Four Hard Truths Behind Going Solo

Hey and welcome to Wednesday on Lawyers & Liquor, where the coffee flows like brown, muddy, too strong wine and the mumblings of the week have hit their zenith. It’s all downhill from here, folks, and speaking of downhill, remember a while back when I told you about the times you should be looking to bail the hell out of your law firm? No? Well, you can go read that little gem here. In fact, I’d sort of suggest that you do that before we get the ball rolling here, because today we’re going to talk about the second half of the crappy “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” equation, which is “Can you afford to get out the door and go it alone?”

Sure sure, there are plenty of legal jobs out there in the world, if you particularly enjoy taking a pay cut or secretly trying to apply to other firms without the word getting back to the bosses that sign your paycheck that you’re in the market for a change. I mean, just ask any recent graduate how many awesome jobs are beating down their doors to hire them. I mean you could…hold on, let me take a look at my LinkedIn “Jobs For You” section…be a paralegal. Or…a paralegal. Oh, wait, here’s one for an insurance salesman. Well isn’t that all just fine and dandy, huh? There are plenty of jobs out there for a lawyer looking to move around, so long as they don’t want to be a lawyer.

So…maybe you should go solo then? Maybe you should snag the pictures from the walls and run into the night, calling each of your clients individually to scream “I’m free, motherfucker! Follow me!” You can hang a shingle somewhere, be a real rainmaker. Right?

Oh you poor fool. I’m gonna give you Four Hard Truths about going solo, and you can see if you’re a smart man.

1. You Will Be Broke.

Let’s face the facts right off the bat: going solo is something you can’t do on a whim. You’re not going to walk in one day and say “I’m sick of my job, and I think I can do it on my own,” hang a shingle, and hit the ground running. That doesn’t happen, and it doesn’t happen because the vast majority of new solo practitioners will not make a profit off the bat. They say that when you’re running a business you should expect to lose a bunch of money before you make any money, and the same is true for lawyers.

If you’re lucky you can take some clients with you when you go and your employer won’t try to salt the earth for you in the local bar when you do so. That’ll give you a couple cases to at least pay the office and equipment overhead, right? But a couple wills and that one personal injury case isn’t going to be enough to keep you rolling in bologna sandwiches and cold Hot Pockets (using the microwave costs electricity, and electricity costs money. Do you think we’re Cravath here, Jerry? You’ll enjoy your Pocketsicle just like everyone else has to). And at the same time the stream of income dries up, you’re going to have expenses to pay out…insurance, office rent, utilities, your costs of living for you and the family, everything that makes sure you aren’t “Dipsh** Esquire, Hobo at Law.”

So I mean, accept that for the vast majority of you who are imagining going solo, unless you have a decent amount of savings you need to be prepared to give up the finer things in life, like meals, to make it for a bit.

2. Fuck Home Offices.

You hear a lot of people talking about the “cloud office” these days, namely that you can run an entire company from your living room. Lawyers are buying into it too, and many of them do perfectly fine. They have areas set aside for meeting with folks in their home, and it’s almost like operating an actual law office out of the place. Or maybe they’re appellate lawyers who never really have to meet with clients and have the option to work exclusively from their homes. Or maybe they’re dipsh*** who don’t understand “the McDonald’s on the Corner” is not a valid place to meet your clients.

But if you serve people, at some point those people are going to want to meet with you, and they’re not going to want to meet with you in your living room as Thomas the Tank Engine plays in the background, the dogs are barking, and the kids are running in circles pantsless talking about the pee monster. When people hire a lawyer, they want to hire a consumate legal professional, and because the general public has no idea what really makes a decent attorney, they look to the trappings of the profession: the suit, the car, the office, the wood paneling on the walls, all of that crap. You, in your sweatpants that read “Juicy” on the ass (seriously Jerry, stop it), lounging in a recliner, do not exude the image of a professional.

Plus, and here’s an important consideration: do you really want your clients knowing where you live? I get nervous when one of them finds my Facebook. I don’t want to talk to my clients, and I definitely don’t want them feeling like they can just drop by during dinner to get an update on their case.

So let’s face the facts, you’re going to need some form of office or meeting space, be it a permanent location or merely an empty office some other lawyer lets you use for meetings. And that stuff costs money, folks. Real money, not the promises of future money.

3. You Can’t Just Rely On The Internet.

Over a year ago now I wrote a piece on how to originate clients with absolutely no budget. The first two tips that I gave folks were internet based – start a website or a blog, and keep posting rubbish to both to get clients to see your smiling face, complete with a grin and all.

But you can’t just rely on the internet and SEO to bring you clients. That’s not how it works. And I don’t mean to take away from SEO there, because we all know how valuable that can be in bringing in new clients. If you don’t believe me, take a look at these case studies which prove how effective good seo services can be. Increasing your traffic to your website means that you will get more clients. It’s really that simple. Of course, you should employ the right methods and strategies to target the local audience. This is possible when you try to gain traffic from search engines based on geo-located searches by customers. In simpler terms, some of the best local seo tools can attract your local clients. But that’s a passive form of client acquisition, and when you’re fighting for every dollar you assholes can’t afford to be passive. I’m not saying you need to be stalking emergency rooms and funeral homes like some low-rent Paul Newman (that would be solicitation, and it’s bad), but you definitely need to be doing more than dicking around online. You have to get the fuck out there.

Sitting in the office waiting for the phone to ring doesn’t generate clients, kids. What you have to do is go give talks at libraries about wills, meet with church groups, network with insurance agents and chiropractors so they can suggest you to people, and hand a business card to every person you meet. Back when I sold cars, I used to go down into the city and look for the most busted, beat-up, horrible rust buckets I could find on the street. Then I would jot ‘We buy cars” on the back of my salesman business cards and slip them under the windshield, because I had to make people think it was time to trade in and look for something new to get them in the door, and it worked to some extent. That stuff originated sales.

I’m not saying go to the hospice and start sliding people business cards with “I write wills” on the back. You’re a goddamn professional, don’t do that crap. But at the end of the day you’re going to have to get out there and get people to know you as “the lawyer.” You want name association in the minds of the public, and you’re only going to get that, and the clients that come from that, if you get your ass out there and hustle, hustle, hustle, baby.

4. You’ll Probably Fail.

Let’s be frank: A lot of solo practices fail. They fail when they have no clients, they fail when they have lots of clients. They simply fail. But all those who have professional liability insurance are at least saved from the pressures of professional failure and damage claims alleged by their frustrated clients.

And the reason for all these failures is…a lot of lawyers aren’t businessmen, salesmen, accountants, office managers, and all of the other things you’re more or less required to be a success at business. So what’s your goal in going solo? Is it to build a big enough book of clients that you’ll get into another firm? Fine. You just have to be good enough at the non-lawyering parts of the job to make it till then.

But if it’s to build a thriving practice, you have to be a jack of all trades, not just a jackass in a suit. Otherwise, you’re flirting with failure right out of the gate. Because running a goddamn business is hard.

That’s all I got today. I’ll be back Friday on Furry Friday, and then next week I have some war stories for you guys!