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To Solo…or Not

March 4, 2015

So, it has come to an end. The three or four years in law school, bar study, the hellish bar exam, and now you’re a lawyer without a job. What are you going to do? Well, there are several options as we all know. We explored many during our time at TJSL, while some we just heard about. What I want to focus on here is the BIG ONE . . . opening your own firm . . . going solo . . . being your own boss.

I contacted several of my (dare I say) friends and alumni from our esteemed institution to complete a short questionnaire on the benefits and pitfalls of going solo. Of course, the people I contacted are all solo or small firm practitioners, so predictably the answer weighed heavily in favor of doing it. In the interest of fair disclosure, I am also sitting at my desk looking at the business plan binder with my wife, which I have continued to work on for the past few months. I will be going solo as soon as I become an attorney. The following are the answers to the questions I posited (Author’s note: I thought the best way to convey the answers is to let the attorney’s own words speak for themselves, so this became a longer article than usual).

Q: What would you say is the most important reason you went into solo/ small firm practice?

Jeremy Evans: Freedom of making my schedule, excitement of bringing in new clients, and the opportunity of having the sky as the limit in both helping people and my community, and in earning potential. – Jeremy Evans ’11, California Sports Lawyer

Renee Galente: Quality of life. I had none working for a firm, and my life revolved around other people’s schedules and timelines in addition to the court’s and the client’s. As a business owner, I work long hours but the great thing is that I can take time when I need to for myself, except when I’m in trial. I’m much healthier now as a result and much happier. – Renee Galente ’08, Galente Ganci, APC

Alex Ozols: I think the most important reason why I decided to get into small firm practice is because I wanted to be my own boss. I have my own style of doing things and for me it was tough to always have someone telling me what to do. – Alex Ozols ’12, Ozols Law Firm

Q. What is the biggest pitfall you experienced in opening your firm?

Phil Shapiro: You have to set up a strong and reliable referral system. You have no one to your right or left to answer questions, or to check and correct your work. – Phil Shapiro ’85, Law Office of Philip A. Shapiro

Renee Galente: I don’t think there have been any pitfalls (quickly knocks on wood). Once you start a business there’s an urge to build and grow. But there’s nothing wrong with being small and mighty.

Frank Pabst: Raising initial capital was a major concern and I would rank it as a pitfall to opening my firm. – Frank Pabst, Widener Law ’06, Law Office of Frank R. Pabst

Jeremy Evans: The hardest thing to do in opening a business is the making the decision to open your own business. You are putting it all on the line. Having done it, not much compares to the joyful thought that you did something worth doing and that you gave it your best shot. That is what every day is like for me despite the ups and downs of billings.

Q: What is the biggest benefit to being in solo/small firm practice?

Renee Galente: Being able to pick your cases. As an associate at a firm you work the case you’re given whether you believe in your client or not, whether you like the case or not. As the person who runs the business and takes the cases, you get to decide whom you represent. It’s a completely different dynamic. And it’s a wonderfully strong position to be able to say that you like and care for your client, instead of just represent them.

Alex Ozols: Being your own boss. You can schedule vacations whenever you want, you decide when you are going to schedule your court dates and in the end you make all the final decisions in your business.

Q: What would you tell a student interested in going into practice as a solo or in a small firm right out of law school?

Phil Shapiro: IMMMEDIATELY start to set up a referral list. Start collecting business cards and write notes on them. Send (not text) thank you notes when appropriate. Go to as many legal meetings as possible, especially local Bar Association. MAKE AND CARRY BUSINESS CARDS, everywhere.

Alex Ozols: You certainly need to be able to take risks and you need to want it more than anyone else. Don’t worry about what other people are doing or what someone who is twice your age said about opening up a firm. Just know the market, make connections at every chance you get and again, don’t be afraid to take risks.

Jeremy Evans: First, soul search to make sure you want to go into solo practice. Second, meet with as many of the best attorneys in town and seek informational interviews regarding solo practice to gather facts, information, things to avoid, and things to obtain. Third, make the decision to go solo and never look back.

Frank Pabst: You need to have a mind for business or a business degree of some kind to effectively run a firm.

Renee Galente: DO IT! And do it 100%. You can’t “part time” run your own business or run your own business while looking for a “real” job. If you’re going to do it, make it awesome. Make it yours.

Q: If you could do it again, would you? Why?

Alex Ozols: In a second, I have wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little kid. I would never want to do anything else. If someone told me I could have any job in the world the answer would be a lawyer. For me its not about the money or anything else that comes along with it, you only live once and I think everyone should be able to follow their passion and do whatever they want. This was my dream and now I am living it.

Phil Shapiro: I would do it again, but I would acquire better habits, especially in billing procedures. I let that go too long. Frank Pabst: Absolutely, being self-employed is the greatest reward.

Jeremy Evans: Yes, no question, no doubt. For me, it has been one of the most freeing activities. For what is the American Dream, but to build something upon a solid foundation and to see it grow?

Renee Galente: Hell yeah. I don’t think I could ever work for anybody else again after this experience. If you’re dealing with bullshit, you’re the one who has either created it or allowed it to affect you. And you have the power to stop it at any time. That’s empowering and a strong position to be in. And it feels damn good.

So, there you have it. Predictably in favor of doing it, and strong things to ponder while deciding. I agree with everything these fine attorneys had to say (I did write the piece after all). Mostly, I agree with Renee – Will you do it? Hell yeah.