Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Solo Practice as Retirement Nears

I am an in-house attorney, been out of law school for almost hairypalms07/15/18
Solo work is going to be as or more stressful than whatever nycatt07/15/18
Let's pretend it goes something like this. OP: Announcin jeffm07/15/18
Wow you boomers really did have it easy if you think that so therewillbeblood07/15/18
It's clear you've never done it. You can take honest advice jeffm07/15/18
I've done this for 10 years. All the described problems are napoleone07/26/18
I don’t get it, you say you want less stress and your idea therewillbeblood07/15/18
"I don’t get it, you say you want less stress and your ide jeffm07/15/18
The majority of lawyers will be more stressed in solo practi therewillbeblood07/15/18
Yes. You do not accurately describe how solo practice can b jeffm07/15/18
Here's a short 10-point article making some similar points b jeffm07/15/18
All excellent points. I left a PDs office a year ago. I was shitlawsf07/15/18
That's a common way people do it. It works. Is the "sf" fo jeffm07/15/18
Formerly. In the Southwest now. shitlawsf07/15/18
Any solos here want to weigh in on whether becoming one in y therewillbeblood07/15/18
Let's use a decent income (not too high; not too low). $100 jeffm07/15/18
In reply to my own post, I'm going to share with you what I jeffm07/15/18
I think it is because a lot of people are happier in a sub-1 snowday7507/15/18
It 100% depends on the quality of his current and historical midlaw07/15/18
Right! The stress comes from the concern over generating th jeffm07/15/18
It’s always strange for me when we agree about something. midlaw07/15/18
We need more info from OP. Does he need to make any $ to re nycatt07/15/18
"option is to go to a lower key corporate counsel job" wutwutwut07/15/18
OP here. Let me try to clarify a few things. I am not star hairypalms07/15/18
You are looking at it in the right way. The only thing I wi jeffm07/15/18
You’re looking at the finance side the right way, but your midlaw07/15/18
I don't anticipate practicing part-time, at least not for a hairypalms07/15/18
"Starting a firm from the ground up on a part-time basis is jeffm07/15/18
Perhaps take it easy. Trade stock from my lawyer desk. Mee hairypalms07/15/18
Like I said, you’re looking at the biz dev side all wrong. midlaw07/15/18
What practice areas to do you intend to focus on? I am not nycatt07/15/18
OP, a major determinant for you will be the cost of living i guyingorillasuit07/15/18
"I would anticipate having a consumer-facing type practice. jeffm07/15/18
OP, consider entering a solo or small firm as Of Counsel. Ju snowday7507/15/18
You can also work on developing your own clients and you can nycatt07/15/18
There's opening a solo practice as your actual source of inc toooldtocare07/15/18
Certainly not a hobby. I've been told that it often takes 2 hairypalms07/15/18
Something is seriously wrong if you ever lose money as a sol jeffm07/15/18
I'd have to disagree. Coming right out of an in-house job, toooldtocare07/15/18
I wouldn't practice without professional liability insurance hairypalms07/15/18
First couple years out, liability insurance isn't so bad. M toooldtocare07/15/18
double jeffm07/15/18
What would you sell out the gate? Prior to becoming an im isthisit07/15/18
For practice areas, I have thought about collections, landlo hairypalms07/15/18
Pretty much everything you listed involves some low level li isthisit07/15/18
I would go with what you know and work with smaller business nycatt07/15/18
When people say it takes 2-3 years to break even as a solo, dakotalaw07/15/18
How’s the new hire working out? midlaw07/15/18
Starts next month. dakotalaw07/15/18
Right. I don't know where they're coming from, either. You jeffm07/15/18
My expenses my first year were 20k. And I even had a small o dakotalaw07/15/18
I reached the stage of hiring an associate before. We also jeffm07/15/18
How did you handle health/professional liability insurance? toooldtocare07/15/18
Zip and zip. These questions are taking us slightly off jeffm07/15/18
This is correct. There’s nothing inherently wrong with get midlaw07/15/18
Yeah, so many people are possessed with the belief they must jeffm07/15/18
The main partner at my firm sued a debt collecting law firm nycatt07/15/18
lol. Lightning definitely strikes. jeffm07/15/18
the big advantage of malpractice insurance is that the carri dingbat07/16/18
I pay for liability insurance. I do not pay for or offer hea dakotalaw07/16/18
You are a solo and that is pretty common. My employer-fir snowday7507/16/18
I have a solo immigration practice that is very part-time, e shithead07/16/18
Mainly petition work? I do family immigration and deport isthisit07/16/18
I don't do removal defense anymore - it kills practice flexi shithead07/16/18
Dope! I'm doing the deportation defense since it's part of t isthisit07/16/18
If you land anything you haven't done, hit me up and I'll wa shithead07/16/18
I appreciate the open line. I'm NJ mainly but not opposed to isthisit07/16/18
Okay, I speak only as someone who has worked for a solo prac qdllc07/16/18
Getting back to OP's original post: 1. He's concerned about toooldtocare07/16/18
"It would take several years for a solo practice to generate jeffm07/16/18
Purely anecdotal, based on my experience as a solo-just like toooldtocare07/16/18
Married with no kids (don't plan on having any kids either). hairypalms07/16/18
"He has no idea of how to market himself (suggests Obamacare wutwutwut07/16/18
Correct. I merely was asking whether you solos are getting hairypalms07/16/18
Point taken. But if you're getting health insurance via the toooldtocare07/16/18
I have been a solo for several years now, and while I agree disappearedattorney07/16/18
I can't be the only idiot who's soloing by choice. I do h dingbat07/16/18
OP here. I'm a combination of #3 and #4. I have entreprene hairypalms07/16/18
hairypalms, I have to respectfully disagree with a lot of th jlvlaw07/18/18
I've never understood why exploring potential problems with toooldtocare07/18/18
You’re right that I could have left out the “naysayer jlvlaw07/18/18
It's not that he'll have fewer clients at 52 instead of 32, toooldtocare07/19/18
I disagree. No way you've been in-house for 20 years if you dingbat07/26/18
There are also solos who are independently wealthy but want dnabrams07/17/18
I agree with toooldtocare and disappearedattorney. OP has a cranky07/16/18
This. If your former employer or others like it are not goin onehell07/16/18
/thread. This is 100% correct. midlaw07/16/18
I don't know, I feel like going solo is pretty easy as long 2breedbares07/16/18
you're wrong. The thing about being a solo is that it d dingbat07/16/18
The startup (non-tech) is well funded and backed by some lar 2breedbares07/16/18
Interesting that you do outside work. I assume it's pretty wutwutwut07/17/18
I can only get work within my social circle. I am hopeless o jdslug07/16/18
Maybe OP should consider sticking to in-house and tell the c snowday7507/16/18
I tell you what — if it’s so easy to get 400 hours of pa disappearedattorney07/16/18
"How to start and build a law practice" by Foonberg is the b blakesq07/17/18
The key here is like someone said above, there is no excuse jdslug07/17/18
jd-I'm clearly missing something here-how does a 50-somethin toooldtocare07/17/18
Looks like there are 2 camps: I think I can. I think I jeffm07/17/18
Well, the question is about stress levels. The only solos w dnabrams07/17/18
To me, it's not black and white, but it depends on many thin cranky07/17/18
Based on everything I've read above, including OP's addition wutwutwut07/17/18
I have been a solo or in a two person firm for a long time. fiftyplus07/17/18
Hairypalms - I have been in house for over a decade and am a lionelhutz07/17/18
Overhead to me means any expenses related solely to the law jdslug07/18/18
Accounting is a fluid thing, and you can pretty much call an toooldtocare07/18/18
Most solos in my part are uninsured (health insurance wise). snowday7507/18/18
Same here: most solos I know have neither liability nor heal toooldtocare07/18/18
It's definitely a gamble. It gives a person every incentive jeffm07/18/18
If it’s even remotely related to the law practice, you sho dingbat07/26/18
Pretend you are on your death bed. Would you rather be able jdslug07/18/18
“Retired with a nice pension from Bank X, then did a lot o snowday7507/18/18
A lot of people start having health problems in their fortie cranky07/19/18
I guess everyone has to chime in on this one. OP I think you smallyer07/19/18

hairypalms (Jul 15, 2018 - 10:57 am)

