First it was elementary school, then middle school, then high school, then college, and finally law school. After almost two decades in school, you are probably pretty excited to stop all the learning and begin working and making money! But as most people in any profession know, the learning process never ends.
No matter how eager you are to start your career as a solo attorney, you will likely experience a significant learning curve as you transition from being a law student or an employee in the legal industry to being a solo attorney responsible for running your own law practice.
As a new solo attorney, it’s important to understand that it’s impossible to know everything you will need to know before you begin this journey. Hanging your own shingle is a big step, and no matter how much advice you are given by others, you will have to learn certain things on your own through the process of trial and error. However, despite the fact that it may be impossible to predict every situation that might arise in your professional future, there are many practical tips that you should find helpful.
Following are a few things to consider as you prepare for and experience your first year as a solo attorney:
You may not have a steady or predictable income for quite some time. Perhaps you made the decision to open a solo law firm because you already have a large committed clientele or you are confident you will be able to land a big client within the first month or two of being in business. But in most cases, a new solo attorney might not be able to build a stable client base as quickly as you might want. Keep this in mind, and plan accordingly.
An office space may or may not be vital to the success of your law firm. Before signing a lease that will provide you with office space, make sure you really want to set up shop in that location. Several things can happen when you open a solo law practice. First, you might realize soon after that a certain location is not optimal for your clients. Second, you might decide that you’d rather work from home or from another office setting. Or third, you might find another solo attorney who wants to share an office with you. It is a good idea to give yourself a bit of time before committing to a lease.
It’s incredibly important to stay organized and to bill your clients in a timely fashion. Clients expect to be billed within a certain period of time following services rendered. The longer you wait to bill your clients, the less likely they will be to remit their invoices quickly.
It’s important to not isolate yourself from other, more experienced solo attorneys. As a solo attorney, there will be times when you want to ask other attorneys for advice or guidance. Maintaining a professional relationship with other attorneys will greatly benefit you.
Budgeting is extremely important. Not only is it important to not spend too much money on your law firm too quickly, but also it’s essential that you understand that your income will likely fluctuate from one month to another. Clients will come and go. You might have one month of exceptional activity but another month that is slow. The holiday season is often a sluggish time of year for solo attorneys. Plan ahead and you should be able to make it through any rough patch you might experience.
Opening your own law firm is exciting. As a solo attorney, you are essentially in charge of your own professional future. But owning, operating, and managing a solo law firm can be challenging. From day one, you will learn and grow from all of the professional experiences you encounter. There is little doubt that your solo practice will evolve over the years to the point where it may not resemble the law firm you started during your first year as a solo attorney.