You may be questioning if going solo is the right choice for you. It is scary to jump ship, leaving behind a steady paycheck, benefits, and more. If you are considering whether it is time to part ways with your associate position and step into the role of the CEO of Your Law Firm as a solo practitioner, here are a few questions to help guide your decision:
1. Do you feel burnt out?
Many lawyers are stuck in a work environment that is unsupportive, unhappy, competitive, and even toxic. Often associates do not have control over what types of cases they can take, meaning that you do not get to guide your caseload in the way that you would like. Additionally, if you are exposed to traumatic cases and stories, you may be suffering from secondary trauma. When you are forced to meet billable hour requirements or churn out a certain number of cases, the firm’s focus is likely not on how you are doing personally, emotionally, or even professionally.
All of these factors can lead to burnout. By leaving the firm and creating a new environment, you can overcome that burnout. You can build the caseload that you want so that you can work on cases that you enjoy. You get to decide the hours that you want to work. Everything becomes up to you so that way you can re-engage with the work and the profession in a way that is meaningful for you.
2. Are you a rainmaker?
Do you have your own client base? Are you known outside of your firm? Do you volunteer and partake in other events to bring in new clients?
If so, you can likely replicate those results for yourself in your own firm. When I was an associate, I was consistently in the top three earners in the firm—including the partners. (and there were six!) I loved bringing in new clients because I was passionate about my work. However, when I found out the amount of money I was bringing in to the firm, and I realized that I was being paid only a small portion of the money, I knew that if I could do that there, I could do it for myself. Once I had the freedom to run my cases as I wanted, I was able to quadruple the earnings within my own firm and upped my salary nine times over.
The point here is that you do not need to be afraid that you won’t make money. If you know how to make money for your current firm, you can make money for yourself. Take all of your hard work and effort and turn it into your own profits.
3. Do you want more control of your schedule?
“Face time” (not the iPhone kind) is unfortunately still a huge part of law firm culture, meaning that the partners want to see you in the office working, especially if they are in the office working. Flex time may be offered, but most firms still want you to be there in person.
If you are a mom or a dad, you may want to be able to take time off for a school play or a sporting event without having to check in with anyone. Any woman lawyer knows the pressure of being a lawyer mom, and the double standards that we deal with when it comes to leaving work early for child-related needs and activities. (i.e. When a dad takes time off to go to a child’s event, he’s a great dad. When a mom does it, she isn’t committed enough to her job.)
Even if you aren’t a parent, having full control over your schedule is a real luxury that going solo can offer you. A fellow solo told me after leaving her firm that sometimes she feels like she may work more hours, but that she earns “a ton more money” and “takes a lot of vacation.” She goes on a yearly trip to Hawaii and takes 3-day weekends at least once a month. She often takes one weekday off each week, favoring working a weekend day because of the ability to focus without interruption.
When you are a solo practitioner, your time is truly yours. You don’t have to answer to anyone. You do your work when you want from where you want. It is a freedom that even a set salary can’t make up for.
4. Do you think you could do things better?
Whether it’s running cases or running a business, do you often find yourself coming up with ideas on how to make things better at your current firm? Many associates feel frustrated when their suggestions fall on deaf ears. If you find yourself daydreaming (or complaining) about how you would do things differently, it may be time for you to take the leap and do it for yourself.
A solo practitioner once said to me, before leaving the firm she was in, that law by its very nature is an individualistic practice. We have our own bar licenses under which we operate. Thus, when we represent clients, it is literally our names on the line. When we have cases that we want to present in a way that is restricted by our bosses or managers, it can be challenging. Going solo allows you the freedom to practice in the way that you feel best serves your clients.
5. Are you unhappy?
If you are unhappy at your firm, it is reason enough to leave. The fear of not making ends meet cannot and should not be a reason to stay. You only get one life to enjoy. You worked extremely hard to get to this point. Getting a bar license is no easy feat. You sacrificed a lot to get here with the purpose of having a life and career that you love. Don’t let that slip away because you are afraid you won’t earn enough. You can’t put a price on happiness, so don’t let your salary be that price.