This week in Things I Wish I Knew… Joleena Louis gives 5 ways you can prepare yourself to go solo while you are still employed at a law firm.
Making the decision to pursue a solo law practice is just the beginning of practicing law as a solo. If any of you are similar to me, you will make the decision to go solo while still being employed at a law firm. In my case, I signed an office lease about a month and half before I intended to send out my firm announcement cards. In reality, I finalized the decision making process about 2 months before I intended to give my notice.
Let me tell you, I think I wasted an opportunity to prepare for my solo career while still employed at a law firm. There are so many things I wish I would have accomplished during those two months that could have made my transition into solo practice much smoother. When you decide to leave a job, all you have is time. You might as well spend that time wisely preparing for your future success.
Here are 5 things you can do in preparation of going solo while still employed at your law firm:
1. Take as many CLE’s as possible.
I felt pretty confident about the actual “practicing law” aspect of going solo. Since I planned to continue practicing family law, I just took as many CLE’s as possible in niche areas that I did not feel as comfortable with but knew might come up during an initial consultation. (You don’t want to turn down money because you are not prepared, especially when you first start practicing.)
Also, I recommend taking CLE’s in related practice areas. For example, my main practice focus is family law, but my clients often have questions about bankruptcy. I wish I would have anticipated this before I started my practice, because now a day-long CLE is a day that I am not retaining clients.
As a solo attorney, it is important to understand what complementary practice areas you may need to have a working understanding of in order to best represent your clients.
2. Start establishing a legal support network.
As a solo attorney, you might find that it feels like sometimes you are on an island, especially if you work from home. During the scope of representation, ancillary issues arise that frankly, you will not have the expertise to competently answer. You are going to need a support network of attorneys to practice effectively and successfully.
You should start building this network as soon as you realize you are unhappy at your firm and want to work for yourself. These attorneys will be practice area sherpas and will be the people you call when you want to talk through a case theory or ask if they have an esoteric form.
I am lucky that my shared law office is comprised exclusively of solo attorneys and small law firms. Practically speaking, if I do not know the answer to a question or need the advice of an immigration attorney during a consultation, I can just walk down the hall.
If you do not access to multiple attorneys in your shared office space, I recommend that you network every night while you are still employed. These connections will become your life-lines and potential referral partner, NYCLA and The New York City Bar always have events and you should take advantage of them. When you start your practice, you will realize you may not have the time to do it on such an in-depth level.
3. Learn the basics of small law firm administration.
In reality, going solo is basically starting your own business. While working at a law firm, all I had to was show up and meet my billable hour quota. I didn’t have any input on how the business was run, nor did I really care.
Before I left my law firm, I would ask the office manager and book keeper questions about how the business was run. While this was overwhelming at first, it gave me insight into what a bear firm administration would be.
My advice to anyone considering going solo is to learn basic business skills. There are many great free resources that can help you. I’ve taken several classes through NYC small business services. They have classes on skills for small business owners such as small business planning and operations, financial management and marketing. I particularly found the financial classes beneficial.
I also found free classes on Eventbrite, such as a class on how to use Quickbooks. Talking to other solo’s and small business owners is also a good way to find out things that you didn’t even know that you needed to know. I found out about the NYC small business resources classes from a group of small business owners I found on meetup.com. The meetup.com groups have also been a great referral source for me
4. Prepare your retainer agreement.
If I had to do it over, I would have prepared my retainer and client intake system while I was still working at the firm. My first consultation came in the same day they made a phone inquiry. I did not have a retainer agreement. I had to scramble to get everything together before the meeting. You never know when you will get that first call so it is best to be ready early. You must prepare yourself for success.
5. Build your website and prepare blog articles.
I missed an opportunity to prepare and refine my marketing campaign while I was still employed. Once I actually started my firm, my focus was on getting clients. Since I had no money, how was I supposed to market?
When I asked other attorneys the majority said they didn’t market, they got business through referrals, networking and blogging.
I did not realize blogging could get you clients. But, in retrospect, I wish I would have spent time building my website and preparing articles for my blog while I was still employed.
In addition to this blog, I have a family law blog. Writing blog articles is much more time consuming than you would expect. In order for blog marketing to work, you need to post fresh content on a regular basis. I highly suggest you bank at least 12 to 15 blog articles that are ready to publish as soon as your website is live.
I did not bank any articles and rushed getting it all together because I wanted to get my firm announcements out as soon as possible. There are still some revisions I want to make but I haven’t had much time since I actually have clients now. This makes blogging even harder, because it feels like I am wasting billable hours.
Even if you have you website built, do not take it live until you have formally left your previous job. It is insulting to your prior employer and you never know when they may be in a position to refer you a case.
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Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a ﬁrm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial ﬁrm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ start-up program in Downtown, New York. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew… explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law ﬁrm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur.