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When a Law Firm Isn't the Right Fit for Your Legal Practice: Starting Your Own Solo Practice

ByBeth Lebowitz,
business.com writer
|
Jun 05, 2019
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When you'll know it's time to kick-start a solo legal practice.

The "traditional" career path within the legal field certainly works for some, but you might feel that your calling is a bit different.

Life has a way of changing our priorities, and you may have begun asking yourself if your "classic" career-path is too old-school for your current interests and priorities. If you're feeling this way, know that you’re not alone. In fact, a survey conducted in 2008 by the American Bar Association revealed that almost half of the lawyers surveyed were not satisfied with their careers.

Why do so many lawyers stay in their practices if they feel so uncomfortable? I asked this question to many attorneys, and the answer is almost always that they’re settling because they at least feel safe. But just how important is it that you feel "safe," if that safety leaves you feeling disappointed on a regular basis?

Sometimes the reality doesn’t match the dream

Many attorneys find themselves spending way too much time at the office, altogether losing any semblance of a work-life balance. An article published by The Atlantic states that attorneys are often working 60 to 70 hours per week. That sizeable of a workload can lead to burnout, fast.

An emerging problem is that most legal firms enforce hourly billing requirements. These imbalanced economic incentives make it increasingly difficult for attorneys to maintain genuine relationships with their clients, while still maintaining their lives outside of work. I’ve spoken with many lawyers who left their law firm because they despised this particular aspect thought of their role. This traditional model also means that your success is related to your time instead of your real value and capabilities, which severely diminishes customer-oriented practices.

Another problem that I frequently hear about is that when you work in a law firm, your time, the nature of your cases, and the type of clients you take on are usually chosen for you. Another complication is the high overhead costs that you pay for out-of-pocket. This can lead to misalignment of customer acquisition.

Given the hardiness required to become a successful lawyer, you deserve the power to make personalized decisions. Why should someone else be in charge? You should not have to struggle to be at the forefront of your career, or to make the decisions that best suit your interests, education and lifestyle.

Daring to start your own solo practice is not exempt from its own complexities, but it certainly can be done. Lawyers looking to leave their traditional law firms do have resources available to help them kick-start their own practices.

Auxana is one useful resource, which can be considered a "law-firm-in-a-box" for corporate lawyers who want to run their own business, but fear leaving the "safety net" of their traditional firm. The platform connects members' attorneys with potential clients who need monthly legal services and strategic advice, typically during the company's growth life cycle. In addition to connecting you to potential leads, there are also, proven tools, marketing strategy and implementation, peer-to-peer collaboration, support, training and management resources provided, as well as a predictable revenue model through a flat monthly billing fee.

You’ll still have to address some additional business aspects. For example, entity formation and malpractice insurance will need to be obtained. It is also important to establish relationships with strategic business partners for referrals. If you don't have clients, obviously you won't have a practice. If you are able to take your clients with you when you leave your law firm, make sure that you’ve spoken with everyone to ensure they understand your move and are comfortable with it. If you need to start over with your clientele, you should start marketing immediately. It's also important to make sure you have a budget for your new individual overhead. Don’t simply guess at this, but really sit down and figure out all of your new overhead costs.

You can redefine what a "successful" legal career looks like, and that might start with evaluating if the "safety net" of a law firm actually provides you with the life you want. If you're feeling burnt-out and wish that you could have a more balanced life that includes a more client-centric role, it may be time to take the leap into starting your own solo practice.

Beth Lebowitz
Beth Lebowitz
See Beth Lebowitz's Profile
I’ve been an Outsourced General Counsel now for almost four years and this type of practice has revolutionized how I view the practice of law. I work in my client’s offices and know their team, from the sales reps to the executive leadership to the dev team. Together we craft solutions to mitigate risk and creatively address issues proactively. My goal is to be the first person the CEO or CFO calls when they want to discuss a new product, an internal process, or an upcoming deal or transaction. The company pays a flat monthly fee, just like a salary. This creates a much deeper, ongoing, and collaborative relationship between attorney and client, which I absolutely love. When meeting with new prospects and companies, we talk about what their pain points are, not necessarily what I do. Because what I do as an Outsourced GC is to find ways to solve their problems, whether that be implementing equity management and corporate governance technology, taking over the sales contract negotiation process, organizing, updating, and managing their contract templates, or simply answering legal questions from the entire team. My legal practice started with early stage start-up companies because I loved getting involved from the ground-floor and helping founders make decisions to set their companies up for success. From there, I started working with later stage, growth companies, and the opportunity to get involved at a leadership level to support corporate executives in making decisions was a natural and exciting progression. Fundamentally, my goal in practice is to completely change the nature of the attorney – client relationship. I work with a small, core group of companies that I know very well and that know me very well. There is no question of when or whether to call the attorney. In the business context, I believe having a business-minded attorney on your team can make a huge difference.
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