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May 01, 2008

Going Solo; Confessions & Inspirations - David Little

http://www.abcteach.com/free/n/number1bnw.jpgThis new solo practitioner, but not new lawyer, tells the story of practicing in insurance defense (insert any practice area you want) and upon deciding to go solo faces the dual challenge of not only creating a business but shifting practice areas completely and learning something new from scratch.Many solos I speak to ask, "how can I do this?"  Well, David Little is beginning his fifth month of solo practice and is telling his story here.

Guest Blogger - David Little

Going solo has been just about the most gratifying and terrifying thing I have ever done. At times, I have wondered whether the trade off of money and security in exchange for freedom has been worth it. Although it has only been about four months, I have to say that it has.

I have been practicing since November 2000, and have spent my entire career as an insurance defense attorney. It was not what I envisioned I would be doing when I applied to law school. Several years ago, during a fit of job dissatisfaction, I was reading an article about how to jump start your legal career. It recommended reading your law school application essay for inspiration. I decided not to do that because it would just be too depressing.

As time went on, my general dissatisfaction gave way to burnout. I don't recall exactly how I came to it, but in about mid-2007 I decided my next step had to be going out on my own. My wife and I talked and thought about it a lot. She has always given me her unqualified support. She used to work in city government, but now works out of our house as a consultant, plus she has a part-time teaching job at a local college, which she finds very rewarding. She was very much in favor of me going out on my own. Her support and encouragement has given me the confidence to try this.

The next six months were spent planning, networking and learning. I decided that I not only wanted to leave firm life, but I also wanted to start in a completely new area of law. I have always been interested in estate planning, probate and litigation. I took all the CLE courses I could find on these subjects. I joined local bar associations and other networking groups. I have methodically been building a completely new network. I also talked with existing contacts about doing contract work.

To be sure, it has been stressful. Where were my clients going to come from? How would I make any money? Could I afford to get office space, or should I work out of the house? And speaking of the house, how were we going to pay the mortgage? All of these things were swirling around in my head. But I never doubted that going out on my own was what I wanted to do.

I decided that, for the time being, I would practice out of my house to save money. I set up telephone and fax lines through Vonage, which allowed me to use our home broadband internet access, and avoid the expense of having to run new phone lines in our house. It is also portable, so I can take it with me when I finally get an office of my own. I also decided to use my old laptop instead of buying a new computer. I opened up a post office box at a local mail box store. This has kept me from having to use my home address on my business cards (which I ordered through the internet for cheap). I obtained my professional liability insurance through the State Bar of California, which offers an insurance plan at a somewhat discounted rate. It is, however, my biggest monthly expense.

My new practice has been open since January 2, 2008 (I have established New Year's Day as a firm holiday). At times, the silence from the phone has been deafening. When it gets too quiet, I pick up the phone and start calling my contacts, new and old. I never networked much when I was working at the firm, but now I do it all the time. I really feel like I am constantly networking when I go out in public, even if I'm not telling people what I do or handing them business cards. Getting to know as many people as possible is the key to success in any business. I used to hate networking, but I have since come to enjoy it. The benefit of it now comes to me, not some partner somewhere.

My wife and I live more modestly now. We were never big spenders, but this exercise has forced us to re-evaluate what is important in our lives. Do we really need two cars? We don't have children, so does it make sense for us to live in a three-story, three bedroom house? We have concluded that the freedom of self-employment is more important to us than maintaining a certain lifestyle, so we have decided to adjust our lifestyle to new income level, rather than the other way around.

My practice is only now starting to build some momentum. For the first time in my career as a lawyer, I feel very hopeful about the future of my practice. Being patient and confident has been crucial, and has helped me through the various times when I have been unsure about what to do.

So my advice to anyone who is contemplating this is to talk to as many people as possible, make as many contacts as you can, and think about what kind of life you want to live. Despite the stress and uncertainty, I am glad I have done this, and I truly am excited about what the future holds.

David Little

Website: http://ddllaw.com/about/

Blog: Bay Area Estate Planning Attorney

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Comments

Stephanie Kimbro

Congratulations on opening your own practice, David, and for having the courage to learn a new practice area. I'm trying to add an additional practice area as well and am finding that you have to be really self-motivated to do it. One of my best resources so far has been the local clerk of courts. She may have thought it was a bit unusual for an attorney to schedule time with her for a crash course, but now I know exactly what I will need to do for my clients when working on this new area of the law. I'll agree with you that talking and networking with other professionals can take you to that next step as a solo. CLE materials can only get you so far! Best of luck to you!

Craig

I have a similar story here, except when I decided to venture out on my own, I had been practicing for 24 years. 18 years as a defense lawyer doing products liability litigation and 6 years as a plaintiff's lawyer doing the same. Now on my own the last 2 months doing plaintiff's litigation it absolutely is scary as hell. And unlike the author, I have 2 kids, one getting ready to start college in the fall. Crazy I know. But i have never felt more motivated, exhilarated and excited about what I am doing. I will say I have focused my marketing in the internet area and have had a ball blawging. I would highly recommend it to all venturing out on their own. If anything, it is an added way to network with other lawyers in a world that is only starting to blossom.

PerGynt

I have been a self employed contractor, subcontractor and all around construction guy, as well as a business owner, and now a law student. Law school is the "learning and licensing" phase of my business plan, so I will be taking the bar in just over two years and hopefully starting a practice of my own soon after that. I think that you should know that four months is a very short time for you to have to wait to see your business "build some momentum" and you should be proud of that. You are obviously making a very good effort, and getting some results to show for it. Good for you. I'm happy for you.
Good luck and have a good time. And remember to enjoy it. When you look under the ruffled fur of an entrepeneur you often find one satisfied cat!

David Little

Thanks to Stephanie and Craig for their words of encouragement and advice. I have been very pleasantly surprised at how helpful all my colleagues have been. Even though I am a solo, I do not feel like I am alone.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Per, I love what you said. It is so true.

"When you look under the ruffled fur of an entrepreneur, you often find one satisfied cat."

And Stephanie, what a great idea to schedule an appointment with the clerk of the court to 'crash course' on what you needed to do.

Necessity is the mother of invention, no?

David Little

A very satisfied cat indeed. To paraphrase a fellow blogger, my worst day as a solo beats my best day at my old firm.

Thanks again for all the good feedback!

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