10 areas to explore when you’re thinking of going solo

According to the American Bar Association only 62.2 percent of the 2013 law school graduates were employed in long-term, full-time positions requiring admission to the bar. In recent years, more and more attorneys are opening up their own law practices, and a majority of the ISBA members are solo practitioners, or practice in small firm settings. What does it take to create and build a small law firm? The suggestions below are courtesy of my mentors, and fellow attorneys, as well as lessons learned through personal experiences.

1. Business Plan

Use available resources to structure a business plan. You can always adapt or modify it as you go along. You’ll find it helpful to tap into organizations like the ISBA, which offers a Practice Resource Center as well as a Mentorship Program. Another resource is SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Its work is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

2. Business Entity

Carefully consider and select the kind of business entity you would like to create. It will have both tax and liability implications.

3. Liability Insurance

Select and obtain liability insurance. You need it. No ifs, ands or buts about it. It’s a necessity. It takes care of your clients if you make a mistake. It also protects you. For a starting point consider ISBA Mutual Insurance Company, a valuable member benefit of the Illinois State Bar Association.

4. Right People

Carefully select the people with whom you want to work. When it comes to your business partners, make sure that you share the same goals for the business you are creating, and similar approaches to the practice of law. Make sure that your goals and interest are aligned. It also helps if you like them, or can at least appreciate their sense of humor. You will spend a lot of time with them.

5. Mentors

By this point, it’s to be hoped you already have mentors—people you trust, who can offer guidance and advice, especially where it comes to professional development. If you don’t have mentors, seek them out. Look for people you respect, and ask if they would be willing to fill the role. Consider joining the ISBA Mentorship Program that I mentioned earlier. If you are lucky, the best mentors, over time become trusted advisers and friends. I wouldn’t be who I am now without all of my wonderful mentors and friends.

6. Right Advisors

Find the right experts and advisors. Your accountant will ideally become a trusted resource and a source of financial and business advice. If you are anything like me, your tech expert will rescue you over and over again. You will need people like them to do what they do best so that you can focus and do what you do best, practice law.

7. Location, Location, Location

Consider your infrastructure, location and staffing needs. Do you want to have your own office space? Would you rather utilize an office sharing arrangement or maybe a virtual office? Consider what will work best for your practice, your geographic location, and of course your budget. Don’t forget to consider your staffing needs. Will you be looking to hire full time support, or would a part-time, or even a virtual assistant suit your needs and your budget? Again, you’ll find the ISBA Practice Resource Center helpful.

8. Technology

Technology is key to helping the solo law practice operate effectively and efficiently, and avoid risk. Today’s law practice has available to it software that facilitates everything from calendaring to practice management, and email communication is the rule, not the exception. Research the wealth of options available to you.

9. Funding

Be realistic about your financial resources. It might take some time for your firm to show a profit. Until then how will you finance your firm? Don’t forget to consider how you will support yourself. Start reading about business financing. Start with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and ISBA Practice Resource Center

10. Marketing

Don’t forget that once you start your practice you are no longer just practicing law. You are now a business owner. You have a responsibility beyond representing your clients, and that’s to keep the business running. Marketing yourself—whether through a profile on LinkedIn or by creating a Web site—is key to raising your profile with potential clients as well as possible referral sources like other attorneys so your business pipeline is constantly flowing.

The solo life is not for everyone. You’ll work as hard as any lawyer in one of the top-tier firms for a paycheck that may or may not measure up. But you’ll experience considerable satisfaction from what you’ve achieved by building your own practice. ■


Anna P. Krolikowska, a partner in K & R Family Legal Services L.L.P., Northbrook, IL, represents clients in all aspects of family law matters. In 2015, she was selected as a “Rising Star” by Illinois Super Lawyers magazine, a designation achieved by fewer than 2.5% of attorneys under 40 in Illinois.

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June 2015Volume 36Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)