William and Mary Law School

Solo Practice Career Guide

By Jennifer Sekula
Revised March 2011

Oral argument

Blogs & Books

Attorney and Law Firm Guide to the Business of Law: A Guide to the Business of Law: Planning and Operating for Survival and Growth, 2nd ed., by Edward Poll, Chicago, IL: Solo and Small Firm Section, American Bar Association, 2002.
KF315 Z9 .P64

Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for the Solo Lawyer, 4th ed., K. William Gibson, ed., Chicago, IL: American Bar Association, Law Practice Management Section, 2005.
This collection of essays by primarily solo practitioners covers all aspects of individual practice, including articles on topics such as vacations, billing, and part-time help. The multi-author approach provides a variety of insights and experiences.
OCS KF300 .F58

How to Go Directly into Your Own Solo Law Practice and Succeed into the New Millennium and Beyond, by Gerald M. Singer, St. Paul, MN: West Group, 2000 & 2004 Supp.
This easy-to-read, comprehensive book contains 18 chapters, including "Six Basic Rules for Solo Practice Survival," "How to Administer your Office and Practice," "Ethics Traps and Pitfalls," and "Tax and Investment Considerations for the Solo Practitioner."
KF300 .S57

How to Start a Successful Law Practice: the New Lawyer's Guide to Opening an Office as a Solo or Small Firm Attorney, by William L. Pfeifer, Sheridan, WY: Pipers Willow, 2006.
OCS KF318 .P445

How to Start and Build a Law Practice, 5th ed., by Jay G. Foonberg, Chicago, IL: American Bar Association, Law Student Division, Section of Law Practice Management, 2004.
This book is organized into ten parts: getting started; getting located; getting equipped; getting clients; setting fees; managing the law office; ethics and professional responsibility; resources and advice; a management checklist; and a section on quality of life. Using a "nuts and bolts" approach, the author devotes short sections within each chapter to considerations ranging from postage to insurance to Christmas cards.
OCS KF300 .Z9 F66
RESERVE KF300 .Z9 F66

Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos and Small Firms, 3rd ed., Chicago, IL: Law Practice Management Section, American Bar Association, 2005.
KF318 .D55

Lawyerist
Billing itself as "The Lawyering Survival Guide," Lawyerist is the product of a consumer rights lawyer and a former election lawyer.  The articles are written for solos/small firmers on the topics of marketing, ethics, technology, practice management, and related concerns.  Of particular interest is the entry on "Starting a Law Firm."

Minding Your Own Business: the Solo and Small Firm Lawyer's Guide to a Profitable Practice, by Ann M. Guinn, Chicago: American Bar Association, General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division, 2010.
RESERVE KF318 .G85

Raise the Bar: Real World Solutions for a Troubled Profession, by Lawrence J. Fox, Chicago : American Bar Association, 2007.
Contains a chapter entitled "Solving the Legal World's Problems: a Sole Practitioner's Perspective."
KF300 .R35

Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be, by Carolyn Elefant, Seattle, WA: DecisionBooks/Niche Press, 2008.
OCS KF300 .Z9 E44

Start Your Own Law Practice: A Guide to All Things They Don't Teach in Law School About Starting Your Own Firm, 1st ed., by William W. Huss, Naperville, IL: Sphinx Publishing, 2005.
This book describes in detail how to set up and manage your own practice, whether located in a conventional office setting or in your home. Covers business structure, office selection and organization, design and furniture considerations, marketing, and billing. Also includes a refresher on ethics and how to maintain good relationships with clients.
KF300 .H87
SELF HELP KF300 .H87


Journal Articles

Biernath, Mark E., "One Year and Counting: Advice from a New Solo", 17 Criminal Justice 15 (Winter 2003).
Written by a disability and education lawyer in Atlanta who chose to practice alone straight out of law school, this article is a brief, eleven-point list of lessons learned during his first year in practice, including discussions of retainer fees and deciding when to take a case.

Carter, Terry, Stephanie F. Ward, and Rachel M. Zahorsky, "Legal Rebels 2010: Riding Solo", 96 ABA Journal 33 (September 2010).
Short profiles of various sole practitioners in different practice environments.

Chanen, Jill S., "Defining Moments: Sometimes Just One Event Makes the Hassles of Going Solo All Worthwhile", 87 ABA Journal 68 (August 2001).
A brief account of the narratives of several attorneys at the moment of deciding that solo practice was right for them. Issues discussed include lifestyle, age discrimination, and experience.

