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August 30, 2007

"Going Solo; Confessions and Inspirations" - Emily Finger

Another fairly new attorney, Emily Finger of Minnesota, will inspire you with her story about going solo because chances are her story will ring true for many of you who have already gone solo or are thinking about it.  And the goal of this category is to let you know you are not alone.

Guest Post:  Emily Finger, Esq.

I can't remember everything I was envisioning when I applied to law school.  I'm sure a gorgeous corner office, nice suit, and fabulous house factored in there somewhere.  I suppose I also liked the idea of joining such an old profession, and I know that I was looking for a job that would be intellectually challenging.  I was two years out of college and I needed to figure out my grad school plan.  I chose William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota (Warren Burger, Class of '31). 

I really loved law school.  I was in the part-time program at William Mitchell, which gave me the chance to work full-time during the day.  The part-time students were all very supportive, with none of the cut-throat competition that seems to plague other schools.  I graduated cum laude in 2004, excited to join the legal profession (with rosy cheeks, stars in my eyes, etc.)  But the afterwards-part left much to be desired.

Like many people, I hated my job.  I was a "creditors' rights attorney" (euphemism for collections), but try as I might, I could not find another job.  It was partly the tight job market, and partly that I was lacking experience in the practice areas I was considering.  So I was stuck there because I wasn't crazy enough to give up benefits and a salary for the pain of self-employment.  And then I lost my job.  And it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I never really intended to open my own practice.  My parents had their own accounting practice, and they seemed to do alright, but I liked the luxury of a regular check.  I also really liked the ability to budget and plan that came with the regularity of a "normal" job.  But I still didn't have the practice experience that hiring attorneys were looking for.  So, I thought, why not try things on my own?

My first case was a divorce, pro bono.  I had never worked in family law, but I wanted to stay busy and I like a challenge.  Turns out this family law thing isn't too tough!  Then a bankruptcy and some businesses came my way.  I was working out of my house so my overhead was low, and I was able to find some contract work here and there to pad my bank accounts.  Now, less than one year out, I'm very happy with my decision.  I can make a big-firm salary by working regular hours, and I get to decide when those hours are.  I can choose some of my matters and clients, and I've finally managed to get solid experience in my practice area of choice: helping other small businesses make their way.

I have learned more than I ever thought I would.  There are far more resources out there than you know, so you won't really be "alone."  This blog is a great place to start.  You'll have to do some things out of your comfort zone, but when you do, you will see that you're better than you thought you were.  It will help if you're smart, know your way around the internet, and friendly enough to talk to people about yourself and your practice.  You don't need a ton of money, but have an emergency fund because it's just good sense.  For a while, you will spend a lot of time on non-billable activites, especially business development - but that's okay, because no one expects you to bill 2000 hours and you already are a "partner."

Emily Finger is a solo-practitioner in Minnetonka, Minnesota.  She focuses on the interests of small-businesses and their owners.  She can be reached at emily@emilyfingerlaw.com, www.emilyfingerlaw.com, and through her blog at www.mnlawyer.blogspot.com.

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