I am an in-house attorney, been out of law school for almost 20 years now. As I head toward retirement, I have thought about the possibility of starting a solo practice. I just can't envision myself working in my high-stress corporate law job once I hit my late 50's. Completing year end reviews and all the corporate BS isn't something I want to do long term.

If anyone has launched a solo practice as a way of winding down your career, I would appreciate hearing from you. My hope is to have my house, student loans paid off. Health insurance is certainly a concern. Not sure what most solos do these days, perhaps Obamacare??

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nycatt (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:21 am)

Solo work is going to be as or more stressful than whatever you are doing in house, although in somewhat different ways. I would try to do of-counsel work first (and let someone else do the book-keeping, client-obtaining, insurance-paying, staff-wrangling hard parts) and see if you like that. Although if you don't do litigation and would kind of be almost a consultant and essentially do in-house things for smaller companies, that perhaps would be low stress! What services are in your wheelhouse?

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:27 am)

Let's pretend it goes something like this.

OP: Announcing my new solo practice, "The Law Office of OP."
First Client: I need a will and power of attorney for my wife and me.
OP: Argh!!! I can't take it. Who will do the bookkeeping and staff-wrangling?

How about let the guy start making some money before you put him in overhead hell with a big payroll? It just might be he'd be content to make $50 - 100k with no employees and trivial overhead. He did say he want to slow down - not grow an international law firm.

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therewillbeblood (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:53 am)

Wow you boomers really did have it easy if you think that someone just starting out is going to have people running up and shoving money in their hands for easy legal transactional work. The majority of people are going to get forms online; the remaining are going to be fought over by hordes of lawyers with longer history and online reviews.

And I ain’t talking about payroll; they are going to handle invoicing and bill collecting without help in the beginning, eg stress. What happens when 30% of their clients are behind on their bills? What happens when they haven't made enough one month to cover their living expenses? What happens when some simple lawsuit explodes into craziness? What happens when they get stiffed on thousands in attorneys fees and their client threatens to file a bar complaint if they try collecting?

Solo work is just not a secure path to low stress work.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 12:06 pm)

It's clear you've never done it. You can take honest advice from those that have, or you can remain in ignorance, arguing a position for which you know nothing about. IMO, you are better-off learning instead of arguing. It might actually help you one day when you need to make a similar decision.

You keep erroneously projecting all these activities that solos should not have to experience.


"Collections when 30% of your clients are behind on their payments."

Let's say your goal is to make $100k. Let's say to do this will require having about 5 - 10 clients at any one time, paying on average, $1,000 - $1,500 per month. When you have 5 clients, 30% is 1.5 clients. When you have 10, it's 3. That means 3 collections phone calls. You don't need staff to do that.


"What happens when they haven't made enough one month to cover their living expenses?"

First, OP is retiring with plans to be out of debt (or almost). Living expenses are low. OP is leaving a job voluntarily. Contrast that with younger folks like you, and let me ask you this: "What happens when your company/firm/boss lets you go?" Your income immediately goes to $0.00. What happens if 1 of my 5 - 10 clients fires me? This should speak volumes in itself.


"What happens when some simple lawsuit explodes into craziness?"

If you can't handle it, refer it.


"What happens when they get stiffed on thousands in attorneys fees and their client threatens to file a bar complaint if they try collecting?"

Don't float the client for thousands if you don't want to get stiffed for thousands. Believe it or not, there are a great many clients who pay up-front or immediately upon rendition of the services.

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napoleone (Jul 26, 2018 - 10:10 am)

I've done this for 10 years. All the described problems are accurate.

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therewillbeblood (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:10 am)

I don’t get it, you say you want less stress and your idea to achieve this is to go into solo practice?! That makes no sense. Your best option is to go to a lower key corporate counsel job. Alternately, get an education credential or library science degree on the side and switch over to one of those things.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:17 am)

"I don’t get it, you say you want less stress and your idea to achieve this is to go into solo practice?! That makes no sense."

That's because you aren't familiar with how easy it can be. I realize many try unsuccessfully. By no means should this mean it makes no sense.

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therewillbeblood (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:23 am)

The majority of lawyers will be more stressed in solo practice as compared to corporate counsel. Think about it: this person isn’t going from a law firm to solo practice in his 20s. He will have to, in his 40s or 50s, familiarize himself or herself with all the little mundane scheduling, accounting, marketing, bill collecting, etc. things that they haven’t had to deal with before. On top of all this they have house and student loan debt plus health insurance concerns. Do you honestly think this will be a low stress move for them?

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:31 am)

Yes. You do not accurately describe how solo practice can be. Some people do not understand how to make it simple. Who doesn't know how to use a calendar? How much accounting work will there be for a basic practice grossing say, $50 - 100k per year? 1 or 2 transactions a day at most. Bill collecting isn't fun, but if you do it yourself, you will be more effective than anyone you pay to do to for you. Not to mention, you don't tend to have too many collections for certain types of practices, such as simple estate-planning, maybe some deeds, etc.

You folks simply overthink the requirements to go solo, and that's the largest mistake made by people who fail at it.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:45 am)

Here's a short 10-point article making some similar points by a person starting her own practice after leaving BigLaw. http://solopracticeuniversity.com/2011/03/24/10-things-i-hate-about-being-a-solo-practitioner-and-why-im-still-happy-being-solo/

Salient points:

2. I HATE NOT HAVING a paralegal, or a full-time assistant for that matter. Yes, indeed, it is no fun having to do your own filing, basic drafting, and exhibit preparation. You get over it. The long hours I spent at BigLaw chasing the billable hour are now spent catching up on administrative tasks. One day maybe I’ll hire a staff to handle these things, but for now I’ll settle for a college kid who catches up my filing and data entry every week or two.

Notice she has a young person come in every week or two. That's how little there really is to do. It's just that lawyers hate to do secretarial work, and so they procrastinate and let it pile up. It has nothing to do with being overwhelmed by too much work.


10. I HATE the attitude that having a virtual (online) law practice and a home office means that I’m not a “real” lawyer. Although I shouldn’t, I spend a lot of time justifying the way I practice law to luddites who think that only “real” lawyers have a brick & mortar office and at least three support staff.

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shitlawsf (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:22 pm)

All excellent points. I left a PDs office a year ago. I was making money the first month off appointments alone.

I use an online timekeeping and billing system for $35 a month that also is pretty good at producing standard motions with the correct captions and headings.

I use Quickbooks online to do my own books for $20 a month.

I use MS Office with OneDrive for $60 a year and Adobe Acrobat Pro for slightly more at $17 a month. Both programs pay for themselves over and over again by making document backup and management so much more efficient.

