This week in Things I Wish I Knew… Joleena Louis talks about how being a solo attorney can sometimes feel lonely.
Solo practice is a very different animal than working within a law firm. When you work within someone else’s structure, there is a sociability that accompanies the twice monthly paycheck. It manifests itself in a casual conversation with your paralegal and bouncing ideas off another associate when you are a stalwart point in a case. Sometimes, I even find myself missing the dreaded Monday morning staff meetings. At least I knew I had the opportunity to converse.
Solo practice, on the other hand, can be accompanied by an inherent feeling of isolation. While being your own boss and controlling the direction of your firm is all you ever dreamed of, sometimes you need help.
As we all can attest, sometimes asking for help can be the difference in malpractice rates for the following year. It goes without saying that you cannot practice law in a vacuum. Interaction is just as necessary as finding the right case law when it comes to being a successful solo attorney.
Although I like to think of myself as a strong and independent-minded person, I know I would not have made it this far if I didn’t have a network of people to help me along the way. My support network consists of both lawyers and non-legal professionals, friends, family and colleagues who guide me and help keep me on track. Over these past few months as a solo, I’ve realized the importance of having the following people on my support team:
My biggest supporter by far is my husband. He celebrates my victories with me and emotionally supports me through my struggles.
I have come to realize that while I may be running a solo practice, it is anything but. Your decisions, work schedule and business plan are anything but yours. If you have children, a spouse or a partner, your solo practice is really our solo practice. Everything you do will affect your inborn support network monetarily.
In my experience, support at home is the foundation to solo success.
2. A Mentor.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am actively seeking a mentor, but I would say that I understand the benefit of a mentor/mentee relationship. It goes back to fending off isolation that can inhibit your firm’s growth.
This being said, I have found it valuable to leverage my network and the networks of the other solo attorneys that I share office space with to find a more experienced matrimonial attorney that I can call if I am really in a bind. Sometimes it is just hearing the phone ring and someone’s voice after they pick up the call that can restore confidence when you are feeling shaky.
3. Other solos/Entrepreneurs.
I have a core group of solo and small firm attorneys that I’ve met through Law Firm Suites who have made this whole learning process so much easier.
It’s helpful to have someone in the same position as me to bounce ideas off of, ask questions, or just complain about the struggles of solo life.
And it’s especially helpful to find another solo in your practice area so you can cover for each other when you go on vacation or if you have an emergency.
I also find other non-legal entrepreneurs to be just as helpful as solos. As attorneys we sometimes focus more on the legal aspect than the business aspect of our practice (it goes back to the old adage that attorneys are the worst business people), so having business minded people to consult with can be a great way to stay on track.
They also approach problems with firm management from a different mindset than an attorney would. This is particularly helpful, because at the end of the day, we are all small business owners, regardless of the type of business.
4. A People Connector.
One of the most beneficial people to have part of your support group is someone who knows a lot of people and is good at getting them together. Not only will they help you get referrals, they will also make you look better to your clients because you can help connect them with professionals they may need outside of the scope of your services.
If one of my clients has some obscure legal issue that I don’t handle, I know exactly who to call to connect me with someone who can help.
In my belief, these four types of people are essential elements of any solo attorney’s success, especially when you are just starting a practice. They provide the foundation for the necessary emotional, intellectual and practice management support, without which, we would all still be working for other people.
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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.