Don’t Follow My Example: My Advice to Those Thinking of Going Solo

By Liz Johnson - January 24, 2017
Don’t Follow My Example: My Advice to Those Thinking of Going Solo

In this week’s edition of Young, Hungry and Committed, solo lawyer Liz Johnson shares her experience of starting her practice, and how she went about it in a difficult and unusual way.

The opportunity to open up shop came out of thin air, and I was in a unique position to take it, without worrying about the repercussions of having a slow start to my business.

This is not something I talk about, but as it’s relevant to this conversation. I was lucky that my wonderful mother finished paying off my school. I have no debt, and currently little overhead. Also, I live with my parents, to help them with the house, and to be able to help recoup that cost as quickly as possible. Not to say there aren’t a couple of places I don’t currently have my eye on, but monetarily speaking it just makes better sense.

I decided to go solo after a series of events, and went about it in a strange way. I would never suggest anyone follow my example when launching their firm, and here’s why.

Be Prepared

Before hanging out your shingle, you want to be infinitely more prepared than I was.

About a month after I decided to go solo (as in a few days ago) I finally got around to getting a bank account opened for my business. I’m only just getting around to a number of things that really ought to have been done a while ago, before even opening up for business.

It has not been a great feeling being so disorganized, particularly when I’m a tad OCD about having my stuff together. I’ve spent a while now piecing together my solo practice, and just found out that because I am my own employer, I have to do some tax thing with something called FICA, on a quarterly basis

Sorry, never had to work with FICA before, what is this quarterly nonsense, and why is it I’m just hearing about it now? It is little things like this that I wish was I more prepared for when starting my firm. And much to my dismay, FICA was just one of the several important things that I was unaware of until recently.

Getting Advice: Pros and Cons

Getting advice from several different people can be very helpful. Someone is always going to mention something new. Since getting advice about my practice, I have yet to have a conversation where I haven’t learned or heard something new that I then had to google later.

Now, you might see other new solo practitioners go on about how many millions of people they spoke with before opening up shop. I both agree and disagree with that assessment.

It is important to talk to the people who have a thriving solo practice, they made it work after all, it’s a good idea to find out what worked for them. But you’re also going to have roughly 50% of the people telling you, “you need to do this” or “must do that.” The other 50% are telling you not to do those things but do different things. Reasonable people can disagree, and have different goals and experiences from which they’re imparting their wisdom.

The more I spoke with people the more I learned, but also started to doubt myself. Finally, I had enough and decided to pick and choose what works for me, and let bygones be bygones. If things work out, great. If it doesn’t seem to work out, then change tactics.

One example of this is when I started painting my new office. It was important to me, to make the space mine. So I wanted to paint it. Knowing that being a lawyer means talking and comforting people in times of need, I did my own color personality research. The results of my research meant I was going to paint my office a lovely shade of Hawaiian Teal.

When people first saw the dried color on the can, they seemed to really like it. When they saw it on part of the wall, still fine. But as I got more of the paint up on the wall, suddenly the comments shifted to, “it might be too much”, and “perhaps I should change the shade.” Well, I already had the office mostly painted at this point, so I was committed, plus I loved it! Once the rest of the office was finished, people loved it too.

Starting your own practice is no easy task, so look for advice and do what you think is best for you and your firm. So my advice to new solos, take the comments to heart but follow your heart as well.

About Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson is a newly solo lawyer, specializing in Estate Planning, Deeds and Elder Law. Liz is also a virtual office client in Law Firm Suites’ Annapolis, MD location. Her bi-weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the ins and outs of life as a solo attorney, finding her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice. Connect with Liz on LinkedIn or learn more on her website!

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