January 07, 2016 Practice Points

"5 Signs You're Not Ready to Open a Solo Practice"

By Emily J. Kirk

In the article “5 Signs You’re Not Ready to Open a Solo Practice,” published on January 5, 2016, in Above the Law, author Susan Cartier Liebel discusses a personal checklist that every attorney should go through before deciding to go it alone.  

According to Liebel, if you fall within any of the following categories, you may not be ready to go out on your own: 

1. You need someone to tell you what’s next. According to Liebel, this is a “biggie.” She states that if you lack self-motivation and rely on others to get you started, you are going to have problems. Entrepreneurship requires working alone. Accordingly, you must be the type of person who gets things done. If you are the type of person who needs a boss telling you what is next or encouraging you to accomplish tasks, Liebel advises that you’re not ready.

2. You can’t take the heat. Liebel acknowledges that running a business is stressful and can even be overwhelming at times. Solo practitioners must “produce quality legal work, represent your clients well, and deal with their stresses, too.” Accordingly, Liebel states that to go out on your own, you have to perform well under pressure. If you don’t perform well in such circumstances, or find yourself turning to food, caffeine, recreational drugs, or alcohol to cope, Liebel encourages you to think long and hard about whether you are ready to take on the stresses of running a legal services business where you are responsible for other people’s lives.

3. You’re going in blind. Liebel stresses that you have to do your homework when starting any type of business. She points out that you can become very knowledgeable about the basics of running a business before you open your doors. She suggests looking to the Internet or reaching out to others who are doing what you want to do. With the wealth of available information, Liebel states there is no excuse for not being knowledgeable about how to succeed in running a successful practice.

4. You lack passion for practicing the law on your own. Liebel says that while passion is an overused word and it isn’t her number one prerequisite for success in going out on your own, it still plays an important role. Starting a solo practice is a significant commitment and if you don’t believe in what you are doing, you will have no internal emotional support to handle the inevitable bumps in the road. Passion reminds you why you are working so hard and it keeps you moving forward. Liebel says if you aren’t starting your practice feeling passionate, you’re not ready. At least not right now.

5. You’re a copycat. Liebel reminds attorneys that building a business is a creative expression of “who you are, your goals, your mission, and desires in life.” When business stagnates, she states there is often a tendency to look to see what others are doing to succeed. But Liebel cautions that what works for others isn’t likely to work for you. She states “[i[f you don’t have a firm handle on why you are doing what you are doing, the uniqueness of what will make you successful, and your particular circumstances, you’re just going to be a copycat.” Liebel emphasizes that if you’re a copycat, you aren’t ready to open your own practice. At least not yet.

Liebel concludes by saying that to be successful in opening a solo practice you have to be honest with yourself. You have to know what you want in life and how having your own solo practice will get you there. She reminds attorneys that passion is important and preparation is key. But understanding yourself and your motivation is most important of all.  

Keywords: solo and small firm, litigation, solo practice, advice, Susan Cartier Liebel

Emily J. Kirk is an associate at McCune Wright LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.

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