March 09, 2008

Eric Turkewitz asks "What is a Solo?"

After my recent post discussing more than 80% of private practice attorneys in New York are solos (the actual number is 83% - confession...I'm actually on vacation right now and retrieved the numbers from my memory banks) it spurred Eric Turkewitz of the New York Personal Injury Lawyer to ask the question:  "What is a solo?"

Eric asks:

Does this mean one lawyer, and one lawyer only (along with support staff)?

Or does solo mean that there may be a few associates, but 100% of the equity (and responsibility and liability) of the firm sits with one person?

What definitions are used to create these stats, and what definition should be used?

I'm not going to pretend I know what the "right" answer is, though I think that the element of 100% of the risk is more important than 100% of the work. This is especially true given that many solos may outsource some work when times get busy, creating a vast gray area of per diem, "of counsel," and part-time lawyers that make precise definitions difficult. I just don't know how any of this is factored in when statistics are compiled.

First, being solo practitioner does not mean you function alone.  However, it does absolutely mean you can.

I will have to agree with Carolyn Elefant, who took on the challenge by Eric, that it is in large part an attitude of 'can do' and self-sufficiency, belief in one's self, not necessarily not getting assistance when needed.  But the purist in me also believes it is being the only practicing attorney in your firm, ergo the word 'solo.'

I'm not saying I am correct, this is just my opinion. But it is about a certain individualism, being one, being the entity you created, the pioneer in your own professional future and the only one eligible to practice law in your firm.  And if in time you grow into a firm of more than one lawyer, take on partners, the technical definition of your practice may change for the purposes of the ABA or U.S. Census, but your roots as a rugged individualist, a creator, someone who had a vision and pursued it never changes.

Your thoughts?

February 18, 2008

Do You Have A 'Herd' Mentality?

Recent experiments by professors at the Universities of Oxford and Wales Bangor show that it may be natural for people to herd just like animals when they are in a crowd, as reported by The Telegraph (2/14/08) The scientists told volunteers to start walking around a large hall with no particular destination. Then they gave a few of the volunteers some directions on where to walk. It turns out that it took only 5% who seemed to be informed to sway the rest of the crowd of 200 people or more. "There are strong parallels with animal grouping behaviour," says Professor Jens Krause, who led the team of scientists.

..herding behavior in human beings .... is the study of how humans behave in groups within contexts of uncertainty....(Elliot Wave Theorist 2/17/08)

A solo practitioner is about not being part of the herd.  Or part of the herd-mentality created in law school which has every single lawyer on virtually the same career path - working for another, preferably Big Law.  I've received many e-mails from law students who specifically state they wanted to work for themselves but "got caught up in the attitude at law school" and ending up doing what everyone else was doing and getting a job.  They became part of the herd and were led by the 5% who knew definitively where they wanted to go...Big Law.

Being a solo practioner is about self-empowerment, choice and taking absolute responsbility for your own actions, successes and failures. This is the reality.  If you do not understand you alone will be responsible for your actions it will be very hard to appreciate the career path you are travelling when becoming a solo practitioner.

The ability to accept personal responsibility for work outcomes and to thrive under individual scrutiny improves your chances by 65 percent of successfully making the transition from working for a traditional large company to succeeding...at a small firm or as a (solo practitioner)

Peiperl, M., and Y. Baruch, 1997. "Back to Square Zero: The Post-Corporate Career."  Organizational Dynamics 25: 7-22

You alone are responsible for your successes and failures.

Whether by conscious choice or believing you have no other choice than solo practice, the issue is the same. However, knowing you are in control (for the most part) of this venture, you are eliminating a great deal of uncertainty because you have removed the external variables which lead to insecurity such as an employer, the employer's agenda, pleasing the employer, the employer's mismanagement which leads to your layoff, the possibility you are not the right color or gender or marital status or pedigree.  While there will always remain some degree of uncertainty in solo practice, a large part is removed because you know you are not going to fire yourself or knowingly create a failed practice.  You know your color, gender, marital status and pedigree and are quite proud of it.

Solos, however, deal with a different kind of uncertainty.  This includes bringing in enough of the right clients to sustain themselves over the life of their solo practice as well as getting the actual legal work done.  These skills can be learned and the pendulum on these uncertainties can swing towards greater certainty.

