This is the age old question and my friend, Chuck Newton, addresses it in a post, "Why Do Not More Young Lawyers Start Their Own Law Practices."
Yes, coming from me this may sound like a promotion for Solo Practice University. But it's not. Chuck has no skin in the game. He has no product or service to sell. He does, however, have years of experience building a legal empire complete with massive overhead, numerous partners and associates and support staff, then by choice deconstructing the empire and reconstructing it as a home-based solo practice, reinventing himself as necessary within the profession, pivoting, doing everything lawyers must do today. He also has a very talented daughter who has since graduated from law school and entered the profession employed even though he encouraged her to go solo despite multiple suitors in this depressed market. How's that for being sincere about what he writes!
Chuck tackles the usual, unnecessary overhead, etc. But he hits the bull’s-eye when it comes to facing the hurdle called 'lack of experience.'
“As for the lack of experience argument, that is more daunting. Just understand that business knowledge and practice knowledge are not learned in law school. They are learned by doing. Another way of saying it is that the only way a lawyer is going to learn is to just dive into the practice and practice area and start doing. I understand that thought is not overly enjoyable, but my point is that it is not any more enjoyable working for someone else. All most law firms do anyway is to throw a young attorney into the pool and command them to swim. It is not as if they first put them through some private course of study on swimming. Sure, there are more experienced hands around should a new attorney need them, but those hands are available whether or not the attorney is with an existing firm. In fact, a lawyer probably has more access to such knowledge and experience if not associated with one firm, and if the lawyer is just willing to ask.”
Asking is the key. Associating with those who will offer assistance to you as a peer in the professional food chain is important. When I came out of law school this is precisely how I learned, asking those in the profession as a peer. I've written often about the subject of finding good mentors, good programs, networking and coming to the party fully engaged and understanding you are not a beggar. Networking as a peer is far superior than networking as someone 'unemployed' or underemployed or not even working in the professional field at all while waiting for the market to change.
In this market, lawyers are being forced to actually be entrepreneurs from the get-go or forsake their degrees while drowning in student loans and bartending. You still have choices. And one of those choices is taking a very hard, objective look at what solo practice really entails in today's environment and what tools you already have available or can get a low-to-no cost. It's also asking yourself how hard you are willing to work and how much you trust yourself to make the right decisions when it comes to asking for help. Ignore the negative and positive hype. Disregard the myths. Look at the actual work and true costs for you personally to be a solo today. Do NOT compare yourself to others and their unique situations. Strip away the fear and fantasy, really strip it away to bare bones. Now when you create your list of pros and cons what does your list look like? Is Chuck wrong or is he right?
Susan Cartier Liebel is the Founder & CEO of Solo Practice University®, the only educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students designed for those who want to create and grow their solo or small firm practices. A coach/consultant for solos and small firms, an attorney who started her own practice right out of law school, an Entrepreneur Advisor for Law Without Walls, an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law for eight years teaching law students how to open their own legal practices right out of law school, a columnist for LawyersUSA Weekly, the Connecticut Law Tribune, The Complete Lawyer, and Law.com, she has contributed to numerous online publications such as Forbes.com, legal publications and books on this topic as well as the issues facing women in the workforce. She speaks frequently to law schools and professional organizations around the country on issues facing solos, offering both practical knowledge and inspiration.