Going Solo - Confessions & Inspirations - Jeena Belil
Life after Big Law actually exists even if you are laid off unexpectedly. This is the story of Jeena Belil:
Guest Blogger - Jeena Belil
Going Solo After Layoff? Yes, It Can Be Done!
In 2004, I was the Managing Attorney for a small New York Insurance Company. By September of 2007, my entire department was laid off as a result of a “reduction in force”. It would only get worse for law firms and legal departments in large companies during 2008 and we have not seen the last of it. You may be working in a law firm right now and silently freaking out over what is to become of your job, but you may not have to. Now may be the perfect time to go solo. I did, and I’ll never go back. It can be done. Here are five things I did to get my practice up and running:
1. I changed my paradigm and got out of my comfort zone. One philosophy I had while managing employees was, don’t ever take it personally that people are looking for their next opportunity. Until the last six months or so of my last corporate gig, I did not apply that thinking to my own career. I thought, well, I’ve reached the “pinnacle” by becoming a staff counsel managing attorney and my job is pretty safe. Once I realized that my job was in danger, I began to visualize a different career path than the one I was in. Rather than thinking of myself as an employee, who would have to submit resumes to potential employers, I thought and acted as if I were going to embark on a solo career, free to answer to myself and my clients.
2. I decided to practice what I already knew how to do. Alright, perhaps plaintiff’s personal injury and no fault litigation is not the sexiest of practice areas, but I had fourteen years of experience working on both sides of the “v.”, representing accident victims as well as insurance carriers. Yes, I took classes in everything from bankruptcy to immigration to estate planning in the months after the lay off, but I realized that I could quickly capitalize on my experience inside the insurance business and I could offer that unique perspective to my injured clients.
3. I readied myself while I still had a job. While I was waiting for the axe to fall, I knew I had to figure out how the heck I was going to get business. I spent a week putting together a contacts list. This was everyone from my mom and dad to past employers, to attorneys who were my adversaries and knew my work. I did not let on to too many people that my job was in jeopardy, but I did reach out to them within a few weeks of setting up my practice. I was thrilled when I contacted my very first boss out of law school and he told me that he was looking for someone he “could trust” to go on court appearances for him in courts which were geographically undesirable for him to drive to. The next thing I did is get onto the computer and soak up as much information about marketing as I could. Within a few months of opening, I found a phenomenal solo attorney list serve called “Solosez”, which is hosted by the American Bar Association..The Solosez firm is a constant comfort to me. I also cracked the books and educated myself on running a law business. I devoured How to Start & Build a Solo Practice by Jay Foonberg and Solo By Choice by Carolyn Elefant. These resources not only gave me the nuts and bolts I needed, but A TON of inspiration as well.
4. I had my financial house in order. I am fortunate enough to have a husband who makes a good living as a medical malpractice defense attorney. However, knowing that we had a mortgage and taxes on Long Island to pay, we knew that we would have to reign in our spending temporarily and cut discretionary spending. OK, here I have a confession to make, I had always done a little moonlighting while working my day job. That extra money helped me finance a wedding and purchase my first home. Just before I was let go, I received proceeds from a small settlement with which I used to start up the firm. Even with that little windfall, I started my firm in my house with spit and glue rather than spend thousands on commercial office space. I spent as little money as I could, only investing in a new computer, Treo, Westlaw subscription, website, business cards and office supplies. After a year in my new homey digs, I can say that love working around the corner from the family room. I get to spend a lot of time with my daughter and can work at odd hours around her schedule. Because I do not have a conference room or office space, I usually meet my clients at their homes, offices or coffee shop. Believe it or not, they appreciate the personalized and slightly casual customer service I provide.
5. I made a plan. Alright, I have a little prior experience here as managing counsel. Although writing business and budgeting plans was part of my job at the insurance company, Business Plans for Dummies is in my library, and I refer to it regularly. Business plans do not have to be novels. They do not even have to cover an entire year. What they do is lay a framework of goals you set for yourself. A business plan for someone considering starting out can be extracted from this post.
Starting a solo career is not easy, but it can be done with a little research and a lot of planning. There are many lawyers ready and willing to assist and support you through your journey, including me. All you have to do is make the decision and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Best of luck!
Jeena R. Belil, Esq.
PO BOX 709
Mt. Sinai, New York 11766
Fax: 631-514-3615Twitter me @ jeenaesq
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