Before taking the plunge and opening your own law practice, there are some initial considerations you should ponder. Your success may depend on your personality, resources, and ability to get up to speed fast.
Do you have the personal attributes needed to open your own practice? The establishment of a successful law practice requires a compendium of skill sets including, for example, business, entrepreneurial, management, and marketing skills as well as the development of a practical knowledge of what, when, and why a particular operational method works. In addition to a solid technical and practical understanding of the duty of care; how black letter law will affect a client’s needs (stated and implied); and what you can do to help, you’ll need to have:
- Professional/people skills;
- Financial and organizational discipline;
- Confidence and integrity; and
- The ability to acquire and apply legal knowledge to practical situations.
Have you done financial planning? Because income growth typically is slow in the first year of practice, it’s important to plan for a certain number of months of negative cash flow. Set a budget, draft a business plan, and secure the financial resources—saved or borrowed—to sustain the practice during the start-up period. All overhead expenses associated with the start-up and operation of a practice must be taken into account as part of the planning process.
How will you develop a practice area proficiency? If you don’t have the necessary learning and skill to represent a client in a particular case, you’ve got 3 choices (Cal Rules of Prof Cond 3–110(C)):
- Decline representation;
- Associate with another attorney reasonably believed to be competent; or
- Acquire the needed learning and skill.
Apart from “learning by doing” on a case-by-case basis, attend relevant continuing legal education classes (such as those provided by CEB), carefully study state and local rules of court, and try to establish a relationship with one or more experienced attorneys who can be called on to field practical questions. Establish contacts with an experienced paralegal or legal secretary; they can be valuable in learning about local practice rules.
And get thee to a mentor! If you practiced in a firm before going solo, consider other firm members as potential mentors. Attend bar association networking events and use their Internet forums or “list-servs” to post hypothetical questions or request referrals and obtain feedback from experienced members. Also, many law school alumni associations have events at which both alumni and instructors have an opportunity to meet. These associations also often have annual newsletters listing achievements and activities of individuals within the associations. These events and newsletters offer a potential avenue for finding mentors.
Think you are ready to go solo? You’ll need CEB’s newest book California Basic Practice Handbook, which will help you handle “whatever walks in the door.”
Check out our related blog post: Starting a Solo Practice – Step 1: Getting Office Space.
This material is reproduced from Julie Brook’s blog entry, Should You Go Solo?, on the CEB Blog January 23, 2013. Copyright 2013 by the Regents of the University of California. Reproduced with permission of Continuing Education of the Bar – California. For information about CEB publications, telephone toll free 1-800-CEB-3444 or visit our Web site: CEB.com.