To countermand the solo's sense of uncertainty is the headiness of the achievement, self-employment on your terms, building something with your name on it, bringing in the clients and income to maintain a chosen lifestyle. It remains unquestionably one of the most powerful motivators for many who choose solo practice.  You work just as hard but on your own time schedule.  You are driven by your own work ethic in order to achieve those goals which are most important to you.  And these goals play a critical role in determining the character and structure of your solo practice. It's a symbiotic relationship.

If your ambition is Big Law that's terrific and congratulations for understanding the environment you believe you will thrive in as a lawyer.  I'm not here to dissuade you. But if the Big Law environment isn't where you will flourish and you are feeling like you are being led away from the solo or small firm option by the 'herd' then decide where you do fit into the 'herd."  Once you get a handle on where you fit in, (only your opinion matters) the options will make more sense and you can be a little more peaceful about your choices, whatever they may be.  Only then can you start successfully planning the present and the future.

February 08, 2008

Rolling Admission Continues for Solo Practice University - Here's A Course Sample

Now that Solo Practice University has more than 500 students, I thought I would give you a taste of the style and tone of the very popular Solo Practice University E-zine so you can decide if you would benefit from signing up for this free newsletter or know of others who may.  This edition is called "Why The Solo Choice"

I'm a big believer in getting to the heart of the matter.  If you've subscribed to this newsletter chances are you fall into one of four categories. You are:
  • A Student (traditional or non-traditional) who already knows you want to seriously consider the solo option either right out of law school or shortly thereafter;
  • A New Lawyer (out of school less than three years) who either can't get the job they want or just wanted to get their feet wet first before striking out on their own; or
  • A Veteran Lawyer (practicing more than three years) who now wants to strike out on their own after years of working for another and/or feels they have no future or stability in their current employment.  You've defined going solo as the only option; or
  • A Current Solo Practitioner who wants tips on how to improve their practice.

If you fit into any of these categories, this newsletter will help you but it is primarily geared for those who want to get started.

So, let's get started!

In his very popular book, "How to Start and Build A Law Practice," Jay Foonberg pretty much says it doesn't matter why you are starting a solo practice. Then based upon his personal experiences goes on to tell you his perspective on how to do it.  His book has been a best seller for decades.

I disagree with Foonberg's premise 'it doesn't matter why you are starting a solo practice.'  It does matter why you are going into solo practice because your attitude about your choice (and everything in life is a choice) will color your entire professional career.  It will determine your financial and personal success as an entrepreneur in the legal profession. 

Your attitude is key to your success.

What is irrelevant is what others think about your choice to go solo. Unless they are your spouse or significant other, they don't get a say in your life.

****************

Some of us are born entrepreneurs.

You know them, the friend, the family member who just grabs an idea and runs with it, genetically gifted when it comes to marketing, networking and turning mud into gold. They don't take refuge in employment.  They use any employment as a calculated stepping stone to their next entrepreneurial adventure. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes they don't. But they persevere because they know no other way. Nor do they want it to be any other way.  And they find success, sometimes success being defined as the process.

Some of us back into entrepreneurship.

You've always been intrigued at the idea of operating your own business and have often said, 'some day.' You are more cautious, cautiously optimistic you can do it.  But you get deeply upset, sometimes thrown off track when those you respect, including professors, career counselors, accomplished lawyers, point out all the reasons you can't accomplish your goal.  They fuel your natural insecurities.  This is human nature.  People you seek out for advice will project their fears upon you when you look to step out of THEIR comfort zone.  You need to learn how to recognize this.  Then separate yourself from it.

Some of us are forced into entrepreneurship.

You've been hit flat upside your head with any number of career surprises:

  • poor job prospects whether driven by the economy or school ranking,
  • unanticipated unemployment,
  • disenchantment working for Big Law,
  • a move cross-country to a strange city

You've experienced a professional disruption and simply don't know what to do.  You just never envisioned your current status.  Plus, you've never considered going solo before now. But you feel you either need to go solo or quit the profession.  You're paralyzed and frustrated, a little angry and scared.

