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What to Do When You Are Leaving a Large Firm and Going Solo

Nkoyo-Ene Effiong


  • When leaving a career in big law to a solo practice, plan your departure.
  • Prepare for your launch when you leave a big law firm to go solo.
  • Position yourself for success by mastering your mindset.
What to Do When You Are Leaving a Large Firm and Going Solo
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Are you transitioning from a career in big law to solo practice? Congratulations! This is an incredibly exciting shift. Not only are you betting on yourself, but you are also joining a thriving community of lawyers who have made the same choice. Combining my experience and the experiences of my peers who also left big law and grew healthy six-figure-plus law practices, here are three things you should do to successfully transition from a large law firm lawyer to a rock star solo lawyerpreneur.

Step 1: Plan Your Departure

This is the beginning of anything you want.—Anonymous

Take time to think about how you plan to leave your current firm. There are the obvious logistics of resigning, transitioning case files, and returning firm equipment. Then there are the subtle determinations related to the impression you want to leave. For example, do you want to maintain a relationship with the firm? Do you anticipate the firm being a good source of referrals for you? Will your practice be a direct competitor for the big law practice area you are leaving? Are you taking the firm’s entire practice area with you?

Depending on your position within the firm, your departure could be as simple as notifying your practice leader that you are leaving, transitioning matters, withdrawing from cases if applicable, and updating relevant bodies with your new contact information. It can also be more complex. This is particularly true if you intend to depart the firm with your current clients. In this instance, your most practical step may be to contact your state bar’s ethics hotline or practice management program for a more nuanced conversation about how best to proceed.

In addition to the logistics of leaving, you should consider the impact of this transition on your lifestyle. Planning your departure includes assessing the financial and other resources you need to run your firm while supporting yourself as you grow. You need to know how much money you must have to fulfill your essential needs. You also need to know how long you can maintain your lifestyle before you are in dire need of generating new revenue.

Knowing your baseline financial needs is also instructive when positioning, packaging, and pricing your services. At a bare minimum, you need to charge enough to meet your basic lifestyle needs and your business expenses.

Once you have determined your baseline needs, brainstorm ways you can make money in case you do not land enough new clients within that window. If you are billing against a retainer, brainstorm ways to make money in the period it takes to earn your fee. When you bill against a retainer, you are only entitled to fees when they are earned. Often that is not the same day fees may be available in your trust account. Thus, you should factor that delay into your budget to ensure sufficient cash flow as you grow.

Step 2: Prepare for Your Launch

An announcement is something you post. A launch is something you plan.—Audria Richmond

Launching a new law practice is a lot like preparing for a hearing. You have a date for the hearing, and you take a series of concerted steps to prepare for that date. Similarly, before your law practice is open to receiving new clients, you should take a few specific steps.

First, adopt the mindset that you are a media company. Gary Vaynerchuk famously said in 2014, “Every single company out there, whether they know it or not, is a media company in addition to the business or product that they specialize in” (emphasis in original). If potential clients do not know that you exist and that you solve the types of problems they have, it is nearly impossible for them to hire you. Marketing and self-promotion are required. Marketing is the air that keeps your practice alive.

Second, spend time studying your ideal client. What types of problems do they have? How do they describe their problems? Which of those problems can you help them solve? Where do they go for information? What influences their purchasing choices? How do they prefer to buy services? Knowing the answer to questions about the demographics and psychographics of your potential clients will help you better position your services, screen for qualified leads, and navigate your consultations confidently. Armed with this information, you can adapt your messaging to meet your ideal clients where they currently are and guide them to your solution.

You can also use this information to assess your brand. Does your online presence consistently reflect the legal problems you solve, and for whom? Do you have an online presence? If your answer is no, it is time to refine your brand. LinkedIn is a helpful platform to use as you redefine your brand. By completing your profile and engaging with others through your comments, posts, and articles, you can quickly build your online presence and position yourself as an expert cost-effectively. You can also refine your online personal brand by writing articles for reputable publications and booking interviews with podcasters who share a similar audience. These activities expose you to a broader audience and build your social proof.

Finally, it is time to tell everyone consistently about what you do. You can start by making a list of everyone you know and sending them an announcement about the launch of your law practice. Let people know you are accepting new clients and how they can direct potential clients to you. Your first few clients will likely come from within your network, so nurture it well. You can also post your announcements on social media, host a launch party, or create a press release to spread the word beyond your immediate circle of influence. Many strategies discussed above to build social proof will also benefit you in this awareness-building stage.

Step 3: Position Yourself for Success.

Business success is 80 percent psychology, 20 percent mechanics.—Tony Robbins

Your ongoing success will reflect your ability to master your mindset. One of the most significant changes that will help you grow is shifting from a big law employee’s mindset to a business owner’s mindset, especially if this is your first business.

As a big law firm attorney, your job was to be meticulous with the legal work, demonstrate competence with your clients and peers, and navigate internal politics. Depending on your role, you may not have engaged in business development or marketing meetings. You may not have pitched potential clients, managed client relationships, or been required to bring in and retain new clients. As a solo practitioner, you must do all that and more. For those reasons, you must be intentional about developing a mindset that enables you to be decisive, implement information quickly, be flexible, iterate, choose progress over perfection, and recover quickly from failure and rejection.

Several resources are available to help you grow your business owner’s mindset. These include books, podcasts, business and mindset coaching, and mastermind groups. In addition to these resources, online and in-person communities focused on supporting business owners and entrepreneurs are instructive. Entrepreneurship is truly a team sport and is done best with others.

As you start this new chapter, know that you have all the resources you need. Your experience in a large law firm has provided you with a foundation from which you can expand. You have what it takes to design and run the law practice of your dreams. Best wishes on your journey. Cheers to your success!