new practices on Twitter and Solosez and (most annoyingly), the near daily launch of all kinds of marketing products and consulting services purporting to help lawyers who want to start a practice. (By the way, if you’re considering using any of these consultants or services, read this first).
But now, I’ve got some hard core evidence as back up my observations. The Charlotte Biz Journal reports that:
About 90 boutique firms and solo practitioners opened in Charlotte in 2008, according to the Mecklenburg County Bar. That’s an increase of nearly 30% from the 70 boutiques and solo shops that opened in 2007.
Most of the lawyers interviewed in the article previously worked at large firms and launched their own firms either by themselves or with another fellow expatriate. Oddly, however, few of the lawyers interviewed in the article said that they started their own law practices because their former law firms tanked. Instead, the reasons they offered for hanging a shingle are the same as they’ve always been: “a desire for more control over one’s practice; better work-life balance; the freedom to work with smaller clients who might balk at big-firm billing rates.”
At the same time, the article makes note of the downturn of the Charlotte legal market. Perhaps the lawyers interviewed weren’t laid off, but my guess is that economic uncertainty ultimately served as the impetus for many of these lawyers’ decisions to start a firm.
As the saying goes, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. I’ll be the first to admit that the freedom of solo practice is far easier to embrace when all other roads lead to nowhere. Of course, once you have your first taste of freedom, you may never want to go back.