You fit into at least one of these categories. Which one?

Just remember:

Every single one of these situations presents opportunity.  Entrepreneurs recognize opportunity and know how to capitalize on it.......

If you would like to finish reading the rest of this newsletter as well as others, sign up for Solo Practice University E-zine, Helping You To and Through Starting Your Solo Practice... and continue your education....tuition-free!

(Oh, and one other little surprise.  The final blueprints have been approved. As you are reading this, the foundation for the real Solo Practice University is being poured.  Dreams can come true. I promise to keep you posted ;-)

January 20, 2008

"Tip of the Week" - Using Self-Publishing as a Marketing Tool

Imagine handing your new client a book authored and published by you explaining to them everything they need to know about the legal process for personal injury, divorce, medical malpractice, criminal defense work, bankruptcy and including resources for emotional support, suggested reading materials, court locations and more. It contains whatever you deem appropriate for your practice area and instructive in how you deal with your clients.

Use self-publishing as a marketing tool. In one fell swoop (and for as low as $12.95) you can impress your clients with your expertise, give them an informative publication you authored to assist them in helping you to represent them, and a keepsake marketing tool to be shared by your client with others.

Some Lawyers refer clients to their website or print instructions sheets on copy paper.  But if someone has given you thousands in a retainer or hired you for a large contingency or criminal matter, you can invest a few dollars in a marketing tool which can be very unique and highly stylized and will help your attorney/client relationship.  It also enhances your expertise by creating a tangible marketing tool which can be passed on to others potential clients or referrer of clients.

There are three popular self-publishing sites out there I've uncovered:  Lulu, Blurb, Createspace.  These three seem the easiest and least expensive and all allow you to publish on as needed basis just one at a time.

And because you can publish just one at a time, this allows you to update information to your manuscript as laws change, procedures change.  It's pretty terrific.

If you do this already, please share.  If you decide to self-publish in the future, please come back and let us know how it worked out for you.

January 09, 2008

More Reasons Bankruptcy is a Good Practice Area for Solos

If you have followed my blog you know I believe bankruptcy will be a great area for solos to get into for a myriad of reasons.  Here is just one more reason to consider this practice area which will give you many clients.  According to the Bankruptcy Law Network:

Proposed new bankruptcy legislation designed to help troubled homeowners will benefit consumers without hurting the industry.  It would allow consumers with bad home loans to get help from the bankruptcy court. 

If you haven't read it already, there is a strong push to stop the catastrophic foreclosures created as a result of sub-prime lending practices.  Better to keep people in their homes then deal with the fall out that would put further pressure on the economy.

By putting in place new bankruptcy legislation to aid those in distress, there are opportunties as it's fair to say the process will require legal assistance.  The record number of foreclosures is astounding meaning there is plenty to go around in all cities

Now let's talk the Credit Card Crunch:

THE SUBPRIME-MORTGAGE crisis has cost millions of homeowners their homes. Now it threatens to put the squeeze on even more consumers by spilling into the credit-card market.

The bad news is pretty straightforward: With home equity dried up, consumers are piling up credit-card debt at a rapidly increasing pace. As of the third quarter of 2007 (the latest for which data is available), credit-card balances increased by 7% on an annualized basis, according to statistics compiled by market research firm TowerGroup. Compared to the average annual increases of 2% over the previous six years, it's clear that we are fast becoming a country precariously living on borrowed money.

"Consumers are being squeezed out of the credit markets," explains Dennis Moroney, senior research analyst at TowerGroup. "They've used up their home equity to finance their lifestyle, but now with that not available, you're seeing a rise in credit balances and a rise in delinquencies."

Our illustrious leader, though arriving late to the ball, has finally acknowledged the 'R' word, too.  And you know when there is actual acknolwedgment, we are already in the thick of things.  But recession is not 'official' until it is declared by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER):

The committee hasn't discussed the "R word" in the current context, says Robert Hall, a Stanford University economics professor who has chaired the recession dating panel since its inception.

That's not a surprise, even if a recession is in progress. In a memo posted on its website Tuesday, the NBER said it typically declares the start of a recession six to 18 months after it happens.

