Granahan Law, P.C.
West Coast Lemons
Goody Law Group
Gamliel Law, P.C.
Conor Granahan, Michelle Fonseca-Kamana, Taly Goody, and Alexis Gamliel sat down (remotely, à la pandemic) and put their heads together to bring you their experience-based insight on founding, managing, and operating their very own law firms. This article is their brainchild. Conor kicks us off with his thoughts, and Michelle, Taly, and Alexis sprinkle in their “pro tips” for those interested in launching their own solo practice in 2021.
Conor: Go solo in 2021! It sounds scary. Even saying “going solo” sounds like you are heading out into the woods on a personal quest, perhaps never to return. But this is one of the unique things about being a licensed professional: You are able to work for yourself.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, work remotely, control your work, choose your clients, be creative, join a community, and develop a brand, then solo work is for you.
1. BE AN ENTREPRENEUR
Conor: You are your own startup! You already have the idea: a law practice. In relative terms for businesses, the startup costs are very low for a solo, especially with remote work.
Now for the fun part – you get to do it how you want because it is your business. You get to choose your practice areas, your market, your clients, and your target revenue. You get to create ideas for case strategy, advertising, and marketing.
You get to learn how to run a business. This is a skill that transfers to any other professional pursuit you undertake. Working out a budget and revenue targets to grow my practice has given me a great deal of professional satisfaction. I am always learning and want to keep learning to get better and more efficient at the business side of the practice to serve my clients well.
Pro Tip from Michelle: Keep your overhead low. As solo practitioners, we have the opportunity to be very resourceful. Keeping your operating budget low will not only help you survive that first year, it will set you up to run a cost-efficient law firm in the future.
Pro Tip from Taly: If you’ve always wanted to be a business owner or a leader, here’s your chance! Going solo and starting your own law practice is your business – it’s also your baby. Watch your baby (business) grow and have fun with it!
Pro Tip from Alexis: While it is important to have an “entrepreneurial spirit” to foster innovation, the driving force behind my firm continues to be excellent work product and client-focused care. It can be easy to get caught up in business development tasks, the hype of social media, and other ways to achieve growth – sometimes too much “entrepreneurship” can create too much noise. Knowing when to mute the business development and turn up the volume on the casework is key. Plus, keeping your eyes on the prize of quality legal work is never bad for business.
2. WORK REMOTELY AS MUCH (OR AS LITTLE) AS YOU’D LIKE
Conor: Any stigma for remote legal work is gone. Entry level opportunities for remote offices in 2021 are everywhere. You can start with a mail drop, a virtual office, an office share, or a sublease before deciding whether to have a permanent space. Even before Zoom depositions and mediations, court reporters and mediators had conference rooms for you to use. You don’t need a dedicated space for that. Justice HQ offers a unique opportunity for a solo to get an enormous amount of resources like office space and conference rooms while growing your own practice.
For me, remote means that where I do my daily work does not have to be where I get mail or where I meet clients. I can work at home or in an office close to home without a long commute. I maintain a presence in downtown San Francisco for the more traditional legal things like mail, paper file storage, and in-person meetings.
Pro Tip from Michelle: Virtual law firms are IN! Use the pandemic to your advantage. If a client happens to ask you why you don’t have a traditional brick-and-mortar office, tell them you found it wasn’t worth the expense during the pandemic when everyone had to work remotely, and now you’re able to provide legal services at a much more reasonable rate now that there is less overhead to pay for. Who can complain about getting affordable, high-quality legal services?!
Pro Tip from Taly: Can we say goodbye to work commute traffic forever?! At my prior job, I used to commute a total of 3 hours a day. Considering the lifestyle changes that came with opening my own law firm, I can’t imagine going back to 3-hour commutes ever again. Having the choice to work virtually or closer to home is a huge advantage to going solo.
Pro Tip from Alexis: If the pandemic has taught us anything as professionals, it is the importance of agility. Learning how to adapt to changes in the practice – and to take advantage of technology – is crucial; taking certain aspects of the practice “remote” has become more widespread, more comfortable, and more acceptable in the milieu of the pandemic. Appearing remotely via Zoom or other platforms benefits us (in terms of convenience) and ultimately, our cases and our clients (with regard to cost-saving). Thus, it serves us well to take advantage of the remote world. While I prefer to work in an office setting (as opposed to a home office) for my daily work, I frequently incorporate the benefits of remote appearances, depositions, and meetings. For example, for certain brief client meetings which pre-pandemic might have consisted of a phone call, I now take advantage of hosting a Zoom call for the meeting – this allows me to see my client “face-to-face,” assess body language, elicit more salient information, and build a deeper emotional connection. Moving forward, I will continue to weave in remote meetings, depositions, mediations, and court appearances – to the extent they serve my clients’ best interests. I highly recommend integrating “remoting in” as a means of convenience and utility, where appropriate (for instance, for hearings like Case Management Conferences and other less contentious hearings). However, into the future, I would not recommend using remote appearances as a crutch to avoid attending substantive meetings, depositions, or important hearings in person. We should all use our best judgment to recognize when an appearance warrants an in-person cameo for more gravitas and impact.