I efile in my county. So I don't need a runner.

I deposit all my checks with my banks phone app. I issue checks the same way.

The only outside staff I use is an investigator who is extremely good and efficient. He also drafts and serves subpoenas for me.

It doesn't take much to make $50-$100k a year. I can make $50k just taking state felonies. I can push that up to $100k if I also do misdemeanors, CPS cases and the lowest level federal misdemeanors.

The only drawback is that I am on call year round and have to be ready if an appointment comes in. I can block off time for vacation, but the courts don't honor my vacation certificates. In those cases, I have to pay for court coverage. But I got a guy who will do it for $100. So it's manageable.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 8:04 pm)

That's a common way people do it. It works. Is the "sf" for San Francisco?

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shitlawsf (Jul 15, 2018 - 9:45 pm)

Formerly. In the Southwest now.

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therewillbeblood (Jul 15, 2018 - 11:59 am)

Any solos here want to weigh in on whether becoming one in your 50s is a way to reduce stress in your life? I think jeffm and I are an impasse...

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 12:11 pm)

Let's use a decent income (not too high; not too low). $100k.

What's your hourly rate? How about $250?

$100k / $250 per hour = 400 hours per year.

Let's go on a 2-week vacation and call a year 50 weeks worth of work. That's 50 weeks to bill 400 hours. This comes to 8 hours per week.

Now, bear with me and don't get all too contrary too fast. Let's just work off this basic scenario.

Just how stressed do you think a person will be billing 8 hours per week? Why can't this person lick his own envelopes and mail them? Why can't he calendar his own meetings and deadlines? Why can't he call his clients to request payment?

Just how "busy" can this person actually be?

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 12:33 pm)

In reply to my own post, I'm going to share with you what I feel is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.

All this fear concerning rent, payrolls, collections, piles of paper everywhere, etc. is all just talk and excuse. The elephant in the room actually is the genuine fear that the person can't even manage to get the "meager" 8 hours per week of billables. If you guaranteed them the 8 hours and said, "but you can't have overhead," they'd jump on it in a heartbeat. "Even better! No overhead."

I fully appreciate the concern of not being able to get the billables - I honestly do. It takes time, and even with time, some people can't manage to do it.

So, they think they need to go spend money to make money. Get office space and pay rent. Hire staff. To what? Sit around on your a$$ while bills pile up and live in even *greater* fear of not generating 8 hours per week in billables?

It is very, very easy to spend money. You can do that at the flip of a switch. Making money is the first priority. Never go in with the belief that you have to spend money. That's what nervous, impatient people do.

Law is a profession. You are paid for your time and knowledge. You don't need an office. You don't need a receptionist. You don't need inventories and investments. You went to school for a long time and paid dearly for this opportunity. Basically, it's a license to bill your time at exorbitant rates in the 100's per hour without any need to invest in anything or incur overhead.

Yet, out of fear, the masses of lawyers who'd love to go solo simply cast aside this obvious nature of the practice. They get the jitters and go sign a lease. Hint: When suffering from the jitters, don't go signing leases, hiring staff and buying copiers. When you are scared about not having enough money, it should be obvious that you need to *keep* your money and not spend it.

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snowday75 (Jul 15, 2018 - 8:22 pm)

I think it is because a lot of people are happier in a sub-100k job if they have subsidized health insurance, stock option or 401k, vision, dental, and a company paying CLEs. That said, if you can do 400 hours a year at $250.00 an hour and also work at say Home Depot or Lowe's during the day for health insurance and benefits, its not that risky a proposition.

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midlaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 12:39 pm)

It 100% depends on the quality of his current and historical in-house relationships. If he’s kept in touch with former execs who’ve left to start or join other companies and he’s the go to guy for the current c-suite, then he can probably grow those relationships into the type of annuity that Jeff’s talking about.

More likely though is that he doesn’t have those types of relationships and will be pounding the pavement and hustling deadbeats for 1k retainers in practice areas he doesn’t have much experience in. That will be much more stressful than any in-house job.

Of course, only OP knows his situation.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 12:45 pm)

Right! The stress comes from the concern over generating the billables. All this talk about being overworked and having massive overhead is a red herring.

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midlaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 12:49 pm)

It’s always strange for me when we agree about something.

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nycatt (Jul 15, 2018 - 12:52 pm)

We need more info from OP. Does he need to make any $ to reach his retirement goals, and if so, how much? What are his areas of practice for the last twenty years in-house? Does he expect to concentrate in those areas or does he want to do general practice? or a mix? Does he have clients already?

Depending on the local economy, a solo doing specific in-house work may do ok (certain types of regulatory work, tax, etc.), and he may ramp up quickly. Other areas, like general litigation, are going to be very competitive, and will take a longer ramp up, and may never ramp up.


Also, some in-house jobs will be horribly stressful, others will not compare in stress to a solo gig.


In any event, we need more info.

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wutwutwut (Jul 15, 2018 - 12:00 pm)

"option is to go to a lower key corporate counsel job"


These exist? I don't know what OP's particular stressors are, but I've read several threads here over the years where in-house guys say they're missing sleep over signing off on multi- hundred million dollar deals and worried when something they missed will come back in a big way to bite them/their company.


OP - do you have any OSC service providers that you could tap for occasional work?

Or do you envisage transitioning into a more general, consumer-facing type of solo practice?

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hairypalms (Jul 15, 2018 - 1:38 pm)

OP here. Let me try to clarify a few things. I am not starting a law practice today or even this year. I am doing quite well in-house right now, but the pace of my job is (and has been for many years) quite hectic, just a constant barrage of emails and fires to put out every day.

I would anticipate having a consumer-facing type practice. I am primarily a transactional attorney. I do a lot of contracting, regulatory issues, advertising and promotion, handle complaints at the outset and then hand them off to outside counsel if it progresses to that point, etc. I advise the business and do a lot of hand holding. It pays quite well.

I'm inclined to agree with JeffM. I attempted to start a solo practice many years ago during a period of unemployment/underemployment, but lasted only 6 months. It became a money pit. I would certainly not be hiring any paralegal staff or even a secretary, at least not for a few years (if ever). I like JeffM's comments regarding hiring some college student. That's probably how I would handle it. I may be older than some of you here on this board, but I have been keeping my own calendar for years. Never used a dictaphone either... I understand it's a lot of hats to wear. As I mentioned, I will be looking to wind down my career at some point.

To give a good example, I recently hired a local attorney to handle a zoning board of appeals issue where I am looking to demolish a house and rebuild. Guy charged me $300/hr since he had previously served on the ZBA for 10 years. I did the bulk of the work, writing reports, etc. All this guy did was review my drafts, write a final opinion, and drove to my soon to be demolished property in his Porsche during board member inspection. In the end, I was banged for about $6,500. Guy even charged me in quarter hour increments and also an 5% administrative fee. This was for about 20 hours of work. Multiply that scenario by 3-4 times per month and you are starting to match up against what you would be making in-house; all while putting in less time. I get it - if it was so easy everyone would be doing it. My issue is I hope to be in a decent financial position to be picky about what cases I accept and ease into retirement. What's the alternative for soon to be geezers like me - being a bagger at a grocery store?

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 1:48 pm)

You are looking at it in the right way. The only thing I will add is that the less debt and bills that you have, the more options you have. Plan to have many options and plenty of time to explore them. If you leave with a high COL, you will be pressed for time, and transitioning will be that much more difficult.