With changing economic times you should be open to new opportunities.  Regardless some of the challenges facing those who want to consider bankruptcy as a practice area, one needs to give it serious consideration because, unfortunately, there will be plenty of work to go around for years to come and you may actually be able to do some serious good for many.

Links of Interest:

Fleeing Bankruptcy....

January 07, 2008

A Look Into The (Legal) Office of the Future?

If this is the Office of the Future....bring it on! 

Welcome to the office of 2020 or so. If you still go to one, that is. Thanks to instant wireless communications and encryption technology, remote working -- from home or anywhere else on Earth -- will be commonplace 10 to 15 years from now. But an office in the traditional sense will still come in handy for working on team projects as well as for meeting clients and suppliers.

What follows is a glimpse into a typical office-of-the-future. What the heck -- imagine that it's yours.

Electronic wallpaper covers the walls. When you're not using it to show charts, graphs and other business presentations, it will be easy to switch to between pictures of the kids or some other pleasing images. Office chairs will have built-in sensors to detect your stress level. Depending on the result, the chair can then gently suggest a brief nap or exercises to help decompress.

The "office computer" is just a wide, high-definition laptop monitor with a wireless connection to a central server. If a keyboard is needed, the monitor can project one on the desk or a soft pad for virtual typing. But, more often than not, you'll typically bark out voice commands to the machine. Say "Display the Perkins account," and the computer will oblige with a slew of information about the client: Financial numbers, past orders, a video of a recent meeting, information the client has posted on the Internet recently and more.

Actually, many of us who work from home or telecomute and are trying to stay on top of technology are pioneering the change in the legal profession.  The bit in our mouth remains the unimaginative, threatened, insecure organizations which feel the need to stifle legal creativity and our own inability to educate the clients as to the benefits of the technology.

Solos have always led the charge in technology in the legal profession.  The next 15, 20 years will be no different...just incredibly exciting and very fast-paced.  Stay open, innovate, create, share your ideas but recognize it is happening and there is nothing one can do to stop it. 

December 17, 2007

'You Ask...I Answer' - How Does One Start a Solo Practice in the Midst of Seeming Economic Crisis?

2113267361_545354b49b1   

(Not the cheeriest post but it needs to be said..and it's long.)

Question: I'm a 1L who's interested in going solo when I graduate or shortly after. Something that's been on my mind recently is how the approaching recession and/or limitations on credit will affect those of us who are starting from scratch.I came across this article in the L.A. Times (see below), which confirms for me that other people are at least thinking this might be a problem.

It seems reasonable to assume that, given the subprime mortgage mess, the credit market will tighten as lenders become more risk-adverse, whether or not we have an accompanying recession. I wonder if you can bring some experience to bear on how solo practitioners can deal with tight credit markets in terms of preparing to open a practice, building a business plan, and maybe even choosing a practice area. They've been tight before, so that information has to be out there.

Just throwing it out there. Thanks again for all your time and effort in providing so many people this valuable blog!

(Here is the L.A. Times Article in snippets but you should read the whole article....)

By Steve Fraser
December 9, 2007
No one wants to utter the word "depression." But the truth of the matter is that the American economy may be entering a state of free fall. Every day brings more bad news about the sub-prime mortgage debacle, about home foreclosures, construction industry slowdowns, a credit drought for consumers and businesses, oil price shocks and the open-ended devaluation of the dollar. Where is it all leading?

What makes Wall Street's latest crisis so portentous, however, is the way it is interacting with, and infecting, healthier parts of the economy. When the dot-com bubble burst, many innocents were hurt, not just denizens of the Street. Still, its effect turned out to be limited. Now, because of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, Main Street is under the gun.

It is not only a matter of mass foreclosures. It is not merely a question of collapsing home prices. It is not simply the shutting down of large portions of the construction industry (which is inspiring some of the doom-and-gloom prognostications). It is not just the born-again skittishness of financial institutions that have, all of a sudden, gotten religion, rediscovered the word "prudence" and won't lend to anybody. It is all of this, taken together, that points ominously to a general collapse of the credit structure that has shored up consumer capitalism for decades.


