A Letter To Someone Considering Starting a Solo Practice

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to talk to several new attorneys who are looking for work or who may be considering going solo. Here are a few thoughts that I have on the subject.

First, remember that this is business. It is not an opportunity to “play office.” It is not an opportunity to get over on The Man. You have to have something of value when you come to the table. In order to be compensated, you must be able to supply something that has a value. This may be your expertise, your experience, your grunt labor, or your creativity. In many cases, your business value may be a combination of these factors.

Understand what that value is. Try to quantify it and try to explain it at least to yourself. Know where your value is so that you can know how to advertise, know how to price your services, and, very importantly, know when to walk away from bad business.

Second, while it may look like a solo practitioner is “successful,” don’t assume that it was easy. There are plenty of sleepless nights and nervous days when the work dries up and the savings dwindle, and many late nights drinking pots of coffee when the work finally arrives.

There is a reason why a vast majority of attorneys are in a firm.

Third, look at the long term value of each action you take. This translates into how you invest your resources and how you interact with others. Remember that this business is very slow.

Look at the long term value of each interaction with other people, and treat people exactly how you want to be treated. This business, like many others, is predicated on relationships. By investing a few minutes having a conversation with someone, you never know how it may turn into something useful down the line.

Patent work, at least in my experience, has a very long gestation period. Some of my current clients took two to three years before I was able to start working for them. For example, I had a very refreshing and memorable conversation with one gentleman at a trade show in 2000, and he called in 2006 with some work for me. Taking a very long-term view of business development is essential for success; however, it can be difficult to weather long droughts.

The best remedy for weathering the drought is to keep expenses very low. Have very little debt, live well within your means, and manage your expenses. You don’t have to be miserable, but a paid-for five year old vehicle gets you to the same place at the same time as a brand new $85K luxury sedan.

Every person who goes solo has their own personal reasons for doing so. For me, it fits my work style, and it allows me the flexibility to address certain client needs or go after opportunities that would be impossible in a small firm, let alone a large firm. I like the ability to do creative market development, to be able to keep clients exceptionally happy, and to seek out unique opportunities.

For those of you thinking of taking the plunge, solo is not for everybody. However, it can work if you are ready for it and are willing to put the effort into it. It is hard to underestimate the effort, but it is also hard to underestimate the real and potential benefits as well.