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midlaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 2:05 pm)

You’re looking at the finance side the right way, but your business development side is all wrong. You won’t be able to build a “consumer facing” practice part-time at low cost. Won’t happen. The only way it will work is if you can heavily leverage pre-existing relationships for direct business and for referrals.

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hairypalms (Jul 15, 2018 - 2:19 pm)

I don't anticipate practicing part-time, at least not for a number of years. Starting a firm from the ground up on a part-time basis is just asking for failure. That being said, 3-5 years in, I might be inclined to take Fridays off as my schedule permits.

From a business development standpoint, I understand it is competitive out there. I would likely take advantage of online advertising, join a local inn of court, and attend bar association meetings, etc. I do live in a high COL area, but I hope to be substantially debt free by the time I start a practice.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 2:20 pm)

"Starting a firm from the ground up on a part-time basis is just asking for failure."

It's not like you'll be inundated with billables, so what do you plan to do with all that time? Just constantly network?

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hairypalms (Jul 15, 2018 - 3:53 pm)

Perhaps take it easy. Trade stock from my lawyer desk. Meet local business owners. Take practitioners out to lunch and network, read a good book, watch a baseball game, start an online business that can be managed from my lawyer desk, etc.

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midlaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 4:45 pm)

Like I said, you’re looking at the biz dev side all wrong.

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nycatt (Jul 15, 2018 - 2:50 pm)

What practice areas to do you intend to focus on? I am not sure what you mean by "consumer facing." I have been doing exclusively commercial litigation with a focus on real estate work, so that term doesn't come up much in my line of work.

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guyingorillasuit (Jul 15, 2018 - 2:22 pm)

OP, a major determinant for you will be the cost of living in your area. For high-COL areas, your plan is less workable. For lower-COL areas, your plan is more workable. Another major issue is whether or not you have in-house contacts to hire you as the zoning board solo in your prior scenario. If you do not, develop these contacts, and your transition will be easier.

As Jeff said, you need to have the confidence that you can bill and collect a certain number of hours per week. If you were to tell us more about your area of expertise and the type of market you're in, we could probably offer more meaningful advice.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 2:32 pm)

"I would anticipate having a consumer-facing type practice. I am primarily a transactional attorney. I do a lot of contracting, regulatory issues, advertising and promotion, handle complaints at the outset and then hand them off to outside counsel if it progresses to that point, etc. I advise the business and do a lot of hand holding. It pays quite well."

He's still a bit unclear. "Consumer-facing" is vague. Nevertheless, he's clearly seeing that he is dishing off work to others who are making some bucks. Sounds like business-to-business type of work. This is very good work to get. If you have the contacts, good. If not, start working them. You need a way to be a reasonably active part of their lives, so that you are the one they think to call when the need arises.

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snowday75 (Jul 15, 2018 - 2:52 pm)

OP, consider entering a solo or small firm as Of Counsel. Just be on call to handle banking, finreg, and if you can stomach it commercial debt.


What I am talking about is common in MN. No you won’t make $$$$, but you aren’t sitting in an office making the phone or email Gods bring you rain. You can be semi-retired.

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nycatt (Jul 15, 2018 - 3:41 pm)

You can also work on developing your own clients and you can go on your own when you have a full enough stable of clients. You will also have picked up some "know-how" on private practice in those practice areas.

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toooldtocare (Jul 15, 2018 - 4:20 pm)

There's opening a solo practice as your actual source of income, which is incredibly stressful and can be a disaster-I know from experience, and then there's

"Perhaps take it easy. Trade stock from my lawyer desk. Meet local business owners. Take practitioners out to lunch and network, read a good book, watch a baseball game, start an online business that can be managed from my lawyer desk, etc."

Which, frankly, sounds like a hobby. If OP has the cash reserves to treat solo practice as a hobby, hell, that would be fun, so go for it.
But if the solo practice is actually needed to generate life-sustaining income, that's another story entirely. Which is it?

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hairypalms (Jul 15, 2018 - 4:30 pm)

Certainly not a hobby. I've been told that it often takes 2-3 years before you break even as a solo so I would be looking at this as more of a long-term strategy. Point is I would expect there to be a lot of downtime in the beginning.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 5:05 pm)

Something is seriously wrong if you ever lose money as a solo. It means you have too much overhead. I never, ever lost money as a solo. Even at its worst, it should amount to a paying hobby.

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toooldtocare (Jul 15, 2018 - 5:25 pm)

I'd have to disagree. Coming right out of an in-house job, OP would not have any set clients, at all. He'd need to market himself tirelessly, and even then it appears that his line of work would be pretty specialized, so he'd have to establish with potential clients that it's worth going with him-a one man shop-as opposed to larger firms with more impressive brick and mortar. Is it possible? Yes, but it will take a lot of work.
And what's your definition of overhead? Health Insurance? Malpractice, er, errors and omissions? Those two alone will be in the thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of dollars.
So yes, flying w/o insurance will definitely lower your costs. But you'd be accepting substantial personal risk.
And to OP-"long term strategy"? I thought you were heading toward retirement. So I'd say that you're correct-it will take 2-3 years, if things work out, to break even. Sounds like a pretty stressful way to head into retirement. I'd grind out the corporate job and then retire, period, and do something far less stressful than launch a solo, very specialized law practice.

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hairypalms (Jul 15, 2018 - 6:24 pm)

I wouldn't practice without professional liability insurance. I think 10s of thousands is pushing it, but if you are including health insurance into that figure then I guess it's possible.

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toooldtocare (Jul 15, 2018 - 6:32 pm)

First couple years out, liability insurance isn't so bad. My experience, though, was that it doubled year three; maybe it's different now.
Regarding health insurance, entering the marketplace as a solo will be very expensive(I'd guess 10k/yr for moderate plan); and much more expensive if you've got a family to cover.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 5:03 pm)

double

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isthisit (Jul 15, 2018 - 5:40 pm)

What would you sell out the gate?

Prior to becoming an immigration attorney, I was in-house for nearly 1.5 years and it took months before any firms would interview me. Even longer to get an offer I could accept. I was an experienced attorney but I didn't have any marketable practice. I can review and drafts contracts in my sleep but that's not exactly something I could sell to agencies or small/medium firms.

So what would you sell to the regular Joe as a new solo?

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hairypalms (Jul 15, 2018 - 6:20 pm)

For practice areas, I have thought about collections, landlord-tenant, perhaps workers' comp, low level traffic/criminal matters, possibly try to get into zoning appeals. I don't have the stomach for family law or residential real estate. Also, review/drafting of contracts. Trademark filing. Those are the ones off the top of my head. I would be looking for volume oriented work, nothing too complicated. I'm not a litigator.

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isthisit (Jul 15, 2018 - 6:45 pm)

Pretty much everything you listed involves some low level litigation and court familiarity.

I'd suggest going of counsel at a couple firms and taking on a case or two to get some practice experience.

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nycatt (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:01 pm)

I would go with what you know and work with smaller businesses doing what you do now, and think about other practice areas after the firm is established. I wouldn't hire someone that didn't have at least 6 or 7 years in their area, and I know people that work in specialized firms in each of those areas you listed. The people that don't care about specialization probably don't have a lot to pay you. I practice in NYC - perhaps it is different elsewhere.

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dakotalaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 5:53 pm)

When people say it takes 2-3 years to break even as a solo, are they saying that the lawyer will earn zero salary for the first 2-3 years, or are they saying that the lawyer will only be able to pay themselves a basic salary and will be unable to save or reinvest?

