TDot’s Mailbag v9.0: “So why did you go solo?” Edition

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 18, 2013 in Mail | Subscribe

I just want to start out this post by noting it’s the first time I’ve had two pieces done in a 7-day period since… August1 :surprised:

Back on Wednesday, EIC and I went out to lunch with a former classmate who’s now a soon-to-graduate 3L. He wanted to make sure he does everything he needs to do in his final semester of law school to set him up for success after graduation, and asked us both about how we got where we are, the things we did that helped, what we would do differently, and so on.

It was a fun conversation, not least of which because it fed into my pre-existing love of dispensing (rarely sought) advice :beatup:

Plus it made a great topic for a blog entry, so voilà! 2nd post in 7 days ;)

Here are some of the questions that got asked, along with my thoughts…

***

Q: So why did you decide to go solo?

A: I had forgotten I wrote a pair of blog entries on the prospect of going solo way back in November 2011 (here and here). After re-reading through those while writing up this entry, I’d say I was pretty spot-on with my assessment — the priorities just changed a little bit.

I’d say my top 3 reasons for becoming a solo practitioner were:

  1. Freedom: By the time I got near graduation, I had long-since made up my mind that I was going to try running my own business one way or the other (my attention was focused on NC SPICE at the time). The mere thought of getting up in the morning to go work for someone else was enough to put me in a salty mood, and long-time law:/dev/null readers know being a subordinate doesn’t really mesh with my personality anyway :angel:  So now I set my own hours, take or reject cases as I see fit, and can do things like take a soon-to-graduate 3L to lunch or randomly show up to mid-day events without having to clear it with a supervisor first. It’s low-paying at the moment but I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything.
  2. Friends: I’ve been beyond blessed to meet thousands of amazing people over the 14.5 years I’ve been in North Carolina, from classmates during my first time at NC State, coworkers during my years as a college dropout, folks I met my second time in school through student media, Student Senate, UNCASG, NCCU Law‘s Student Bar Association and trial teams — the list goes on and on. I’m still connected to 1,900 of those folks on Facebook, and 1,200 of them on LinkedIn. That’s a huge pool of folks I can ask for advice, hire for projects, send clients who I can’t help, or represent if they need me.
  3. Fear: Even though it’s been 12 years at this point, the whole “homeless college dropout” phase of my life still haunts me pretty regularly; I’m reminded of it every time I go against a lawyer who’s been practicing the same length of time as me, but is in his mid-20s while I’m a couple months away from hitting 32 (and bald :mad: ). I remember having job applications denied because I didn’t have a college degree, and times I got laid off because the people I worked for couldn’t make payroll. Being at the mercy of others sucks — but I also know from experience that a steady paycheck is a powerful impediment to making overdue life changes. There was simply no better time for me to do my own thing than now, and I was afraid if I started working for someone else I’d become complacent with that.

There are a whole flotilla of other reasons for going solo and odds are high yours will be completely different than mine. The key point is that, if you feel something in your gut urging you to try venturing out on your own, do it now while you still have the flexibility to change your mind if you decide you don’t like it ;)

***

Q: What was your backup plan if things didn’t work out?

A: Going solo :beatup:

I knew I was going to start my own business, but the glaring need for affordable office support and mentorship services for solo practitioners prompted me to invest a lot more energy and money than I should have into getting NC SPICE launched. I just knew I’d have everything operational and in place before the bar exam, so once the exam was over I could get to work helping other folks while I waited on my exam results.

Needless to say that was more than a smidge naïve on my part. I’d have been better off conserving the cash and putting the time toward business development for the law firm.

***

Q: What helped you the most your 3L year in terms of preparing for life after graduation?

A: Talking to as many folks as I could. By an order of magnitude.

Out of those 2,500ish folks I’m connected to on social media, there’s maybe 100 or so I talk to weekly.2 But I’ve got a fairly good memory when it comes to remembering bits and pieces about most of those other 2,400 in terms of what they do, where they’re at, and what experiences they’ve had.

That makes it easier for me to connect folks who have complementary interests, whether it’s something simple like helping a friend get better rates on their auto insurance (NC Farm Bureau Insurance if you’re in North Carolina) or combing through my NCSU contact list to help someone find someone else who knew someone else who raised a certain breed of horse (seriously!).

That keeps me in more-frequent contact with folks I wouldn’t get to talk to that often otherwise, and it’s a great way for meeting even more people I’ve never met before. Ultimately that’s how I ended up in my current office and also how I got my very first client.

The law is a people-centric profession. If you want to excel at it, you need to meet people, take an interest in their lives as people (rather than walking dollar signs), and respect them accordingly :)

***

Q: If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?

