Despite the name, a successful solo attorney should never actually be “solo.” Whether you just took the attorney oath or you are contemplating leaving a firm to hang your own shingle, starting your own firm is daunting and a financial risk; a venture you should not do on your own. Fortunately, our small legal community here in San Diego offers a variety of ways for you to network with other attorneys and discover other resources to allow you to build your practice and put you on a path to success.
About me: I started solo. The job market plummeted the year before I graduated, and despite finishing in the top third of my class, I could not land that perfect “firm” job. I had no choice but to go solo. Fortunately, I found support for this decision (and I use the term loosely given my lack of options) through the relationships I built with other attorneys in our community, both during and after law school.
All lawyers, from the newest to the most experience, benefit from interacting with other attorneys. One benefit is to avoid reinventing the wheel. In a larger firm, you have access to templates and prior pleadings. Coming out of law school and going solo is a different scenario. Learning the reality of how a civil case works, from all the nuances of filing requirements to general procedure, to how to respond to a settlement offer, would take decades to learn and master on one’s own. Having someone to reach out to who can explain to you the basics without having to pour through the civil and criminal code and rules can save you hours in research. When you're solo, that “someone” comes through your network. Reaching out for guidance is easier and more practical than going it alone.
Another benefit is to have other attorneys to bounce ideas off of. Attorneys can get bogged down working so closely with the facts of the case; they can get stuck. It helps to discuss the case with another attorney who can offer a different perspective, a different set of experiences, and a fresh view of the facts. Sometimes, it takes only one question to open up a new cause of action, a new defense, or a new interpretation of evidence that you would have missed by yourself.
Having connections with other attorneys can also help you with the rollercoaster of work you may experience while starting a firm. Whether you have someone to give you contract work while you find your feet, or have someone to perform contract work for you when you may be busier than you expect, connections with other firms can help you with growing pains. Plus, if you find attorneys you work with well together, you may end up joining forces! Such proven track records often lead to better partnerships than entering into partnerships blindly.
In order to reap these benefits, you have to build your support network. The key to building your support network is to get out in the community and meet attorneys of all different experience levels. You can start by utilizing your ready-made networks, including your law school classmates and the SDCBA. The Forum for Emerging Lawyers is designed to help you meet lawyers of your own age and integrate you with the greater bar at large. You can attend section events in a group and network with a more seasoned group of lawyers. Reach out to lawyers in your practice area to have colleagues with whom you can discuss your area of law. Hang out at court and observe more experienced attorneys. Find a mentor (or three) who can help guide you through your practice.
And finally, use your networking to continue to learn about how to make new contacts and open your own firm. The San Diego County Bar Association is putting on a series of programs about opening your own firm. You can learn more about these programs and access other resources for opening your law practice by following at www.sdcba.org/buildyourpractice.
It may not be easy to open your own practice, but many people who do find it rewarding and freeing. It is a much easier process, though, if you remove yourself from the mindset of being “solo” and build a network to support your path to success. Only through successful networking was I able to survive the first couple years, and grow my firm from just me, to having a full time associate, a contract attorney, and four assistants in just five years!