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April 04, 2007

Going Solo Success Stories

This original column appeared the first week of the new year, 2006.  I'm resurrecting this column and posting it now as submitted, the unedited version, because it is the time of year when newly minted lawyers are thinking about their options and this may provide some much needed inspiration.

Solo Success Stories

Connecticut Law Tribune - January 2006 (unabridged version as submitted)

It is the first week of the New Year, 2006, and everyone needs a little inspiration to pursue their dreams. Every once in a while, it’s more inspiring to read about real life solos with the same fear and anxieties as yourself, successfully venturing out on their own. Here are three favorite inspirational solo success stories.

A former student, Frank, is 36 years old, one young child, a wife who is well paid in the corporate world, and in his last year of law school discovers they are pregnant, again. He has ten years of experience in the lucrative health care market and upon graduation is offered a job with the state which he gladly takes because he is legitimately scared to be without a paycheck, even though I told him with his wife providing a steady income and insurance, with his professional experience and connections he will be profitable in no time. He, quite frankly, is too concerned about "being without a job." Within a year, he calls me and tells me due to State cutbacks he’s been let go and decides he "has no choice" but to start his own practice. With slow and deliberate care, initial lack of support by his spouse and no support from his family, he baby steps his way into opening his own practice, sweat breaking out on his brow, even afraid to tell people. Just as he is about to open his doors, his wife is laid off just three weeks after returning from her maternity leave. She receives severance which gives them a little financial breathing room. With no other options, Frank plunges full steam ahead into building his practice. His wife now joins him to help with the research, filing, telephones and calendars. Long story short, within six months Frank is on track to earn a full fifty percent more in his first year of self-employment then he did with the State. The icing on the cake? The State looks to rehire him. Once paycheck dependent, Frank tells me he could never work for someone, again. The freedom he enjoys determining his own day, the balance in his personal and professional life, the unexpected pleasure of partnering with his wife (who is now thinking of going to law school) cannot be replaced by the false security of a paycheck even though he had been repeatedly told he must first start out working for "the firm."

Another favorite student, who ventured out on his own with another fellow student and with no help from me other than my class, did so right out of law school, and just 25 years old. His attitude was, "I have nothing to lose right now and everything to gain." He understood that once passing the bar the state says he is qualified to practice law and the state doesn’t require an apprenticeship at a law firm for a number of years. He had full faith in himself and his partner and their ability to get the job done. They had no money and, are you ready for this, took free space in his father’s building, literally a cleaning supplies closet, sharing their space with shovels and brooms and detergents, setting up their computer and telephone on a folding card table which they had to supply themselves. They signed up for every court attorney’s list, met clients at the court house or the client’s home. That was five years ago. Today he is married, purchased his first home in an upscale community, is established in a spacious and more appropriately decorated office, has hired associates and administrative help to assist with their burgeoning practice all while continuing to provide internships to Quinnipiac University law students to show them they can do it, too. His one wish, teach more about opening a practice in law school.

And one last favorite story is based upon an e-mail I received June 11, 2004 from a former student, just 26 years old, who, too, hung his shingle the minute he passed the bar. This is the abridged version, but his words verbatim.

"As you may recall my original intention was always to go out on my own straight out of law school–which I did. I am doing so much better than I ever thought was possible.....I know you always told us not to harp on the money side of things, but quite frankly, that was always my true driving force. And without going into specifics, I can tell you this: I was sworn in on February 20, 2004 and I have already made more money than I would have made all year if I went to work at some private firm.....I always took the attitude that I refused to work for someone else and for some reason that attitude was always looked down upon in law school....I’ll never forget one day in class you said to us ‘after you pass the bar the state will have told you that you are qualified to practice law.’ I think of that statement every time I go into a situation which I feel may be beyond my capabilities....one example of that was when I was going to my first pre-trial. I was back in chambers waiting for my turn to speak with Judge Kavenewsky and the State’s Attorney. Waiting behind me was Mickey Sherman...he represented Michael Skakel and Judge Kavenewsky presided—so you can imagine how under qualified and out of place I felt. I was so nervous I could have thrown up...I really began thinking to myself I had gone way too far and taken on more than I was ready for. The one thought which kept running through my head was what you told us in class. That, and that alone, was what helped me keep my composure. As it turned out everything went really smoothly. When I was leaving the court I did not think I could have felt better until, get this ( and I swear this is true!), I bumped into a kid who I went to law school with. He was always cocky about everything; his connections with New York City law firms, his grades, his BMW, etc. I talked with him for a few minutes only to learn he was still a TAC!"

Be inspired. Believe in yourself. Happy New Year.

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