Cohen, Deborah, "So You Want to Go Solo? You Sure? Here Are the Tasks You Need to Master to Live the Shingle Life", 95 ABA Journal 48 (November 2009).
A pull-no-punches look at what goes into a successful solo practice.

Davis, Jenny B., "A Conspiracy of One", 93 ABA Journal 42 (December 2007).
How -- and why -- a former Public Defender specializing in ballistics and DNA evidence transitioned to his own civil practice.

Dolan, Peggy, "Choices", 21 (3) GP Solo 64 (April-May 2004).
Single mother of two discusses the advantages of solo practice, once the difficult adjustment to practicing alone is over. She also considers returning to a firm, but decides that she cannot give up those advantages for firm life.

Farrington, Daniel E, "Make Sure to Look Before You Leap: Going Solo Is a Big Step, So Don't Take it Without Thinking It Through", 26 Legal Times 34 (April 28, 2003).
This article discusses things to consider when making the decision to go it alone, including market research, the importance of networking with other solos, technology issues, and case selection.

Johnson, Desiree A. and G.M. Filisko, "Starting Strong: How I Found a Niche, Built a Client Base and Turned a Profit in Just One Year", 93 ABA Journal 26 (December 2007).
A 29-year-old starts a solo firm two weeks after passing the bar. She talks about how building her client base through word of mouth and a personal interest in her clients has been more useful than traditional networking meet-ups and power lunches.

Jones, Leigh, "The Loneliness of the Solo-Practice Lawyer", New York Law Journal 1 (col. 4) (January 27, 2004).
The author describes the lifestyles of some solo practitioners, addresses the lack of immediate contact with others, and offers some insights on how this loneliness can be combated.

Latchana, Mark, "The Leap of Faith & What Comes Afterward", 84 Michigan Bar Journal 29 (February 2005).
This is a lawyer's account of the transition from working at a law firm to practicing solo. The author addresses the factors involved in making the decision to go into private practice, and discusses the pressing questions those interested in going solo might have, such as how to get clients and where to locate.

Leffler, David, "In the Beginning. . . (Starting Out in Solo Practice)", 19, GP Solo, p54(1) (Oct-Nov 2002).

Ramirez, Florencio, "Consider Solo Practice", 19 GP Solo 47 (June 2002).
A comparison of firm versus solo life, from someone who has spent half of his 25-year career in each setting.

Stansky, Lisa, "Plan for the Rewards and Responsibilities of Solo Practice", 36 Student Lawyer 10 (April 2008).
The author urges students who are considering solo practice to use their third year of law school to get a handle on details such as office location and equipment, a marketing plan, and how to support the business (and the attorney!) while waiting for the first fees to come in.


Journals

There are numerous legal periodicals that cover the topic of solo practice. Those listed below are a representative selection of titles that discuss issues related to being a practitioner in the field.

GPsolo
Features a regular column called "GP mentor", written specifically for law students.
Library has Vol. 17, no.1, 2000 - present.
Eight issues/yr.
Chicago: ABA, General Practice, Solo, & Small Firm Division.
ABA Website: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/gpsolo.html
Westlaw: GPSOLO

Legal Times
Features a monthly column called "Going Solo".
Library has Vol. 4, no. 38, 1982 - present.
Monthly.
Washington, DC: Legal Times of Washington, Inc. Weekly.
Westlaw: LEGALTIMES
Lexis: NEWS;LGLTME


Organizations

The following organizations are active or maintain an interest in solo practice. They offer membership opportunities, information on the industry, and possible employment opportunities. Most of them sponsor seminars or conferences on relevant topics.

American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division
321 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60610
website: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/gpsolo.html
This section provides support and information for sole practitioners, including, events, membership information, and state and local bar association contacts. Publishes GPsolo, a newsletter for sole practitioners.

United States Small Business Association
409 Third Street, SW
Washington, DC 20406
tel: 1-800-U-ASK-SBA
website: http://ftp.sbaonline.sba.gov
The Small Business Association (SBA) has resources for students considering starting their own practices. Materials cover general business start-up as well as information about financial and practical assistance available through the SBA. The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) provides ongoing assistance and counseling after a new business is established.

Virginia State Bar
General Practice Section
707 East Main Street, Suite 1500
Richmond, VA 23219-2800
website: http://www.vsb.org/site/sections/generalpractice/
Like the ABA, most state and local bar associations have sections or committees to assist sole practitioners.

Other organizations may be found using:
Encyclopedia of Associations.  Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1961-
Covers more than 100,000 nonprofit membership associations worldwide.  Available on Lexis.

Photo:  Associated Press