The equity built up during the long housing boom has been the main fallback position for ordinary people financing their big-ticket-item expenses, from college educations to consumer durables, from trading up in the housing market to vacationing abroad. Much of that equity has suddenly vanished, and more of it soon will. Also drying up fast are the lifelines of credit that allow all sorts of small and medium-size businesses to function and hire people. Whole communities, industries and regional economies are in jeopardy.

**********************

All of that might be considered enough, but there's more. Oil, of course. Here the connection to Iraq is clear; but, arguably, the wild escalation of petroleum prices might have happened anyway. Certainly the energy price explosion exacerbates the general economic crisis, in part by raising the costs of production all across the economy and so abetting the forces of economic contraction. In the same way, each increase in the price of oil further contributes to what most now agree is a nearly insupportable level in the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit. That, in turn, is contributing to the steady withering away of the value of the dollar.

Finally, it is vital to recall that this tsunami of bad business is about to wash over an already very sick economy. While the old regime, the Reagan-Bush counterrevolution, has lived off the heady vapors of the FIRE sector, it has left in its wake a deindustrialized nation, full of super-exploited immigrants and millions of families whose earnings have suffered steady erosion. Two wage-earners, working longer hours, are now needed to (barely) sustain a standard of living once earned by one. And that doesn't count the melting away of health insurance, pensions and other forms of protection against the vicissitudes of the free market or natural calamities.

This perfect storm will be upon us just as the election season heats up.......
This topic is near and dear to my heart as frequent readers of my blog know I am very involved with and try to stay on top of global economics and U.S. economics.  And for one very simple reason:  I am a U.S. citizen, a parent, a land owner and I, like you, have to be able to objectively view economic realities as I navigate through life, not just for myself today, but for my family and future.
Lesson #3 in my newsletter, Solo Practice University E-zine (you might want to sign up today if you haven't already), is called 'The Economy and the Solo' because this topic is so critical when considering the solo option.  And you can read many previous posts on this blog relating to the economy in the category Demographic/Economic Trends.
First, buried in this LA Times article is the reality of what practice areas will proliferate in challenging times and solos are much more capable of handling them, primarily because they can function lean and mean and create greater profit margins while keeping client's costs lower than overhead-laden larger firms.
  • Bankruptcy
  • Debt Collection
  • Foreclosures
  • Immigration

In any economy you will always have:

  • Criminal
  • Personal injury
  • Divorce

However, in difficult economic times you will find an increase in criminal activity.  Money is the number one reason for divorce so in an economy where money stresses will be great it's sad but fair to say there could be an increase in dissolutions.  This could also give rise to an increase in mediation, arbitration, collaborative divorce, etc.

When you consider we live in a rapidly aging society this creates opportunity in Wills, Trusts and Estates, Elder Law and all practice areas catering to the over 55 crowd.  An aging demographic and delays in starting families give rise to opportunities in adoption and surrogacy law.

As more people get laid off from jobs and become entrepreneurs and Home Office Warriors one can be an independent General Counsel to numerous small businesses doing everything from small business incorporations to helping them take their businesses global.

What about rising emmigration?

How does credit-tightening impact ones ability to open a law practice?  Whether the economy is flourishing or not, you should be taking home at minimum $.70 of every dollar.  That's right.  How?  Technology, low-cost highly effective marketing, home or virtual office and outsourced help as needed.  My friend, Chuck Newton has brilliantly described the Third Wave of Lawyering in his signature piece.  So, if done correctly, credit is not an issue because your expenses will be minimal.

Remember, I am a realistic optimist.  Tell me the truth and I will find a way to make it work.  Forewarned is forearmed...and profitable.

One other point I would like to make.  People will advise you to 'follow' your passion.  If your passion intersects with the demographic and economic realities in which you are trying to grow your practice, go for it.  However, if you want to earn the right to follow your passion which may be different then the economic realities, start by practicing profitability and using good business sense.  Use your profits as seed money to grow the practice areas you are passionate about.  Going solo doesn't mean you don't pay dues.  But you are paying dues to yourself and this can be very gratifying.

December 12, 2007

When Bad Weather Disrupts Your Business Do You Have A Back Up "Client Communications" Plan?

images.jpegIt is the beginning of winter and it has struck the midwest with a fury.  And this unexpected ice storm has wreaked havoc on millions of homes, businesses and home based businesses.  Many home based businesses rely upon their cell phones, internet and cable or DSL for communications to clients.  For the majority, it is the sole basis of communications.

