There are so many challenging decisions you will find yourself contending with after being called to the bar and through the lifecycle of your legal career. It is tough enough going through the bar licensing journey, yet after being called to bar, you are faced with the reality of how to navigate your career path, which will differ from your initial plan while at law school most of the time. Some career options for lawyers include joining a law firm, going in-house with a corporation, starting your own private practice, or even branching off the traditional practice of law. Whatever career path you choose, there are limitless opportunities, and your law training will always come in handy.
Your decision to start your own private practice may be based on various reasons, including business or personal factors such as a change in family situation, the inability to be gainfully employed, the need to take charge of the direction of your practice, your personal conviction that it is about time to branch out on your own; or it might simply be motivated by a need to do things differently from the traditional practice of law. Whatever reason you choose to go solo, bear in mind that you are not alone and that there is a whole army of legal soloists waiting for you to reach out to them.
I am often asked by potential legal soloists about the basic essentials of starting a private practice. While this is not a light decision, it should be noted that you do not need to break the bank to take off. A laptop, a good speed internet connection and a phone are the basic tools required to start your private practice. While I have been told in some quarters to have decent savings before going solo, the issue with that assertion is that not everyone can have savings before going solo for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article. While it is nice to have some savings, it does not determine the success or failure of your solo practice.
A business plan can act as a catalyst to the process of going solo. It does not have to be elaborate, and a sample can be found on the Law Society of Ontario website. One of the gains of having a business plan is that it gives your potential practice a sense of direction and business legitimacy. It also helps you ensure long term progression for your solo practice and it goes a long way in helping you make a list of all the requirements needed to start and run your solo practice, which may include physical or virtual address, a dedicated phone line, practice management software, online presence, fixtures, bank accounts, virtual or in-person assistant, and subscriptions you may require depending on your practice areas. For a single individual, going solo may appear daunting, but in reality, I have found it to be an adventure.
It is not uncommon to fear isolation while pondering whether to go solo but going solo does not need to be isolating. This is because you may decide to go solo with other colleagues, with each of you having a dedicated practice area. In fact, there are many ways of structuring a solo practice without making it isolating.
Going Solo does not mean practising all areas of law. The law is quite broad for a single individual to be the jack of it all. Having a niche area of practice could be instrumental to the growth of your practice. I am aware that it is tempting to take on everything that walks through the door because, perhaps, as a lawyer starting out on your own, you may not have the luxury to pick and choose clients and you need to break even at the end of the month. The issue with having so many areas of practice is that it may result in you appearing unprofessional to prospective clients or in the inability to dedicate enough time to being an authority in your preferred areas of practice. There may also be too many resources to focus on when such mental energy could be diverted to honing the skills you have already acquired in your preferred areas of practice. While I understand that it is easier to practice many areas in closely-knit towns, the unspoken rule of niche practice is strictly adhered to in most places.
Before branching out, you may be concerned about where your clients will come from. The answer is within reach because your potential clients are around you. I am certain that you must have heard the phrase ‘Put yourself out there.’ That is exactly what you are going to do. Potential clients could be your next-door neighbour, a group you belong to, former classmates. The list is endless. The issue with tapping into these sorts of clients is you have to be extroverted and have very good peer relations. Even so, you may have learned the ropes from your former place of work or from senior colleagues on how to pitch clients for your new practice. All hope is not lost if you are an introvert because you may also choose to put yourself out there through being a wordsmith and creating online legal related content. Lest we forget, the Ontario Bar Association is an encyclopaedia of resources offering various opportunities to connect with peers who may in the long run act as client referral sources.
It must be noted that going solo is not without its cons because as a single employee, you must understand and be in the whole lifecycle of the business of law. You are the lawyer, the accountant, the assistant, the receptionist and the librarian until the practice starts taking shape, at which point you may decide to hire employees or outsource some time-consuming tasks to enable you focus on the actual billable work. Going solo involves a lot of hard work and its pros far outweigh its cons in the sense that you can be who you want to be without recourse to anyone. However, your clients will always be the boss of you. No doubt, the practice will eventually get busy and you will wonder how to navigate these busy periods, but you have to learn to have a balanced work schedule and power down on work, especially if you run multiple life schedules, so as to avoid burn out.
This article is not exhaustive on the topic of starting your private practice but it is an attempt to give insight on what to expect when you decide to become a legal soloist. It is gratifying not to think of billable hours but while you are not thinking of billable hours, you are still thinking of billings and with a well-run and well-thought-out practice, you can still achieve the life you always dreamt of while in law school. If you can dream it, you can achieve it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ola Oshodi is a dual qualified internationally trained lawyer. She is the Principal Counsel of Ola Oshodi Law, a full service Corporate and International Commercial Law practice focusing on corporate governance, franchise law, corporate structuring, commercial contracts and Private M&A.
Any article or other information or content expressed or made available in this Section is that of the respective author(s) and not of the OBA.