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May 27, 2008

From "Going Solo" to "Your Hired"!

This seems to be the gleeful song this month from some of my readers and clients.  On the way to opening their solo practices they got job offers they could not resist.  Unusual? Not at all.  Let me explain.

When you embark on starting a solo practice you are reframing your own attitude about being a lawyer.  You are going from the mindset of 'employee' and 'I need to be trained' to 'self-employed' and "I need to start producing business on my own".  You are going from asking permission to function in the legal world based upon others' judgment and acceptance of you to accepting yourself non-judgmentally and giving yourself permission to be a business person, rainmaker and service provider.  You no longer have your nose pressed up against any sized law firm's window hoping you will be noticed amongst the crush of others; you have stepped back from the crush.  You have decided to design your own career and life.

This is heady stuff.  This radical shift in your attitude about yourself and your relationship to the professional community, colleagues, judges and clients and the non-legal world you live in emanates from you.  You are putting yourself out there as an independent, free thinking self-starter.  You are starting to concentrate on your 'connectivity' with colleagues who you no longer see as future employers but peers. You are starting to learn life long marketing skills to promote yourself, not sitting back in a job waiting for a senior partner to hand you a file.  You are defining and actively seeking out your ideal client, not reacting to the mandates of others. You are building a laser-focused technologically advanced web presence, not being absorbed by someone else's vision or lack thereof. 

And with this change in perspective and attitude, potential employers actually start to take notice as you navigate yourself through the legal community.

I have been approached several times by headhunters specifically asking if I know self-starting solos who may be interested in joining a small firm for advancement and eventual partnership.

And this month I received three separate e-mails from people who started creating their business plans for solo practice, started to connect to colleagues in a different way....getting job offers which they took.

Why were they approached now?  They showed confidence, initiative, a sense of how to build a business, understood what they needed to do to build a web presence, had already branded themselves.... and these are all VERY attractive qualities to prospective employers or those looking to even bring in partners.

You may ask, "if these individuals were so keen on going solo, why did they accept jobs?"  I have a motto:  Plant as many seeds as possible...you never know what will grow.  Life is about giving yourself options and the flexibility to answer the door when opportunity knocks.  By showing they didn't necessarily NEED employment, they became desirable and were courted.  Yet, everyone is different.  What matters is whether or not it was the right choice for them, what the incentives were which made it appealing?

I've also had two clients recently accept jobs; jobs which would NEVER have been available to them had they not started the process of going solo.  They openly acknowledge this because they are the ones who told me once they repositioned themselves in the community, changed their own perspectives, redirected their energies towards building a business rather than getting a job, they became very attractive to their new employers and the jobs offered were just too perfect to decline.

And for some strange reason my clients thought I would be disappointed they got a position.  Absolutely NOT.  Life is about options, the right options for each of us.  Just because I will help those who want to go solo doesn't mean I'm unhappy when they don't.  I want lawyers to feel fulfilled with their careers, to understand there are many ways to practice law.  There is happiness in all types of practices.  This blog's focus happens to be with the happiness one derives practicing law as a solo.  But if you are happy practicing law in whatever form you are doing so....that's the ultimate gratification...for you and me.

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Comments

Carolyn Elefant

Susan,

This is so funny - I was about to post on this same topic. I saw an article in the Washington Post with a letter from some guy , a recent law grad, who said he'd sent out 300 resumes and couldn't find a job. I was so tempted to send something in and say "Well, if you had a law firm and sent out 300 emails, would you expect to get clients?" If I can find the link on line, I will forward this story instead.

Edward Wiest

The net-net, of course, is that no matter what form our employment takes, its best to run one's practice from the start as if you were a solo.

Query: Is there a point where the aspiring solo enhances what should be "routine" marketing/networking activities so as to maximize benefit to the new practice? When ethical rules (such as in Massachusetts) effectively bar attorneys from discussing future plans to leave their present firm with clients until _after_ giving notice to their erstwhile colleagues, how does that affect the preparation process (I imagine that while one could work with prospects/referrers/practice areas outside of the soon-to-be-prior firm's ordinary business, dealing with existing sources might be constrained)?

Rochelle Richardson

Susan,

As one of your clients who "went solo" and subsequently received an offer of employment that I accepted, I have to say that much of what you do as a coach is about repositioning oneself and ultimately self-empowerment.

For me, going solo was a lot of things--a stab at an entrepreneurial dream, a real entree to the legal profession and community, a way to find my own niche and develop a presence within it without consideration of what any employer's needs may be, and, most importantly, an act of self-determination.

While I can't say that I was ever one who was waiting to be discovered, I can say that prior to going solo, I saw my options as (1) accepting whatever it is that someone was willing to offer (whether I wanted the position or the relationship in the first place) as a matter of necessity, serving at that person's whim and to that person's benefit; (2) getting out of the legal profession altogether before I even "tried"; and (3) embracing an entrepreneurial approach and hanging a shingle.

Well, when I could no longer tolerate option 1, I opted for number 3.

One thing that I think relatively new attorneys should consider is that when starting a solo practice, one has the opportunity to really decide who she wants to serve and/or what practice areas are really of interest. But, more than that, as one considers those things, the fact that the solo practice is a business causes one to put it in perspective. Is there a market for this? What is my natural market? How can I position myself?

In doing this, what I found was a practice area where I have a natural connection, where there is a need, and where I can effectively market myself AS myself. This is my journey. I can't say that what I experienced will apply to anyone else. However, there is something to be said for claiming ownership of one's professional development and crafting it as an individual reflection of who one is and who one aspires to be as a professional.

David Fuller

Frankly, the upfront investment in building a solo practice seems a lot more rewarding, and better in the long term, than the long term investment of signing up as an associate. I know plenty of people who spent 3-6 years in a law firm only to find out that they need to start at square one when they get passed over for partner. At the end of the day, a law firm wants a partner who can build a book of business. What better way to show that you have the initiative to build a book of busines than to already have one from the practice that you built.

The added benefit is that getting an offer of partnership or a partnership track position based on your work as a solo is that you can control what kind of law you practice. If you go into a firm as a regular associate you may know a lot about bankruptcy but if they really need an employment associate, well I hope you like employment law. In contrast if you have built your reputation in a certain area, you are far less likely to get shuttled over to some area of law that doesn't interest you at all. It gives you control over a future employment relationship.

A final point is that if you don't get job offers, well you already have a job; to wit, at the firm you built yourself.

Susan Cartier Liebel

@Rochelle...I am very excited for you given the job you got and the opportunities that are promised.

@David...you bring up excellent points about how a prospective employer will you position you. If he was attracted to you because of your practice area and your expertise in that practice area, it would be poor business to have you working in another practice area.

@Carolyn...would love that link if you can find it.

@Edward.....you are talking about rules governing leaving a firm...how do you network and cultivate and stay connected to your current client base within the ethical parameters set forth. That's for another post!

KM Mccreery

Self promotion is a personal skill that is often overlooked by many people. There are some of us out there to whom it comes so naturally, while the rest of us are stuck in the mud, moaning and groaning about not getting anywhere.

Also, I think get too bogged down in searching for the money, when as you say, you should be searching for how to make yourself happy first by establishing your wants and needs.

Good post.

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