What happens when your power is down for 10 days during an unexpected emergency?  Or you conduct business communications while traveling via your iphone, blackberry, cell phone, internet and you hit an unserviced area for an extended period of time.  Unfortunately, this has happened to my good friend Grant Griffiths.  First, an unexpected death in the family had him travelling to California in the mountains where internet and cell service were challenging at best.  He did not know this.  How could he.  Then he comes back to Kansas City to be hit with a major ice storm which knocked out power, for hundreds of thousands, indefinitely.  For him, intermittently.  The result is the same: client communications are interrupted abruptly.

While the event was unforeseen, a plan for such an event should have been in place.  Fortunately for Grant, he has many friends who communicated to his clients for him spontaneously.  But that leaves the pressing and important issue:  what do you do when you can't communicate via instantaneous technologies and you are dealing with clients not just in your immediate area suffering the same fate as yourself (and who, generally, will be more sympathetic) but across the country or the world?

First, all this should be communicated to the client at the onset of the relationship, regardless where you live.  It could be snow storms, floods, wildfires.  It doesn't matter.  In the event of an emergency orchestrated by mother nature what can the client expect regarding communications?  For instance, in the event of such an emergency, imagine if you have in place a plan whereby the client knows if there is a serious weather condition impacting where you work they can contact another law firm in another part of the country, or a fellow blogger who will post the emergency status for where you work?  (Yes, they can watch the news, but honestly, you can't rely upon that.  Nor is it good planning.)

For instance, I live in the Northeast and we are expecting a significant Nor'easter this weekend.  I will notify my clients ahead of time via e-mail that communications may be interrupted.  I will also advise them to check the blog of (fill in the blank) if e-mails or phone messages are not returned within the agreed to number of hours. Or if for some reason they do not receive the scheduled phone call for a consultation they should contact so and so.  The individual I have this arrangement with will seek to contact me and if I still remain unavailable, they will post (if they are a blogger) or notify my clients as directed.  Kind of like checking the news for school cancellations.

While my clients do not have pressing legal matters, regardless the business, when someone relies upon communications and you primarily rely upon technology in all its incarnations for those communications (as most of us do), when the lights go out your clients have the right to information.

Have you set up an alternate client communications plan for just such an emergency?  Your input would be appreciated.

November 02, 2007

Outsourcing Document Review to India Going Mainstream? Why Not Outsource to Qualified Law Students?

Over at Cal Law Legal Pad is an article discussing, once again, outsourcing to India.  This time the work is document review.  The going rate:  $25.00 -  $35.00 per hour.  Well, it seems to me if Big Law is starting to consider this a viable option an enterprising new solo or law student can capitalize on Big Law's remaining fears - the quality of work and shipping the work overseas while still having to sell the benefits to their clients. Of course, I don't know if they are under any obligation to inform their clients where the work is being performed or if the client has any say in it.  One presumes it is the bottom line which dictates the client's interest..."How much is this going to cost me?"

In my opinion, solos, especially new lawyers and law students, have the same ability to market their services at this reasonable rate while they are building up their practices or waiting for their bar results because they can build in the necessary flexibility functioning as an independent contractor to a Big Law firm; flexibility which allows them to cultivate their own clients and work those legal matters or earn cash while waiting for their bar results. Afterall documents can be reviewed at anytime of the day or night.  It brings income and it keeps the work in the U.S. of A, outsourcing beyond the borders something which still irks many.  Why not capitalize on this?

One of my clients is doing just this.  She doesn't have the resources to start from scratch without the scratch.  This option gives her tremendous flexibility.  She doesn't mind the work and appreciates the pay.  It is not the final stop in her professional career, it's just the beginning. She's grateful for the opportunity while she works out the logistics of her business and marketing plans to launch her solo practice.

If more Big Law firms aren't doing so, they should be heading to the law schools offering these opportunities to eager, qualified 2 and 3Ls.  And eager 2 and 3Ls should be knocking on the doors of these firms offering their services.

