Solo Practice Q&A

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AVBucks4239

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Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Tue May 21, 2019 4:43 pm

I think I'm one of the few solo practitioners on here, and I've noticed an uptick in posts and private messages from people seeking advice about starting their own solo practice. I thought I'd consolidate everything into this thread so people can ask away and learn from the exchange here.

By way of background, I am not by any means an expert, but I always wanted to start my own practice and did so last April. My practice largely involves civil litigation, with a bit of a focus on business litigation and employment litigation.

There are a ton of issues to discuss, so I guess I'll leave it to you guys to read what you want to read about.

Cheers.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Calibrazy » Tue May 21, 2019 5:07 pm

Thanks for doing this!

(1)Where did you practice before hanging a shingle (I.e. small firm, state agency, midlaw, biglaw, etc.)

(2) did you have clients day one or did you make the jump without any regular business?

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 21, 2019 5:20 pm

Thanks for doing this. I plan to go out on my own next year. I'm in my fourth year of biglaw and have a bunch of burning questions:

1) How hard is it to get criminal appointment work? I have a couple of civil trials, but not much criminal experience otherwise? Can you move up from misdemeanor appointment work to felony work? How long does it take?

2) Do you market at all? I have a decent budget for billboards, etc. Should I try that or just focus on building a practice through referrals?

3) How much does previous lit experience help? I have a pretty good handle on working up a case, depositions, etc. Will that help me attract clients? Do clients care at all about former bigfirm experience and/or prestige?

4) How hard is it to get commercial lit cases? Do they start coming the more you network? Are they all referral based?

5) Do you cold call other attorneys for business? How often are you networking/ having lunch/coffee?

6) How much of your practice is contingency based?

Thanks so much for doing this!!

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonesq » Tue May 21, 2019 5:25 pm

Thanks for doing this!

Just one question for right now (I’m sure I’ll have many more lol): Where can I find templates for my practice area (real estate)? Is there some kind of database (westlaw?) or do I just reach out to other attorneys...

Thank you.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Wed May 22, 2019 9:37 am

Calibrazy wrote:Thanks for doing this!

(1)Where did you practice before hanging a shingle (I.e. small firm, state agency, midlaw, biglaw, etc.)

(2) did you have clients day one or did you make the jump without any regular business?


1. Practiced at a 20-25 lawyer firm for about 3.5 years, then practiced with a solo for three months. The firm was a great experience, the solo was horrible and kind of forced my hand.

2. I had about four clients from day one, but three of them were good corporate clients that would generate at least $2,500-4,000 in billables every month. My expenses early on were only about $700/month, so with this in hand, I thought I could figure out how to become even more profitable.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Wed May 22, 2019 9:44 am

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks for doing this. I plan to go out on my own next year. I'm in my fourth year of biglaw and have a bunch of burning questions:

1) How hard is it to get criminal appointment work? I have a couple of civil trials, but not much criminal experience otherwise? Can you move up from misdemeanor appointment work to felony work? How long does it take?

2) Do you market at all? I have a decent budget for billboards, etc. Should I try that or just focus on building a practice through referrals?

3) How much does previous lit experience help? I have a pretty good handle on working up a case, depositions, etc. Will that help me attract clients? Do clients care at all about former bigfirm experience and/or prestige?

4) How hard is it to get commercial lit cases? Do they start coming the more you network? Are they all referral based?

5) Do you cold call other attorneys for business? How often are you networking/ having lunch/coffee?

6) How much of your practice is contingency based?

Thanks so much for doing this!!


1. Appointment work depends on your state and county bar, who usually govern the rules for these things. I had no criminal experience but got on my county's list for misdemeanors and appellate work. I could move up to felonies but choose not to because I'd rather focus my practice on civil work.

2. My only marketing is business cards, taking other lawyers out for coffee/drinks/lunch, hosting card tournaments at my office, and taking cookies to my clients every December. Referrals is the way to go.

