The First Week of Going Solo

The following is a guest post by Carl, a New Jersey Divorce Attorney who recently hung a shingle.

The First Week of Going Solo

Day 1

The first few weeks of hanging a shingle and starting a law practice are a blurry, fear-inducing yet simultaneously exciting tightrope walk along the edge of hope and fear. This is true even if you have experience working as a lawyer in a firm setting. The second you leave a firm to hang a shingle, you leave behind a steady metronomic existence for something much more chaotic. Make no mistake: it is a risk.

Your friends and family will sometimes refer to your new law firm as “your baby.” And so it is. The great thing about a new practice–not dissimilar from an actual newborn baby, is that you can still dream of it achieving any possibility you wish. There are no physical or other limitations upon a “startup” law firm. It can still grow up to “be the president.”

There is so much to do, and so many possibilities.

Day 3

I’m laying on my back underneath a half-built desk, and for the moment I’m no longer sure if I’m a lawyer or a carpenter. Exasperated, I enlist my wonderful wife to help me figure out the labyrinth that is building an L-shaped desk. “How is it that you can pass the bar in three states but you can’t build a simple piece of office furniture?” My wife jokes.

I spend so much time waiting for other people to take action, that I should be in a Samuel Beckett play. Oh well, “such is life.”

The vendors must be tired of me. Other vendors seem inclined to test me, or try and take advantage of me as a younger attorney, as it may be. Luckily one of my finer qualities is this: I always do my homework. Now if only I can find decently priced insurance…

Day 6

My first clients are calling in. It’s strange no longer having a secretary. Rather, it’s strange to now be an attorney + a secretary (and a whole host of other things). When you work for a law firm, so much is taken care of for you.
But after all, this is why I wanted to go solo. To have the freedom to network as I like. To take on cases as I like. To be able to build something that is all mine, and is simultaneously a positive to the community.

Letterhead, business cards, and announcements are hot off the press. I’m calling attorneys I look up to, asking for advice about starting a law firm and trying to spread the word.

My website has been up and running for a few days. I’m getting into the routine of never being able to leave work behind. I like it. Even at night I’ll read up on how to maintain trust accounts, different areas of law, or I will blog on my firm’s website. I built the website myself, which feels like a victory at this time. I read once that a new solo law firm should take a moment to enjoy every victory, however small. The reason: these “victories” are hard to come by early on, and always well deserved.

Day 7

I can’t believe in just over a week this empty office space has become a full-fledged office. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, and thankful to everyone who helped me pull everything together. The announcements have been mailed and the telephone is starting to ring. I’m glad I got a few phone lines put in. “Congratulations” fill my voicemail and email, and I’ve already had three plants delivered to the office. My office.

I’m now fully insured and open for business. I spend my time setting up initial consultations. Or creating forms. At night I still blog, or think of other ways to promote my law firm. A lot of time is still spent reading. Ours is a business where continued learning is and never will be optional.

Even in this bad economy, all I find are people willing to help; friends and colleagues who I know in my heart are pulling for me and my new firm. I am incredibly lucky. Tonight my Wife and I laughed about going back in time to our “college” financial existence. Neither one of us is under any delusions. This is the way it will be, for quite some time. Ordering a pizza will be a luxury.

But as I turned out the lights leaving my office earlier today, I knew that I was finally at home. My little firm has the potential to grow into anything I desire. It may not grow to “be president,” but it’s all mine. And I know in my heart I will do anything it takes to do the best I can for my clients, and help my little firm grow and succeed.

So long as I have better luck keeping my business alive than the plants, then I know everything will work out just fine.

Carl is a New Jersey attorney who recently started his own solo law practice in Somerville, New Jersey, focusing on family law, collection law, and municipal/traffic court matters.  Carl and his Wife live in Central New Jersey with their Shetland Sheepdog.