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January 18, 2011 Practice Points

Going Solo: Starting Your Own Practice

By Virginia Sierra

There are a few key elements new lawyers need to consider when beginning a solo practice. Generally, solo practitioners have worked at another firm during the beginning of their careers. However, in today's economy that is not always an option. The number of new lawyers opening their own firms is increasing as the job market for attorneys remains low.

New attorneys should use existing contacts for two purposes: (1) networking and generating clients; and (2) legal contacts for mentoring and advice. In addition to using existing legal contacts as mentors, new attorneys can contact their state bar association for a list of attorneys willing to offer free advice. Most experienced lawyers are willing to help out a new attorney starting out on their own. They are also a great source of feedback on quality of the work product and the practice. It is suggested that attorneys read the ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 98-411, however, before asking for any outside help, as well as periodically review the Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorney intuition is not always the best rule to follow.

By using existing contacts to network, a solo practitioner can save on advertising costs and still effectively market themselves. Solo attorneys can also rely on court and public defender appointed clients to generate business. Keeping overhead low is another key to operating a successful small firm. Attorneys should find free resources in their area and online and manage as much of the business aspect of the firm as possible.

Additionally, attorneys should stay within their areas of expertise, as venturing out into unknown territory may lead to mistakes. Proper communication with clients is critical: If you make a mistake, be open with your client. Lawyers have a duty to keep clients properly informed; this also helps to manage client expectations. Part of open communication should be establishing fees clearly and directly. Do not allow accounts to remain unpaid. Work hard and create your own success.

Virginia Sierra is with Cohen Kennedy Dowd & Quigley, PC in Phoenix, Arizona.

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