I made a half decent salary my first year with no prior civil law experience.

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midlaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 6:46 pm)

How’s the new hire working out?

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dakotalaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:06 pm)

Starts next month.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:05 pm)

Right. I don't know where they're coming from, either. You start a business. You have income. You have deductions. If your deductions exceed your income, you are losing money. This should not happen as a solo. If it does, it means you have gambled and failed to scale properly.

It's really not different than buying more house than you can afford. Going broke is going broke. Even in business, you should approach debt with the same caution that Dave Ramsey would tell you when it comes to buying your home - i.e., live below your means.

Grow, then scale; not scale, then grow. Many businesses scale, then grow, but that's because they have to. You are not going into car manufacturing without spending a lot of money first. You are not going to start a restaurant without spending a lot of money first. Law is one of those nice professions where you don't have to spend money first.

Of course, I hear all the reasons why you must spend a lot of money, and they all tend to really boil down to one thing... "If you don't look like you spend a lot of money, you can't get the business." I disagree with that, but that's just me.

Some people scale, then grow, successfully. Others go broke trying.

Some grow, then scale. That's me.

Some never grow and maybe could have had they scaled first. That's risky, from my limited experience. I guess I am not good at "investing" to get business. I just get it where I can and leave it at that. I am leery of the strategy, "build it, and they will come." It definitely works, but it's not for everyone.

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dakotalaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:08 pm)

My expenses my first year were 20k. And I even had a small office rental with furnishings and a new computer.

Next year expenses were about 25k.

This year I’m hiring as associate so we’ll see. . .

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:13 pm)

I reached the stage of hiring an associate before. We also hired a receptionist. It went on for a handful of months - maybe a little over a year. It was through that experience that I came to learn that I was happier without all that headache. Good luck to you. Hopefully, they generate enough profit for you to make it worthwhile.

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toooldtocare (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:15 pm)

How did you handle health/professional liability insurance?

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:29 pm)

Zip and zip.

These questions are taking us slightly off-topic because we are talking about a person leaving a higher-paying job voluntarily and expecting to maintain some modicum of his current standard of living. I am not suggesting that OP go uninsured. I am just saying it's part of what I had to do to get my start.

OP expects to have a paid-for home and little to no debt. Even a very modest income will allow him to buy subsidized health insurance on the exchange. If his health is really bad, to where the high deductible plans don't cut it, then he would surely know not to give up his gig to go scraping up business from square one. I assume his health is reasonably good since there was no mention of it.

Malpractice insurance isn't all that expensive. Frankly, I don't know how you would benefit from it if you were a debt collector. I know they can be sued, but that's kind of like lightning striking. It happens, but it doesn't mean everyone needs to go out right away and buy lightning rods. Just work on the income part and spend more later when it's appropriate.

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midlaw (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:41 pm)

This is correct. There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting an office out of the gate, but “focus on the income part first” is 100% correct. An online presence and drinks, golf, and lunches with referral sources are cheap and pretty effective. Get the business first, then get the means to handle it.

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:53 pm)

Yeah, so many people are possessed with the belief they must have a place for show, so it's going to be inevitable for them anyway.

If you want to put on the show, then at least try to make it look big on a small budget. Maybe sub-let a spare office of a law firm, or something similar. Office-sharing with other lawyers gets you referrals, so if you must spend money on an office, think about a low-cost arrangement which gets you the most exposure to referrals and direct walk-ins.

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nycatt (Jul 15, 2018 - 7:59 pm)

The main partner at my firm sued a debt collecting law firm for defamation -- the case is still going on. It is a long story that is highly amusing. I would recommend the insurance... (once there is a client)

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jeffm (Jul 15, 2018 - 8:00 pm)

lol. Lightning definitely strikes.

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dingbat (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:39 pm)

the big advantage of malpractice insurance is that the carrier pays for your defense.
Malpractice insurance is cheap enough that it's highly recommended (not to mention the fact that in many states it's mandatory)

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dakotalaw (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:32 am)

I pay for liability insurance. I do not pay for or offer health insurance.

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snowday75 (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:40 am)

You are a solo and that is pretty common.

My employer-firm takes home $195,000 a month and none of us get health insurance or commission.

You need to work for the government or a legitimate company (small law firms don’t fall into this category) to get benefits, or biglaw.

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shithead (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:56 am)

I have a solo immigration practice that is very part-time, except for H-1B season in March. It's very low-stress, and a nice supplement to the contract work that I do full-time. I plan on doing it until I die or am incapacitated.

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isthisit (Jul 16, 2018 - 9:46 am)

Mainly petition work?

I do family immigration and deportation defense mostly. I want to crack into the business immigration side. Any resources or books you recommend to get me started?

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shithead (Jul 16, 2018 - 11:17 am)

I don't do removal defense anymore - it kills practice flexibility, being calendared nine months out, having to show up in EOIR. I hate court anyway.

I do a lot of family-based AoS. The sweet spot is F-1s to H-1Bs and L-1s and O-1s. I do seminars for foreign students at DC-area universities, which always net me a few F-1s looking to go from OPT to H-1B. Sometimes I have to convince their firms (small and mid-sized ones - the big companies all use megafirms like Fragomen) that visa sponsorship isn't impossible. Lately, I've gotten a few self-sponsoring EB-2 NIWs. Landed the first one on Thumbtack.com, was successful with the petition, client referred me to several similarly-situated colleagues.

As for resources, just my AILA membership (I lean heavily on their mentors for cases of first impression for me) and Kurzban's. Petition-based practice is totally low-stress and easy, once you figure out the DHS bureaucracies. I don't even meet a lot of my clients. I rent space at WeWork or similar shared office arrangements as necessary, but a lot of times I work from home in my bathrobe while drinking wine. With clients, a seasoned immigration lawyer could do this job from a beach in Nicaragua without ever putting on shoes, so long as there's reliable WiFi.

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isthisit (Jul 16, 2018 - 2:12 pm)

Dope! I'm doing the deportation defense since it's part of the gig but I want to go mainly petition work once I open up shop.

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shithead (Jul 16, 2018 - 2:56 pm)

If you land anything you haven't done, hit me up and I'll walk you through a petition for a split.

Marketing, I do the seminars like I described above, MeetUp groups for foreign languages and expats (great source for AoS work), sweet-talk DSOs at area universities, talk to strangers at bars, just about any contact possible with foreigners. DC is a target-rich environment for immigration work.

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isthisit (Jul 16, 2018 - 4:18 pm)

I appreciate the open line. I'm NJ mainly but not opposed to branching out.

Hit me up if you ever need something from my end [email protected]

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qdllc (Jul 16, 2018 - 8:45 am)

Okay, I speak only as someone who has worked for a solo practitioner.

If you only want to run a practice to have something to do (especially from a home office) it might not be a bad deal. You don’t need to work...you choose to work. So, you can pick your cases, keep your expenses limited, and manage your stressors.

So the real question is how low can you keep expenses, and how much work will you need to justify working on a limited scale as a solo?

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toooldtocare (Jul 16, 2018 - 9:38 am)

Getting back to OP's original post:
1. He's concerned about health insurance. Even with no family, a basic health insurance plan for a male in his 50s would be 7-10K;
2. He will buy liability insurance. As he's been in-house and been working for a while, he'll have assets to protect so will need more than a basic plan; that's another 1K, which will double by year three.
3. He has no idea of how to market himself(suggests Obamacare as area of practice, which would result in very, very few paying clients), so that would be a learning curve; and
4. Has no client base at all, so lots of marketing, which involves a lot of time and no money coming in.
5. And regarding benefits: with the new solo practice, OP will have no paid leave of any kind. That will be a massive adjustment from his corporate job.