3. Prior lit experience will certainly help with your competence and comfort, and it should help attract clients (nobody wants to hire a complete noob). I am in a more rural area, but nobody cares about prestige when they are hiring a solo lawyer. I think most people here would be shocked that nobody even knows what the hell the big Cleveland firms are.

4. All my commercial lit cases are referral based. I always send back a referral fee and this has kept it steady at about 3-4 active cases at a time, which is plenty.

5. I do not cold call, but I let it be known that I am always here to help. I take folks out 2-3x a week.

6. Very, very little. I absolutely loathe contingency work and only do it if a case is good. I've been on my own for about 14 months now and I've taken four matters on contingency. Settled two, fired one client, and am in the process of settling the last one.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Wed May 22, 2019 9:46 am

Anonesq wrote:Thanks for doing this!

Just one question for right now (I’m sure I’ll have many more lol): Where can I find templates for my practice area (real estate)? Is there some kind of database (westlaw?) or do I just reach out to other attorneys...

Thank you.

Your local bar association should have online access to practice guides. Here is Ohio's on landlord tenant, for example: https://store.legal.thomsonreuters.com/ ... /106153586

You will notice in the table of contents that there is every form you need for landlord tenant.

There are similar practice guides for almost all areas of practice.

DO NOT sign up for Westlaw to get these. Join your county or state bar association and you will have access to all of these at far cheaper rates.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 22, 2019 10:13 am

Thanks a lot for doing this! I work for city/state government on one of the coasts doing litigation, my hours are very predictable (always 8-4, 9-5 etc). I would like to slowly start building a solo practice (part time). I would have zero expenses (a room attached to my house that can serve as an office, internet etc.).

So my question is, where and how should I start? What practice area/areas are "learn-able" without having a lot of experience in them? How should I be looking for clients if I'm not thinking about advertising a lot? Is this even doable?
I can take time off from work if I need to go to court with no issues.

Thanks once again!

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Wed May 22, 2019 11:07 am

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks a lot for doing this! I work for city/state government on one of the coasts doing litigation, my hours are very predictable (always 8-4, 9-5 etc). I would like to slowly start building a solo practice (part time). I would have zero expenses (a room attached to my house that can serve as an office, internet etc.).

So my question is, where and how should I start? What practice area/areas are "learn-able" without having a lot of experience in them? How should I be looking for clients if I'm not thinking about advertising a lot? Is this even doable?
I can take time off from work if I need to go to court with no issues.

Thanks once again!


I have several friends in government that do this. Granted, they started in private practice and then brought that over with them, but I think it would be doable.

You need to check your state ethics rules -- some states require you to have a physical office. If not, I would set up a PO box downtown. I would never list my home as my mailing address.

Your first marketing tool would be to send letters telling everyone you know -- everyone -- that you are starting your own practice. I went through our wedding list and my list of professional contacts. You will get a handful of calls and things will go from there.

You also went to be on your county bar's referral list.

Regarding practice areas, a good way to get clients early on is estate planning. Everyone procrastinates that and then your letter will be a "ding ding ding" that they should do it, and if they like you, they will call you. And 95/100 clients just need a simple will and coached how to keep everything out of probate.

I also think most areas of civil litigation are pretty learnable. Your county bar library and attorneys who specialize in these areas are your best friend.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby wwwcol » Wed May 22, 2019 3:46 pm

Thanks for this thread.

What fee arrangements do you typically go with? Mostly hourly or alternative arrangements? And if hourly, how do your rates compare to your former employers? Based on your mention of contingency, I imagine you do at least some plaintiff work, but are you mostly defense? Are you trying to do both or stick with defense-side?

Any tips in general for starting / running a solo practice? What caught you off guard?

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Wed May 22, 2019 5:19 pm

wwwcol wrote:Thanks for this thread.

What fee arrangements do you typically go with? Mostly hourly or alternative arrangements? And if hourly, how do your rates compare to your former employers? Based on your mention of contingency, I imagine you do at least some plaintiff work, but are you mostly defense? Are you trying to do both or stick with defense-side?

Any tips in general for starting / running a solo practice? What caught you off guard?


