When this column, Are You Ready to Start Your Own Law Firm by The Law Whisperer Julie Brush came through my aggregator, I had to refresh the feed several times just to make certain that the article’s actual date was October 2015, and not October 1995. Because the advice is so dated, so disproven and so out of step with today’s world , it’s as if the piece emerged from a time capsule rather than the pen of a prominent career consultant and as if the plethora of blogs on starting a law firm (even big-law focused Above the Law ) never happened.
Let’s just tick through some of Brush’s misconceptions about solo practice.
Year’s Worth of Savings
Even the venerable Jay Foonberg has relented from the “have a year of savings in the bank” that Ms. Brush advises as a prerequisite to hanging a shingle. Yet in a world where a significant number of young attorneys are buried under a mountain of debt, the “one year of savings” rule is utterly infeasible. Brush also notes that cash flow problems for solos may be compounded because “an increasing number of clients are delinquent in paying their invoices.” Hello – has Brush ever heard of evergreen retainers, credit cards or any of these techniques to cut down on late payments?
To be fair, Brush is right in noting that cash flow is a huge problem for solo law firms – indeed, all small business for that matter. But cash flow is not an insurmountable obstacle, and more importantly, there are multiple ways to address it.
Brush is right that getting a law firm off the ground takes work, and operating it may require administrative support. But in today’s freelance economy, it’s never been easier to find low cost, on demand support from receptions to virtual assistants. Plus, there are lots of services that automate invoicing as well as payroll if you bring on your first hire. Meanwhile, though law firm employment may not require lawyers to handle “clerical duties,” employment comes with its own form of administrivia, from sensitivity trainings to team meetings.
No Business Experience
Okay – I get it – law school doesn’t teach business skills – and that can put new solos at a disadvantage. That said, Google’s founders didn’t learn business in grad school but that didn’t stop them from starting one of the world’s most successful companies. Moreover, because we are living in a start-up crazed world, there are ample resources available online and in communities around the country that will help solos learn the business skills they need.
Brush writes of limitations that solos face: limited breadth of expertise and limited resources. But in contrast Christopher Columbus was ahead of his time for recognizing that the world was round, Brush is behind the times for having failed to realize what Thomas Friedman and other lawyers did a decade ago: the world is flat. What that means is that we’re part of an interconnected, 24/7 universe where solos can seamlessly collaborate with lawyers all over the country and the world and avail ourselves of on-demand freelance lawyers and assistants to help with workload. Technology also means that once costly overhead items – like legal research and CLE can often be found for free or low cost through online platforms. If anything, the greatest obstacle for a lawyer getting started today isn’t for want of affordable solutions but rather, figuring out how to pick through and choose from the cornucopia of low cost options.
Brush does acknowledge that “technology and social media have facilitated brand building” – but leveraging those resources takes time—something that’s in shortage for a new solo. Actually, my own experience has been that new solos have time on their hands – which can be invested in setting up a blog or engaging regularly on social media. Moreover, social media tools like blogging or Twitter often align with what solos are doing in their practices by keeping them up to speed on current events.
Brush gets one thing right: that starting a practice means “you’re gonna work like a dog.” Damn straight – because the best solos are nothing if not dogged. But for those of us lucky enough to have found the right practice area match or heard the calling of justice, all of our hard work is as much fun as dancing a jig.
I get it – solo practice isn’t for everyone. Moreover, I believe that it’s just as important that to disclose the hardships of starting a firm as well as the upside – but heck – even Brian Tannebaum’s Brutal Truths About Lawyers and Lawyering – which doesn’t mince words about the realities of starting a practice is far more encouraging and well-informed than this piece.
In the meantime, so long as myths of solo practice persist, I have reason to keep on blogging!