Just can't see how it would be worth the time or expense for a guy in his mid-50s to set up a solo practice. Put up with the corporate nonsense-and the corporate $$$-for a few years more, fatten up the 401k, and retire and do something you enjoy. It would take several years for a solo practice to generate enough income to pay the bills-as in life's bills, not just the practice's-even assuming the mortgage and student loans are paid off. And this doesn't even address questions regarding family expenses.
It's great to say no need for liability/health insurance in your 30s; it's irresponsible in your 50s. That alone should tell OP to stay where he is.

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jeffm (Jul 16, 2018 - 10:56 am)

"It would take several years for a solo practice to generate enough income to pay the bills-as in life's bills..."

Where did you come up with a requirement of "several" years? Is it in a book or treatise, or something?

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toooldtocare (Jul 16, 2018 - 11:08 am)

Purely anecdotal, based on my experience as a solo-just like everybody else here. OP has revealed very little about him/herself-which is understandable-but it's reasonable to expect a mid 50s male to be/have been married; own a house/car; have kids attending college, etc. If any of those are accurate, then yes it will take several years-at best-to pay life's bills. College tuition alone can be onerous even in the best of circumstances.
If OP is single, no debt-that's an entirely different set of circumstances. But that's unknown.

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hairypalms (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:26 pm)

Married with no kids (don't plan on having any kids either). I own a house, but not paid off. I have student loan debt, but only about $30K at this point. I'm starting to think that it is probably best for me to stay put at my in-house job for as long as I can tolerate it. I will say that it is harder to grind it out as I get older. Just don't have the energy that I did when I was younger.

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wutwutwut (Jul 16, 2018 - 1:49 pm)

"He has no idea of how to market himself (suggests Obamacare as area of practice"

I read OP as mentioning "Obamacare" in terms of insuring his own health, rather than as some sort of law practice area.

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hairypalms (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:20 pm)

Correct. I merely was asking whether you solos are getting your health insurance through Obamacare. I never stated that I intended to practice in this area.

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toooldtocare (Jul 16, 2018 - 9:11 pm)

Point taken. But if you're getting health insurance via the ACA, as a 50 something male, you're looking at 7-10K/year in premiums if you go solo, more for a family plan. What are your health insurance costs now? And have you priced liability insurance? And those are costs to be paid before you see your first client.

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disappearedattorney (Jul 16, 2018 - 11:31 am)

I have been a solo for several years now, and while I agree with JeffM’s points about getting the business before scaling, I can’t imagine anyone leaving a corporate law position for a solo gig. People solo because they have no other options — not by choice. And, if you intend to make a living doing it, it is stressful and very difficult work. It is a constant rat race to acquire clients, and it costs a lot of money and time to play.

Possibly there could be an exception for the rare lawyer who can generate a steady stream of business without significant time and money commitments, but OP has given no indication he is such a lawyer.

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dingbat (Jul 16, 2018 - 12:29 pm)

I can't be the only idiot who's soloing by choice.

I do have to say that soloing is not for the faint of heart. In my opinion, solos fall under the following categories:

1) the desperate. These are people who can't find another job, and every day is a struggle. And will keep being a struggle.

2) the opportunist. These are people who built up a decent book of business and decided to solo so as not to share the fees and/or have more control over their life. Usually, they end up alright, because they had the clients before they went solo.

3) the entrepreneur. These are people who care more about the business side than the legal side and are happiest being a small business owner. They'll take the ups and downs that go with it, and that resilience makes them successful (even if that includes eating ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner)

4) the burnout. These are people who were in a high-stress job and think it'll be easier to go solo. Some manage to do ok, some don't. It really depends on whether they can take some clients with them, or if they have a bit of an entrepreneur in them (i.e. part opportunist and/or part entrepreneur). Some are really happy with the change of pace, plenty of others get frustrated and give up.

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hairypalms (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:52 pm)

OP here. I'm a combination of #3 and #4. I have entrepreneurial tendencies. I have always hated working for someone else. At the same time, I'm starting to get sick of the corporate rat race.

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jlvlaw (Jul 18, 2018 - 6:27 pm)

hairypalms, I have to respectfully disagree with a lot of the negativity in this thread about flying solo. I have had my solo practice for 11 years. I left a big firm job in a big city with a 6-figure salary (and took a 75% paycut), worked in two different small law offices and then jumped into my solo practice. My gross revenues have been in the multiple six figures and net income in the six figures. This is with one assistant, a reasonable work schedule (40 hours weekly) and a five-minute commute. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It wasn't always easy and I've learned from my mistakes over the years, but It CAN be done. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, and don't give the naysayers more attention than they deserve.

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toooldtocare (Jul 18, 2018 - 6:51 pm)

I've never understood why exploring potential problems with a course of action makes one a "naysayer". Would your utterly inapposite example-yourself-make you a "pollyanna"? In your case, you most likely made the change when? In your early 30s? You left a big firm-did you take clients with you? And you've got a lot of money coming in after 11 years. Congratulations.

OP, while vague on age, says "[A]s I head toward retirement" he's thinking of going solo. He also notes he's been in-house. So he's probably at least a decade older than you now, and is probably 20 years older than you were when you went solo. It's great you're making $$$ 11 years later, with apparently great work hours. Unlikely OP wants to be working 11 years from now.

And he wants both liability and health insurance; liability will be low to start and ratchet up quickly, and health insurance could be as much as 24K/yr, per another poster.

Yes, plenty of people "make it" as solos, but very few of them are in their 50s with no client base. Would he "make it"? Maybe, depending on your definition of "make it" is, and how long would it take him to get there? There's no question, starting on day one, he's going to face significant insurance costs before he sees his first paying client.

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jlvlaw (Jul 18, 2018 - 11:10 pm)

You’re right that I could have left out the “naysayer“ comment, but I disagree on the rest. I took zero clients from my big firm job, and a handful from the small office that I worked at in between. The six-figure income came in the first year-not the 11th, and I was actually in my late 30s, but I’m not sure that even matters to OP. Do you think he will have fewer clients in the first six months of his practice because he’s 52 instead of 32? I seriously doubt it, but we can present both sides here and OP can decide.

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toooldtocare (Jul 19, 2018 - 8:57 am)

It's not that he'll have fewer clients at 52 instead of 32, it's that he'll have more immediate expenses. Any 52 yo male who goes from a job with health insurance to being a solo faces either a. a gigantic health insurance bill or b.going w/o health insurance. At 32, you might be willing to roll the dice and pick "b"; but to do that at 52 is a tremendous gamble. He's got assets he could lose in a major illness, and when does he tell his spouse she no longer has health insurance? That would be an interesting conversation.
And while your success is laudable, I'd also argue it's exceptionally rare. I know many solos-and was one myself-and none, as in zero, had six figure incomes the first year.
And it's important to note that OP has said he will have both liability and health insurance. The cost of those two insurance policies will be over 10K depending on where he lives(and another poster pays 24K/yr for health insurance alone). And each will go up significantly each year he practices.

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dingbat (Jul 26, 2018 - 4:02 pm)

I disagree. No way you've been in-house for 20 years if you're an entrepreneur. You just dream of being an entrepreneur.