November 01, 2007

Going Solo; Confessions and Inspirations - Kira Fonteneau

I wanted to introduce you to a fascinating young attorney, Kira Fonteneau, of Birmingham, Alabama, who authors Brilliant Color, a blog about diversity, the law and the legal profession.  Her firm website has the thoughtful and thought-provoking branding, "It's a world of brilliant color.  We will protect your place in it." 

Clearly, Attorney Fonteneau protects those who perceive discrimination and she speaks on issues of diversity, 'cultural translation' and the law as it applies to the work place and more.  I have had the pleasure of talking with Attorney Fonteneau on numerous occasions and she is sharply intelligent, eloquent and engaging.

Her stories on her blog entitled "Lessons from Billie" credit her grandmother for inspiration in helping her become a successful woman. They are a wonderful collection of true stories everyone should read and hopefully be inspired. There are six so far and I hope there will be more. (And she also has a fascinating post on Black Women and Their Hair and many other terrific posts on cultural translation.)

Attorney Fonteneau agreed to write a blog post for Going Solo; Confessions and Inspirations:

(Update:  Who says solos can't have fun?  When I e-mailed Attorney Fonteneau her post was up this week.she replied from her Blackberry stating she was vacationing in Maui and would contact me upon her return.  You go, girl!)

Guest Blogger:  Kira Fonteneau

Looking back on my decision to open a solo practice a year ago, I realize that a combination of events led me to hang out my shingle.  I went to law school in 2002 after working four years in management at a major bank.  I remember thinking that I wanted to be a lawyer in part because I knew that if I was ever dissatisfied with a job I could always hang my shingle. When I was finishing law school I toyed with the idea of starting my own firm, but I never put much thought into it. So when I graduated from law school, I took what I thought was the path of least resistance, a job with a regional employment boutique in Birmingham, Alabama.  I had never set foot in Birmingham, or Alabama for that matter, until I went for my second interview.  I started work the week after graduation and studied for the bar while working part-time.  After 18 months at the firm I realized that the less than positive experience I was having was not normal or acceptable and would never get better.  About the same time my grandmother died and her loss shook me to my core.  I had always looked up to her as a role model because she followed her dreams and she was never afraid to take risks.  At her funeral, I had a chance to speak and I talked about the lessons we could all take from her life.  I remember challenging the people gathered at the church to follow her example and go out and do something with their lives. 

Given my earlier words and my growing unhappiness with my job, I knew I had to take action. For a while I was indecisive and unsure of myself.  I did not know where the clients would come from or even what I would do with them if they did. I was concerned about my lack of ties to the Birmingham Community and my lack of experience as a lawyer/business owner. What I did know was that I had a few months of savings and a supportive boyfriend who would back me up financially if I got in a pinch. (He is now my husband.) Every time I got a little scared, I simply told myself that I would not fail because failure was not an option.  I also resolved that I would spend all of my time making sure I did not fail and that if things did not go well initially, I would not be too proud to take a second job.

By the end of August of last year, I had made the decision to go solo. First, I found and re-read Foonberg’s How to Start and Build a Law Practice.  I scheduled a tonsillectomy for early September and made all of my plans to leave while recuperating. I leased a new car (probably not the best idea), rented an office in a serviced office building, bought a new laptop, printer, malpractice policy and some business cards and on October 1, 2006, The Fonteneau Firm opened for business. 

After a year in business, I realize that I will probably not be looking for employment in the near future. I would be lying if I told you that starting this firm was not risky or that failure really is impossible.  I would also be lying to you if I said it was easy.  It was and is hard work, but it is doable.  What I found was that the only real obstacle in my way was fear.  I had to leave my comfort zone and trust my instincts.  Luckily things have worked out. It is a year later and I have never missed a payment on that car I leased, and I have enough clients that I am pretty sure that I won’t. Most importantly, I have the freedom to follow my passions.  One of those passions is my new blog focusing on issues of diversity. You can reach me and my blog at www.kirafonteneau.com. I think my grandmother would approve.

the fonteneau firm

Kira Fonteneau

Attorney & Counselor at Law

2229 Morris Avenue

Birmingham, AL 35203

205.533.9202

kira@kirafonteneau.com

www.kirafonteneau.com