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December 12, 2023 Sailing Solo

Top Five Tips for New Solos

Shannon O’Neill Jones
Relinquishing some control is crucial to having a successful solo practice and maintaining a balance between your work and personal life.

Relinquishing some control is crucial to having a successful solo practice and maintaining a balance between your work and personal life.

Rich Legg via Getty Images

The decision to go solo can cause you to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. It is both terrifying and exciting. “Sailing solo” requires you to balance so many different roles—your role as an attorney, a business owner, a boss, an office manager, a digital marketer, and even an office cleaner and repair person. If something goes wrong at the office or if an employee calls in sick or has a family emergency, you, as the owner, are ultimately the one who must step in and make things right.

While it may be difficult for attorneys to relinquish any sort of control of our practice, doing so is a crucial element of having a successful solo practice and maintaining a balance between your work and your personal life. The more that you can outsource certain jobs and roles to other professionals and focus on your clients and practicing law, the better off you and your business will be. Here are five tips for running a successful solo practice:

1. Hire an Experienced, Detail-Oriented Paralegal

Let me say this again: Hire an experienced, detail-oriented paralegal. Good paralegals are worth their weight in gold and will provide critical support to you as the attorney. My paralegal always tells me that it is her job to make me look good, and she does! A good paralegal should be able to assist you with drafting documents, doing legal research, and gathering information from clients, which will allow you to focus more on being the attorney—consultations and meetings with clients, legal strategy, and court appearances. A paralegal who is also a notary public is a bonus, especially in certain areas of law such as estate planning and real estate. The best part is you can bill your paralegal out to your clients at an hourly rate, so they make you money, which is good for both the legal and the business sides of your solo practice. Having a paralegal who bills out at a lesser hourly rate also minimizes costs for your client and will make clients more confident that your invoices will be reasonable, which makes them more likely to hire you.

2. Hire Support Staff That You Trust

Hiring an office manager, bookkeeper, IT person, and marketing/social media person will benefit your solo practice in so many ways. When I first started my practice, I refused to give control of my business social media to anyone else. It felt too personal, like letting a stranger in on a deep, dark secret. I would get home after my workday, sit on the couch, and try to come up with creative and engaging posts—and it was exhausting. When I finally turned my social media over to a professional, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, and my posts became better and engaged a larger audience. I started to get clients from my social media and realized that my social media person paid for herself, like my paralegal. Hiring an office manager is also critical, as it is nearly impossible to give your clients the attention that they need and deserve if you are answering phones all day. An office manager should be able to deal with day-to-day communication with clients, such as handling appointment requests and cancellations, sending out fee agreements and retainer requests, and taking care of the mail. You are a professional in your field, so focus on what you have been trained to do. Delegate tasks to others and allow them to do what they are best at.

3. Invest in Case Management Software

I personally use MyCase and love it, but there are so many options. My first year or two in practice, I refused to pay for case management software. My student loans had recently come due, and I had just purchased my practice from another attorney, so I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough. I would keep track of my hours using my phone’s timer and a spreadsheet for each client, which, as you can imagine, made the process of invoicing clients at the end of the month very time-consuming. With MyCase, I can have multiple timers open at once, so I can easily switch between matters. Creating invoices and retainer requests for clients is a breeze, and everything can be sent to clients through the MyCase portal. Another great thing about MyCase is its calendaring function. It is so important as a busy solo attorney to stay organized and not miss any deadlines. MyCase syncs with my Google calendar and color codes deadlines, client meetings and consultations, staff meetings, and hearings so I can stay on top of my heavy workload.

4. Embrace Technology

And I don’t just mean TikTok. Technology will allow you to better serve your clients, manage your workload, and reduce your costs and overhead. Clients are becoming more and more comfortable with technology, and many clients have an expectation that you use new technologies in your firm. Many clients, especially those of younger generations, do not want to talk to anyone on the phone to schedule an appointment and do not want to waste time driving to an office to meet with someone in person. It’s much easier to go to a business’s website, look at their calendar, and book an appointment online with one click. These days, people just want things to be easy and do not value face-to-face interaction as much. Having an online booking system, as well as options for virtual meetings, will allow you to attract a larger audience and increase your caseload.

5. Stay in Touch with Your Mentors

This is huge! Sailing Solo means that you may not have other attorneys in your office whom you can run to when you need advice or guidance. You can’t always rely solely on legal research for procedural or unique issues in the law. Having a list of experienced attorneys whom you can turn to for help will make your job much easier. Going to in-person CLEs and networking events will help you to meet other attorneys who practice in your same area. Even if another attorney has not been practicing as long as you, he or she may have different and unique experiences and may be able to provide good insight.

To be a great attorney, great business owner, and great boss, you must learn to relinquish control. Not all control, but just enough that it allows you to focus on your role as an attorney. Relinquishing control and delegating tasks to experienced staff members will make you a better attorney, and your clients will thank you for it. Investing in cost-effective technology will allow you to grow your practice and run your practice more efficiently. Taking tasks off your plate is also beneficial for your mental health and well-being. You can do a lot, but you cannot do it all!

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Shannon O’Neill Jones

Solo Practitioner

Shannon O’Neill Jones, a San Diego native, has been practicing trust and estates law in Ocean Beach since she passed the California bar exam in 2015. When she is not at the office, you will find her volunteering with the Huntington’s Disease Society of America or enjoying the beach with her three stepchildren.