3. LOVE THE WAY YOU WORK
Conor: Wherever you set up your workspace, you get to control how you work. You have the flex schedule to do other things that matter. I like to work a few hours in the morning uninterrupted, so I set my meetings in the afternoons. I can take time off on a weekday for things in my life outside of work and shift the work to another time. I don’t have to ask permission to take a day off or a vacation. I am accountable to myself to get the work done, which makes me love the work I do.
Pro Tip from Taly: A major plus is the flexibility you have with the way you work. If you need to make those doctor appointments, have family obligations, or just need a mental health day, it’s your choice to take that time off. Loving the way you work, on your own terms, leads to finding work life balance and making time for what’s important to you.
Pro Tip from Alexis: As with any loving relationship, your relationship with your practice takes work. Finetuning the best schedule to fit your needs requires knowing yourself. Curate your space and your schedule to suit your case needs and personal preferences. While being your own boss allows extensive freedom, staying disciplined becomes that much more important. Set a schedule and follow it. Create time-sensitive goals for yourself on each of your cases.
4. CHOOSE YOUR CLIENTS
Conor: Solos excel at customer service for clients. First, you choose your own clients. Second, you are the client contact. This builds trust for when they need you to advise them about how to resolve the case.
For those who have practiced without being client facing, it takes away the human element. When I was at a large defense firm, I was not client facing and the client was just a name on the file. As a solo on the plaintiff side for many years, it’s still a pretty cool feeling when a client sits across from me and decides to hire me to solve their problem.
Pro Tip from Michelle: As tempting as it is to take on every new client that comes through the door, an important aspect of being a solo practitioner is learning how and when to say no. Trust me, certain clients are not worth the headache, and you’ll thank yourself for learning that lesson sooner rather than later.
5. CREATE YOUR VISION
Conor: This is your opportunity to create your vision for your law firm. Set the tone for client interactions, market and brand your firm, and be creative in how you deploy your time and energy in a case. You have the ability to use technology to automate tasks and find ways to work efficiently on your own terms.
Pro Tip from Taly: One of the benefits of owning a law practice is the ability to create your vision and bring that vision to reality. Tailor your marketing tactics to match your brand. Whether that’s creating your website, getting creative on social media, or building your professional network. When it comes to marketing, use your style and authenticity to bring your brand to life. Don’t be shy to get creative, but also don’t feel pressured to do what everyone else is doing.
Pro Tip from Alexis: You can get creative with your vision in a variety of ways – after all, a law firm is a multi-faceted business operation. When creating your “brand” (from the logo, to the color scheme, to the messaging – and everything in between), you have the opportunity to develop a business that is an extension of yourself. When it comes to your brand’s image, you get to choose the colors that make you happy, design a logo that you love, post images that capture the essence of “you,” and put out messages that align with your core values. As I felt when I first started my firm, when you look at your letterhead, you will feel abundantly proud if you invest the time in cultivating your creative vision.
6. EMBRACE YOUR COMMUNITY
Conor: Solos can band together. It is counterintuitive, but when you are working alone, your professional connections are going to be people outside of your firm. If you are in a large firm or company, you may only connect with those people on a daily basis. Other solos are in the same position as you and you are both are ready to share ideas. Solos can band together for advice or to partner on a case, but still keep a separate business structure. Justice HQ is an office share that get its and and fosters this community.
Pro Tip from Michelle: Find your tribe! Being a solo practitioner can be lonely, so finding a group of encouraging, inspiring, and skilled attorneys to surround yourself with will not only be good for your mental health, it will make you a better attorney and business owner in the process.
Pro Tip from Taly: Don’t be afraid to reach out when you need help! The legal community has a lot of welcoming colleagues to help you in your early days going solo. We’ve all been there – and are more than happy to provide some feedback to specific concerns or questions you may have along the way!
7. SET YOUR OWN GOALS
Conor: You get to set your goals. There is no one answer for what this means as a solo. It can be the foundation for building a larger practice with associates or partners. It can be a set book of clients with a steady income stream.
Pro Tip from Michelle: Instead of working towards building someone else’s dream, as a solo practitioner you are building your dream and taking control of your life and that is a beautiful thing. The way you choose to run your law firm will not only impact the way your professional life unfolds, but it can also allow you to have that ever elusive work-life balance.
Pro Tip from Taly: Each goal you set is not only helping your clients and building your law firm, but you are ultimately investing in yourself. You can set monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals. Watching your goals come to fruition is a feeling that can’t be beat!
Conor: If you are contemplating going solo in 2021 (or beyond!), want more information, or are ready to go, please feel free to contact any of us or the other wonderful solos in our Justice HQ community.
Virtual offices are in, and partnership tracks at other law firms are probably out (especially after the pandemic), so this is arguably the best time to go solo. Take control of your personal and professional life, work towards building your dream, and meet a lot of amazing solo practitioners in the process.
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