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Solo & Small Law Firms

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

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.