October 01, 2016

Two Practical Tips for Young (and Not So Young) Solos

Ernesto Sigmon

If you want your practice to thrive, you must (1) have a system for organized planning and (2) find a good mentor that takes a personal interest in your success.

First, planning.

When it comes to building a successful solo practice remember to “plan your work and then work your plan.” Intelligent planning requires goal setting. Far too may professionals step onto the field with no specific plan.

Many are content to just “survive” or “do well.” That is not enough. Everyone wants to survive and do well. Generic aspirations will not produce the same results as a specific plan with milestones and deadlines designed to keep you motivated and ultimately hold you accountable.

So, if your overall business goal is the “destination” (for example, generating $X million in revenue for 2017) then organized planning is the tactical means by which you will execute and navigate to get there. Implementing new marketing campaigns, developing new trial skills and strategies, increasing community presence, and finding new ways to increase the value of your client service are all examples of tactical execution that can be geared toward meeting your revenue target.

I also encourage you to borrow “big firm” planning policies for use in your solo practice (minus, of course, the bureaucracy and politics that some of you left behind), such as setting an operating budget and formally reviewing firm plans on a monthly and quarterly basis to see if they are working. If you find your plans lacking in any way, refine them and readjust.

If you are executing properly, you may find that you are on course to outperform. Congratulations. Either way, it is better to stay ahead of things and do the heavy lifting needed to stay sharp and focused as you progress through the year. Remember: plan your work and work your plan. Finally, whatever planning method or schedule you adopt remember to write it down. Making a written commitment to yourself can do wonders for motivation, so keep it where you can see it throughout the day and night as needed.

Good mentoring from a trusted and experienced advisor is another critical component of your success as a solo. Get a mentor. You need one. We all do. Solos often don’t have the luxury of programs designed to “match” professionals, so you will have to make the effort and show the same initiative in this area that you have shown in others. The quality of the guidance you receive from your mentor will often derive from the quality of the relationship itself. A strong, authentic relationship with a more experienced lawyer that has taken a personal interest in seeing you succeed and helping you avoid the many pitfalls awaiting us all (whether you represent the big corporation, the little guy, or everything in between) is absolutely key.

No matter where you are in your career you should be able to identify at least one person that you have bonded with who knows more than you do and that you trust. Call him or her. Let them know what you are doing and that you would appreciate being able to reach out when you need another ear or brain. Keep in mind that the best relationships are bilateral and that everyone’s time is valuable.

So be sure that you are reciprocating and contributing to the quality of your “master mind” association to your mutual benefit. Be thoughtful, attentive, and open. Listen, learn, and demonstrate the ability to take positive direction and coaching. Plan to meet on a regular basis to stay in contact. Authentic relationships born of personal contact and personal “glue” bear the most fruit. But remember: as a solo it will be up to you to get it done. Make the effort to find a mentor and cultivate the relationship. It could be the secret to avoiding costly mistakes and the key to unlocking new opportunities for professional development.

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Ernesto Sigmon

Ernesto Sigmon is the founder and principal of Sigmon Law, PLLC, a plaintiff’s law firm focusing on business disputes and catastrophic personal injury cases. Mr. Sigmon is a graduate of the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. He also has an LL.M. in International Law from George Washington University Law School and an MBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.