It's like in tech, everyone wants to be involved with a startup, earn those sweet stock options, equity worth a fortune when they cash out - until they realize it means eating ramen noodles while working eighteen hours a day seven days a week, eat, breathe, and sleep the business, and always on call, never on vacation.

To put things in perspective, I've worked non-stop skipping christmas and new year. I've had friends try to confiscate my blackberry because I was checking emails in a bar, I've interrupted a date, while sitting on a rowboat in the park, to answer a work call. I even took my computer with me to do work during my honeymoon.

Then again, I once told an attorney at a biglaw firm that he wasn't allowed to go to the toilet because I was expecting to send over work "any minute now" that had to be turned around immediately because we were facing a deadline (and we were paying the firm enough that my word was god)

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dnabrams (Jul 17, 2018 - 5:40 pm)

There are also solos who are independently wealthy but want to have a solid answer when asked "what do you do?"

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cranky (Jul 16, 2018 - 11:57 am)

I agree with toooldtocare and disappearedattorney. OP has a nice stable job with benefits and is heading toward retirement. I would be very concerned about health insurance coverage. Starting a law practice more as a hobby would be doable if you don't really need the money and mainly want to keep a foot in the profession before you truly retire. You're going to be making far less than what you're making as in-house counsel, and you're going to have to hustle to get clients like all solos. It's going to be far more stressful if you really need to make x amount of dollars each month to pay your bills. I know plenty of people who have failed in having their own practices.

Are clients going to be coming through your door immediately with money? What cases will you be competent to handle? Most solos that I know do traffic tickets, criminal defense, family law, wills-- not high end corporate matters. Even if you have a virtual office and no staff, you will not have reliable sources of income.

With the limited info presented, I'd say stick with your current job, save up more money and then retire. Going solo is a gamble. I'm a little younger than you are, and it has taken me years to the point where I feel comfortable as a solo practitioner, with multiple referral sources, luck, investments, and a spouse who provides health insurance.

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onehell (Jul 16, 2018 - 2:13 pm)

This. If your former employer or others like it are not going to be your clients, then OP is going to be going into a totally new practice area, most likely family/crim because that is what is going to walk in the door in most any "consumer facing" practice. He's going to have to both learn those areas and hustle for clients, which is anything but stress-reducing.

When venturing into this kind of work, I think it best to remember two things:

1. You're talking about criminal records that will follow people for life (even with minor crimes) and about people losing their kids. The system and the legal profession views these things as trivial matters and assumes they must be easy just because there isn't millions of dollars at stake, and it's true that the "pure legal" aspect isn't going to be very complex. But the facts, OTOH, are hard. This stuff is personal. It's far more important *to the client* than anything corporate people are used to, and that's a recipe for stress. After all, if you lose some big contract case and the stock goes down and the CEO gets canned they may be very mad at you (and/or the outside counsel you farmed it out to), but at the end of the day they're still going home to their mansion. But if your DUI client loses his CDL he could become literally homeless. When there's so much less at stake, there's actually so much more at stake.

2. There are tons of studies out there showing that the majority of Americans are living so hand-to-mouth that they couldn't come up with an unbudgeted $2,000 if their life depended on it. They're only a missed paycheck or two away from poverty because even if they seem to be living good lives, they're usually only accomplishing this by being in debt up to their eyeballs, "quiet desperation" as the saying goes. So while there is no shortage of need, there is a huge shortage of true demand (i.e. clients willing and able to pay). You need to be absolutely ruthless about the Foonberg "get the money up front" rule, and that means turning away a lot of people with stories that will really, really pull on the heartstrings or worse, seeking court approval to dump them midstream when the retainer runs out.

In all likelihood, OP, a consumer-facing practice would be no downshift; it would increase your stress significantly. These are the kinds of clients that will really keep you up at night, and when someone loses custody of their kid and blames it on you, there really isn't a corporate-world equivalent for what that feels like. So look before you leap.

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midlaw (Jul 16, 2018 - 3:04 pm)

/thread.

This is 100% correct.

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2breedbares (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:05 pm)

I don't know, I feel like going solo is pretty easy as long as you're a good attorney and a generally affable person. I am in-house and regularly turn down clients willing to pay $300+ an hour because I don't want the headache of more litigation on my plate. I take on a few side clients here and there and feel like I could make a living doing it, but my gig allows me to be divorced from my work whereas being a solo means you are constantly trying to meet people and brand building.

I think people underestimate the amount of people and businesses that can pay $250 an hour. But I'm also in a big market, so that could be it. A lot of getting clients is just having a good personality and doing great legal work. I picked up my most recent side client writing a free analysis email for a friend and her husband's startup company (they are good friends and always take care of me). Now they want to dump their biglaw firm and put me on retainer. And that's within my own social circle. Imagine actually going out and networking.

I will say though that acting like you don't need someone's business ironically gets you more business.

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dingbat (Jul 16, 2018 - 7:45 pm)

you're wrong.

The thing about being a solo is that it doesn't matter if you're a good attorney, what matters is if you can bring in business. More importantly, you need to bring in enough business to survive.

Also, a startup shouldn't use a biglaw firm unless they're on an alternative or deferred compensation arrangement.

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2breedbares (Jul 16, 2018 - 9:16 pm)

The startup (non-tech) is well funded and backed by some large players already. And the owners are self-made millionaires already. I think they can spend their money as they see fit.

And yeah, if you're a good attorney, you can likely bring in business. I don't mean good attorney in the sense that you can read and write well, but also meaning you are a very complete person and can shoot the sh*t with clients, smoking and joking, etc.

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wutwutwut (Jul 17, 2018 - 11:54 am)

Interesting that you do outside work. I assume it's pretty easy to avoid conflicts (e.g., only take stuff way outside your employee-work duties), but I've known a lot of in-house guys and never known of any of them to take outside cases.

I always thought it was because the employer would object, but maybe it's just rare for attorneys to do this (and/or maybe not rare but they just don't discuss it)?

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jdslug (Jul 16, 2018 - 8:04 pm)

I can only get work within my social circle. I am hopeless outside of it.

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snowday75 (Jul 16, 2018 - 9:18 pm)

Maybe OP should consider sticking to in-house and tell the company you are doing pro bono work. Hook up with regional volunteer legal services. Get some low pressure one-off consult stuff. This will be a liability-free way to get legal experience in the trenches of low-tier law.



Thought of this today after dealing with an opponent from a major bank who was handling the defendant's case for free.

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disappearedattorney (Jul 16, 2018 - 10:05 pm)

I tell you what — if it’s so easy to get 400 hours of paying work per year at $250 per hour while working out of your basement office and not devoting any time or money to marketing, then before OP makes the big leap and quits his day job, he should just start the solo practice as a side gig. 400 hours per year can easily be done on nights and weekends. If he maintains it for a year, then quit the day job.

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blakesq (Jul 17, 2018 - 9:51 am)

"How to start and build a law practice" by Foonberg is the bible for solos starting out. You should also check out the free solosez listserv through the ABA, great resource. I am 52, but started my solo practice 14 years ago. My solo practice is way less stressful than my previous lawfirm jobs where I worked for another attorney. Good luck!

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jdslug (Jul 17, 2018 - 10:30 am)

The key here is like someone said above, there is no excuse for losing money as a solo. Worst case scenario, you should go without pay for a while. If your thing is to relax and walk around and try to find clients, you won't lose money. The key is to have your overhead at zero. To repeat the obvious, the key is to have your overhead at zero. If you make money then great. But even if you don't you are on a semi retirement. Certainly don't expect to get 8 billable hours per week. I couldn't get that. I need to gamble on contingency work.