A: Focus ;)

More than a few of my classmates were pissed when I graduated from NCCU Law with honors and they didn’t. The prevailing assumption (continuing to this day) is that I got all sorts of special privileges because I was SBA President, and that I would have been honors-less alongside them had I just been treated like everyone else.3 The most-cited example has been my ConLaw II class and how I didn’t turn in the final paper — 80% of the final grade — by the deadline.

The nasty byproduct of a lack of focus: a 2.333 GPA

The nasty byproduct of a lack of focus: a 2.333 GPA

Few (if any) of those folks realize I got an F in that class as a result,4 so whatever “special privileges” I supposedly got certainly weren’t much help.

The 2.333 GPA I had during my 3L Fall semester was my very worst in all of law school, and because of it I had to spend more time than I wanted focusing on academics during 3L Spring. When I could have been creating my future law firm’s website, or designing my business cards or letterhead, or attending local CLEs for free as a student, or any of a million other business development activities I could have done while I was still in school, I was instead cutting out my social life and studying non-stop to get the 3.630 GPA I needed to counteract that 2.333.5

And of course those small snippets of free time I had toward the end of the semester got plowed into the NC SPICE business plan, articles, bylaws, 501(c)(3) app, etc etc etc :beatup:

If there’s something in particular you want to do after graduation, be it going solo or working for a firm or something else entirely, focus on it with every spare ounce of time and energy you have. Don’t split your time if you can help it because your ability to excel at any one thing is going to drop as you add on more of those “one things” to your plate. Trust me.

***

So those are my thoughts on going solo. But it’s just my $.02, and I could be wrong :)

Have a great night y’all!

—===—

From the Mailbag archives:

  • TDot’s Mailbag v9.0: “So why did you go solo?” Edition (01/18/13) [this entry] –
    • Why did you become a solo practitioner?
    • What was your “Plan B” job-wise?
    • What helped you the most 3L year in preparing for post-grad life?
    • If you had to do 3L year over again, what would you differently?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v8.0: Post-Bar Exam Edition (08/11/12) –
    • What materials did you use for bar prep?
    • Are you bailing on law:/dev/null for Twitter?
    • What are your plans for law:/dev/null post-graduation?
    • Where do things stand with NC SPICE?
    • How does it feel being done with everything?
    • What’s your secret to not being stressed about the bar exam?
    • Do you have any bar exam study materials?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v7.0: Legal Eagle Grading Edition (06/22/11) –
    • You made Dean’s List… but grades don’t matter?
    • Why is NCCU Law’s curve so low?
    • What is the rationale for NCCU Law’s dismissal policy?
    • How does the dismissal policy work?
    • What are NCCU Law’s GPA cutoffs for Dean’s List and academic honors?
    • Do you get notified if you made Dean’s List?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v6.0: 1L Questions Edition (08/23/10) –
    • Do we really need to study 60 hours a week?
    • My study partners study all day; am I missing something?
    • How time-consuming is being an SBA Representative?
    • Should I use “canned” briefs or create my own?
    • Is law school really just a big head game?
    • What’s the biggest difference between 1L year and 2L year?
    • What made you pursue law after having done computer science?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v5.0: What Law School’s Really Like (04/14/10) –
    • Admissions?
    • Bar Exam?
    • The Work?
    • Professors?
    • Electives?
    • Extracurriculars?
    • What would you do differently?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v4.0 (01/21/10) –
    • What really made you dislike BigLaw?
    • Why were 2 of the top 4 teams in the K-S competition from T4s?
    • What happened to Tweet-sized Tuesdays and the Friday Drive-by?
    • How did your CivPro I final exam turn out?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v3.0 (10/04/09) –
    • What’s your email address?
    • Do you really send/receive thousands of text messages in a month?
    • How are you adjusting to a historically black university?
    • Are you really a Republican?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v2.0 (09/07/09) –
    • Did you have a bunch of study materials for the LSAT?
    • How well did you do on the LSAT?
    • How did you do in your election for 1L SBA Rep?
    • Who is in the Gang of Eight?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v1.0 (08/20/09) –
    • What does law:/dev/null mean?
    • Did your entry about That Guy really happen?
    • Did you really count the lights from your apartment to school?
  1. Hopefully you’re less surprised than I am. Maybe? No? Yyyeeeaaahhh I didn’t think so… :beatup: []
  2. I wish it was more, but until there’s more money in the bank Facebook is a luxury I can only use sparingly :( []
  3. I’ve never really understood the compulsion of wishing ill on someone else when things don’t go your way, but that’s a topic for another blog post. :roll: []
  4. Knocking me below a 3.0 and blocking me from finishing the law school’s concentration in Civil Rights & Constitutional Law :cry: []
  5. Waiting on those last grades to post… biggest. nailbiter. ever. But I yelped out loud when I finally saw them all. :D []

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