This week in Things I Wish I Knew…Joleena Louis reveals the cons as well as the pros to becoming a Solo Attorney
People often tell you how choosing to become a solo attorney is the best thing they ever did. I even have stated that part of the decision making process to go solo was knowing that I wanted to build my own dream, not someone else’s. Generally, this is a correct statement.
I wish I knew that being your own boss is a double edged sword. While there are many great aspects to solo practice, there are several disadvantages that I never even thought to consider. These are the kind of disadvantages that you only discover once you open your own practice.
The Benefits of Being Your Own Boss
For me, the most important benefit is flexibility. As I am writing this, I am in Ohio spending time with my father who is going through some medical procedures.
This was a last minute trip that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to take if I had been working for someone else.
The flexibility that accompanies the practice of a solo attorney will also be a huge benefit in the future. My husband and I plan to have children. My flexibility will increase our families’ bottom line because I will have the flexibility to coordinate my schedule to limit the inevitable cost of child care that is associated with dual employed family.
Being in total control of all business decisions is another important benefit to me.
As a solo attorney, you have to be a great business person in addition to being a great attorney. I’ve found that many great lawyers are just not good business people, so I strive to spend as much time on the business aspect as the legal aspect of my firm.
Having the freedom to take whatever cases I want and to make any decisions I want without having to get the approval of anyone else, has been one of the best parts of going solo thus far.
Having personal interest in the success of my business is also a great benefit of being my own boss.
One issue I had while working at my last firm, was that no matter how hard I worked or how deft my legal arguments were, my equity stayed the same: NONE.
As a solo attorney, now that I have my own business I’m willing to work even harder with a forced smile on my face. Even though I am not currently making as much money as I was in my old position, all the hard work still feels worth it cause it is for my benefit, as opposed to benefiting someone else.
Issues That Accompany the Practice of a Solo Attorney
The most obvious detriment is the amount of hours I work. While my hours are flexible, I certainly work more than 40 hours a week as a solo attorney. For the past few months, I have had a lot less time for my family, friends and any other activity outside of work. I make time for my husband but everything else is kind of on the back burner. Taking this time to visit my father has made me realize that I have to have a little more balance.
This type of balance is hard to achieve, especially when you are building a business.
2. Accountability (or lack thereof)
Not having to be accountable to anyone sounds like a benefit, but it can be detrimental if you are not organized. On a stressful day it can be easy to stay in bed and watch Netflix instead of going to the office to work on a Motion to Dismiss.
One of the most overlooked aspects of working for someone else is the accountability associated with it. You are inherently accountable to someone, because it is their name on the check every two weeks.
When you are a solo attorney, there is no one but yourself to be accountable to. You have to have that extra willpower to keep working even when you really don’t want to. On that same note, if you don’t work you don’t get paid.
The amount of worry and stress was something I didn’t really anticipate. I knew becoming a solo attorney was not going to be easy but I did not realize how much stress I would be dealing with. Not only do I need to succeed for financial reasons, it is very important to me emotionally not to fail. Even when things are going really well I have random panic attacks about the future.
Despite all of this the benefits of becoming a solo attorney outweigh the pitfalls. I believe that drive, determination and good old fashioned hard work will keep me going and make this all worth it.
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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.