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toooldtocare (Jul 17, 2018 - 10:50 am)

jd-I'm clearly missing something here-how does a 50-something attorney, currently working in-house, set up a solo practice and keep overhead at zero? Clearly, after working for 20 years, the attorney has some sort of assets to protect, so will need-and has stated he will buy-liability insurance. And no doubt health insurance is through current job, so will need to buy(for thousands of dollars/year) health insurance, at least for himself and probably for his family. Those two policies alone will cost close to, or over, 10k(rates vary by state; can check the exchange for HI costs, liability also varies by location). So before the first client pays a penny, OP is on the hook for thousands in expenses.
Yes, attorneys can set up solo practices and "make it" but that's not the situation here; in this case, you've got an established attorney with zero clients. He'll have to market the hell out of himself, which costs both time and money. How is that less stressful than grinding out a corporate job which probably pays pretty well.
Other than doing this as a hobby, the costs to set up this practice seem to defy economic sense-the health insurance costs alone are oppressive.
And we've got no idea what OP's current salary is-five figures? Six figures? Let's say his salary is 100K; how many years as a solo before he takes home the equivalent? And is he willing/able to do without for that period of time, most likely several years?

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jeffm (Jul 17, 2018 - 11:16 am)

Looks like there are 2 camps:

I think I can. I think I can't.

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dnabrams (Jul 17, 2018 - 5:30 pm)

Well, the question is about stress levels. The only solos who can potentially succeed without a lot of stress are (1) those who already have a nice book of business when they hang out their shingles; and (2) those who are independently wealthy.

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cranky (Jul 17, 2018 - 5:48 pm)

To me, it's not black and white, but it depends on many things we do not know about OP. Namely, whether he's going to have any clients from the starting gate or going to have to learn a new area of law, whether he has a lot of money saved up already, whether he's going to be able to afford health insurance on his own, any other people dependent on him (kids?), etc.

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wutwutwut (Jul 17, 2018 - 11:58 am)

Based on everything I've read above, including OP's additional information provided, in his shoes I'd grind it out at the corp job until I got to the point where I felt I could retire more or less comfortably on what I had in hand, then view the potential to subsequently start a solo business as a shot at making additional float, but one which would not be disastrous if it didn't pan out.

Softening that a bit, maybe as I was getting "close" (~ year) to being financially able to retire, start testing the waters with moonlighting as several have suggested above.

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fiftyplus (Jul 17, 2018 - 2:17 pm)

I have been a solo or in a two person firm for a long time. I personally like it because it gives me more control and freedom to take clients I want to represent, versus people who are difficult, dishonest, or crazy. However, it is not a good choice for people who are not risk-takers by nature.

I have seen quite a few people try and fail, and many more scrape by. As each year goes by, it gets more competitive. The legislature here has absolutely destroyed workers comp, which wiped out the main source of income for many long-time lawyers. Med mal requires an Act of Congress to get a viable case to a jury, there are so many ways to get booted. Mediation (which everyone in town signed up to be a mediator) has become so expensive that only a few mediators really make a living at it. Insurance companies are refusing to even pay for discovery until settlement has been tried. Small businesses use LegalZoom for start up documents. These are all issues that have been discussed many times on this board and others.

I would just caution OP that I paid $24,700 last year for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs on a year when I had a few minor medical and dental issues. No big illness, no dependents. If you have a reasonably tolerable job with benefits, I would think long and hard before I gave it up. You will likely never get back into another in-house job once you leave, so plan accordingly.

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lionelhutz (Jul 17, 2018 - 4:58 pm)

Hairypalms - I have been in house for over a decade and am a public co GC, I do transactions, finance and SEC stuff. personally in house life has never been very stressful for me, certainly much less than being in a law firm. Honestly I can't imagine any kind of solo work that would be better and the thought of dealing with the general public and collecting from them just seems like a nightmare.

Have you thought about what makes your current in house job stressful? do you know many other in house lawyers - do you go to ACC stuff and meet people and compare notes? are you serving too many internal clients? are you getting involved in too much minor stuff? is there no budget to farm stuff out to law firms? have you looked at other in house opportunities to see if you can find a better situation? is there any way to semi-retire there by going part time or do you have any leverage to demand the ability to work at home? If you really want to leave your current job are you in an area with a lot of companies so you can try to get contract work through temp or short term placements - you might see life is much better in a different legal department.

Any good in house lawyer with some seniority at a company is going to have a lot of institutional knowledge and employers don't want to lose these people, it seems the best course of action is to see if you can make your current job better rather than trying to be a solo in areas of practice you know nothing about.

the fact that stress is making you think of going solo indicates to me that you might be in a bad legal department. see if you can make the situation better or see if you can find a better company. In house is very company specific and your experience really depends on your GC, company culture, industry trends and senior management.

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jdslug (Jul 18, 2018 - 8:30 am)

Overhead to me means any expenses related solely to the law practice. Like a secretary, rent, Westlaw subscription, advertising and any of the other ways you can “spend money to make money “. Breakfast in the morning is not overhead even though you can’t practice without breakfast. Neither is health insurance.

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toooldtocare (Jul 18, 2018 - 9:10 am)

Accounting is a fluid thing, and you can pretty much call anything, anything. But any expense incurred and which requires payment b/c you're self-employed is the very definition of overhead. So yes, if you go from private employment where you pay a small portion of your required health insurance to self-employment where you pay all of it-that's overhead. It's an operating cost of being a solo practitioner.

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snowday75 (Jul 18, 2018 - 9:15 am)

Most solos in my part are uninsured (health insurance wise).

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toooldtocare (Jul 18, 2018 - 9:40 am)

Same here: most solos I know have neither liability nor health insurance. But not having health insurance, for a guy in his 50s, is a huge gamble.

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jeffm (Jul 18, 2018 - 6:58 pm)

It's definitely a gamble. It gives a person every incentive to eat right, exercise and avoid unhealthy habits... at least until 65.

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dingbat (Jul 26, 2018 - 3:36 pm)

If it’s even remotely related to the law practice, you should ask your accountant if you can expense it

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jdslug (Jul 18, 2018 - 10:31 pm)

Pretend you are on your death bed. Would you rather be able to say I lived an exciting life trying to be a solo in my later years or would you rather say I had a job that I didn’t like but it was safe so I stuck it out?

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snowday75 (Jul 18, 2018 - 11:42 pm)

“Retired with a nice pension from Bank X, then did a lot of visits to my family and had big get togethers.”

“Went solo and worked nonstop to afford my medical care as I aged with no medical insurance pre-Medicare. Never recovered and rely on my cash-strapped stressed out kids to survive now. I am a burden.”

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cranky (Jul 19, 2018 - 8:45 am)

A lot of people start having health problems in their forties and fifties. I already have a handful of friends that got diagnosed with cancer and lymphoma, heart problems even in their thirties. If you're self-employed there will be no paid time off or FMLA.

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smallyer (Jul 19, 2018 - 9:34 pm)

I guess everyone has to chime in on this one. OP I think you would be insane to give up your job and hang a shingle in your late 50's.

I'm guessing you make $200k+ with benefits. You have no idea how hard you will have to work over many years to get to that point as a solo. Most solos never get anywhere close.

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