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Should I just go solo after graduation? (Part II)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 29, 2011 in The 3L Life

Sunday night I posted an entry outlining my rationale for seriously considering solo/SmallLaw practice after I (hopefully) graduate from NCCU Law on May 12th, 2012.

And yes, I keep a running countdown of the 165-in-151ish-minutes days until I’m done with school ;)

This entry goes over some of the pros and cons I’ve mulled over a bit as I tossed this idea around in my head these last couple weeks. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive list, and our commenters from the last entry had links I need to review with info I haven’t checked out yet (it’s on the post-exam to-do list).

I’m writing it down now to (i) get feedback from you readers and any current/aspiring solos who happen to stop by, and (ii) provide a record for myself so I don’t forget :beatup:

We’ll start with the risks/cons/downsides, because frankly right now they scare me more than the rewards/pros/upsides…

T.’s Initial Reasons AGAINST Going Solo After Graduation:

  • Risk of shortchanging clients due to inexperience: This is far and away my biggest worry — I don’t want to be doing “on the job training” when someone else’s interests are at stake and risk screwing up as a result. Maybe it’s just not-a-lawyer-yet naiveté that I’ll outgrow, but the risk of someone paying me for something and getting less-than-perfect representation just really unnerves me. It’s one thing to go solo after working in a firm where you’ve had a chance to have other people looking over your shoulder for a few years, but I’d literally have nothing but clinical experience to guide me if I went solo right out of the gate.
  • How are bills getting paid again?: Second issue priority-wise is finding revenue those first few months out. I know I could manage money frugally enough and hustle hard enough to build up a financially adequate client base over the long-term, but have no clue at all how I’d keep the lights on from August through February.
  • There’s a lot of @#$%ing paperwork: Incorporating. Insurance. Leases. Taxes. Contracts. Employees one day, with all the payroll stuff that goes with it. Making contingency plans for clients in case I die unexpectedly. There’s a lot of paperwork and related stuff that has -0- actual relation to the law part of practicing law, that I’d not only have to knock out up-front if I started my own firm but also monitor regularly for eternity. And after already becoming a criminal because I forgot a postage stamp, I’m not exactly enthused by those obligations.
  • The Triangle has several metric tons of attorneys: Although I’m not categorically averse to moving elsewhere in North Carolina, most of my network and support structure are here in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area… along with what seems like every other attorney in the state :beatup: Being a new entrant in an established marketplace is a difficult challenge without some kind of hook/niche I could stake out.
  • I’d need a secretary…: This ties in to the 2nd and 3rd issues above. Given my own personal shortcomings, I’d need someone on staff to look over my shoulder and make sure paperwork gets completed, calls get answered, appointments don’t get double-booked, and so on. But I have no clue how I’d be able to afford them until I’ve got a decent stream of clients coming in.
  • …but I’m a big teddy bear when it comes to critiquing/firing people: My management skills also apparently need work. I’ve been told that I’m stellar at motivating people, getting a team to get things done, that sort of stuff; I’m also brutal when people are so glaringly incompetent that they have to be canned. On the other hand, I’ve also been told I’ve let people remain in positions long after they should have been fired when they’re less incompetent and more just lazy, instead hoping they’ll shape up. Not sure I’m sufficiently dispassionate to make the tough decisions on disciplining/firing people.

So that’s the first batch of reasons why me going solo would be a bad idea. Now for the counterweight:

T.’s Initial Reasons FOR Going Solo After Graduation:

  • After 13 years in NC, I’ve got a fairly wide network: The main justification for starting a business of some kind, be it law or otherwise, is that I’ve been incredibly blessed to meet a boatload of people since I moved to North Carolina way back in 1998. I know folks from my first time at N.C. State, the places I worked over the 5 years I was a college dropout and political activist, my second time at N.C. State, and everyone I’ve crossed paths with in my roles as Student Senate President, UNCASG President, and SBA President here at the law school. These folks, and the folks they know, would be the first step in a potential client pool.
  • I’ve got a talent for building things: It’s something reflected thoroughly in my personality (at least in every personality test I’ve taken). Whether it’s my brief stint as a professional web developer back in the early 2000s, restructuring Student Governments, writing a blawg for a couple years, or something else — I greatly enjoy (and am at least marginally skilled at) building organizations. The whole “vision thing” hasn’t been a problem yet.
  • Excellent support at NCCU Law and NCSU: Part of my reluctance to leave the Triangle is knowing I’ve got a top-notch set of faculty and staff I can ask for information or ideas if I really need it. It’s an ironic by-product of being a less-than-stellar student academically but otherwise a reasonably acceptable human being :)
  • Free access to 3 different libraries: State law requires that library facilities at UNC-system institutions be open to the public during “regular” operating hours, which includes NCSU, UNCCH, and NCCU all here in the Triangle.  There’s also a requirement that the law libraries at NCCU Law and UNCCH Law have kiosks for public use of Wexis as well. I could save a ton on legal research just by using the resources made available through my tax dollars.
  • No significant monetary commitments right now: I don’t have a mortgage, my car’s paid off (even though it breaks down regularly), I’m unmarried, and the only dependent living in my apartment has four legs and barks at people. For the past 2 years I’ve lived off less than $30,000 and been more-or-less-OK financially. I’d certainly like to make more than that — especially with student loan payments coming up — but I’m not addicted to a huge salary so I’ve got some flexibility to take calculated risks right now.
  • I am my own IT Department: If there’s an upside to taking 6 years to get a 4-year computer science degree, it’s being able to handle tech needs on my own without hiring an IT guy :beatup:
  • Freedom: The biggest upside to going the solo/SmallLaw route is having freedom to do whatever. If I want to create a specialty practice, I can. If I want to go a general practice route, I can. If I want to randomly change what I’m practicing entirely, I can do that too. It ensures I’m never more than a single decision away from continuing to enjoy what I do for a living.

So that’s my initial set of pros/cons as of tonight. I’m sure there will be many more down the road, but for now if feel free to share your thoughts at your leisure! :D

Thanks and have a great night!

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From the law:/dev/null archives on me going solo after graduation:

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