This week in Things I Wish I Knew… Joleen Louis talks about how painful the first week of solo practice in a shared law office can be.
When you are seeking advice on what the actual practice of law as a solo attorney entails, you generally hear about how “busy,” “crazy,” and “chaotic” it can be. Four months in, I can tell you that most of that is very true. However, no one really tells you that having clients is a condition precedent for it to be “busy,” “crazy,” and “chaotic.”
The truth about your first week in a shared law office space.
In my experience, the first week of solo practice is the exact opposite of “busy.” While you do engage in “busy work,” the first week of solo practice is like a calendar without any appointments. While many people may dream of a week free of hassles, meetings, and late night client phone calls, you actually crave any hassle when you open a law practice. At least a hassle implies that someone needs something.
For me, my first week of solo practice was scary and exciting. Exciting because I was finally doing building my own dream, but scary because I had no clients and no idea how to get any.
Even though I didn’t have any real legal work, I did have a list of networking and marketing ideas to work on. It was very freeing to know that I could do what I wanted, but I was constantly worried about how I was going to continue to pay my shared law office rent: Was I crazy for leaving a steady paycheck in this economy when so many of my colleagues were looking for permanent work? Did I really NEED a physical office right now? (Be prepared to doubt your decision a million times a day. It’s normal.)
I was ready to not been busy. It was terrifying, but I was ready.
I had previously mentally prepared myself for not really having work for the first couple of months, so I assumed I would be spending most of my time with per diem work until I could get my own clients. While other attorneys may look down on per diem work, when you start a new practice it’s all about the bottom line. Trust me, a hundred here and a hundred and fifty there goes a long way to easing your mental insecurity about leaving a steady paycheck,
The most difficult part of starting a practice was adjusting to the fact that I did not have a massive amount of work to do. The more time I spent staring at the phone and waiting for a ringing sound, the longer each minute seemed to take. It became easier for me to scrutinize business card designs and perfect my linkedIn profile than to live in my own thoughts of inadequacy and fear about retaining clients. (Just so you know, even when you have clients, you are still plagued by fear of getting more.)
Everyone I had spoken to about starting a solo law practice forewarned me that the best way to get clients was through referrals or word of mouth and they were right. Many of my current clients have come from people I met that first week. During my first few days at LFS, I was introduced to several attorneys who subsequently referred clients to me. I spent most of that week contacting everyone I’ve ever known to let them know I opened my own practice.
While the phone didn’t ring the first few days, by the end of the week I was contacted by two different acquaintances who had referrals for me.
The mere knowledge that I had some business allowed me to feel more confident and sure about what I was doing. During my first week, I learned a lot about what I needed to focus on going forward. I definitely needed to continue meeting and developing relationships with attorneys and other referral sources. I also needed to get into a routine and find balance since I found myself working on my business almost constantly.
And most importantly, I needed to relax and trust that I can do this.
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.