1. Hourly fee arrangements, $200/hour (sometimes give a discount), always get a retainer even if it's just $250.

2. Rates are pretty much the local standard. I might move up to $225 when I'm 10 years out of school.

3. It's honestly a mixed bag between plaintiff and defense work. You take which ever side of the case calls you, and in my experience, doing both sides makes you a better lawyer.

4. The "any tips for starting" question is too broad, so maybe break it down into specifics.

5. I wouldn't say anything really caught me off guard, as I was planning to go out on my own for almost four years. The only thing I'm constantly reminded of is how little I know about the practice, and to always seek more experienced attorneys' advice and counsel.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 23, 2019 1:47 pm

How much did you have saved before you took the leap to solo practice?

What are you malpractice liability costs?

Do you think it’d be stupid for a corporate attorney to take on basic civil lit? Things like slip n falls?

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Thu May 23, 2019 4:20 pm

Anonymous User wrote:How much did you have saved before you took the leap to solo practice?

What are you malpractice liability costs?

Do you think it’d be stupid for a corporate attorney to take on basic civil lit? Things like slip n falls?


1. I saved up about $20,000. Also, my wife's income (she is a speech therapist, so nothing crazy) largely covered home expenses. I would emphatically state over and over again that it is a prerequisite that your house is in order before you start your own practice. You don't necessarily need to save a ton, but you need to have a plan to get by for three months minimum.

2. My premium is about $85/month. I believe my coverage is $500k.

3. Third one is a complicated question. Even slip and fall, you'd be surprised how complicated the issues can get. You really need to know the case law pretty darn well to know a good case versus a bad case.

That said, yes, you can handle them, but it's best practice to consult supplements and other practitioners.

Now, when things do get complex, you need to outsource them out. I got involved in an asset purchase that was pretty basic, and after about six weeks, it became very clear that this transaction was morphing into something out of my depth. So I basically explained that to the client and handed it off to another more competent corporate attorney.

I think the most important thing is to be up front about this from the start.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonesq » Fri May 24, 2019 2:10 pm

How are you saving your documents/ emails? Are you using cloud storage?

I was going to use OneDrive but not sure this is going to be sufficient as this seems to be document storage only and I seem to be unable to save emails here.

Also, do you back up the cloud drive with a separate hard drive?

Thanks.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonesq » Fri May 24, 2019 2:31 pm

Two more questions:

1) I will be using Wix for my website design. Do I really need to pay for the business platform or will the less costly basic personal use platform be sufficient?

2) Do you accept credit card payments? Personal or certified checks?

Thanks.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Sun May 26, 2019 2:53 pm

Anonesq wrote:How are you saving your documents/ emails? Are you using cloud storage?

I was going to use OneDrive but not sure this is going to be sufficient as this seems to be document storage only and I seem to be unable to save emails here.

Also, do you back up the cloud drive with a separate hard drive?

Thanks.

Everything is on Google Drive. I actually use Google for almost everything (Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Drive, Slides, Sheets, Google My Business, Analytics, etc.)

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Sun May 26, 2019 2:57 pm

Anonesq wrote:Two more questions:

1) I will be using Wix for my website design. Do I really need to pay for the business platform or will the less costly basic personal use platform be sufficient?

2) Do you accept credit card payments? Personal or certified checks?

Thanks.


1. I paid for the business platform. You want your website to load quickly and the business platform is the way to go for that. If you just want to have a separate blog, maybe the personal one will be worth it.

2. I only accept checks or ACH bank transfers (which I do through Quickbooks invoicing). Credit card processing is somewhere around 2.75%, which is a ton of money over time. The only way I would ever do it is if it's a good case and the client has no other means of paying a huge retainer. I think this would probably be the way to go in a family law or criminal law practice.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 30, 2019 8:41 am

AVBucks4239 wrote:
Anonesq wrote:Two more questions:

1) I will be using Wix for my website design. Do I really need to pay for the business platform or will the less costly basic personal use platform be sufficient?

2) Do you accept credit card payments? Personal or certified checks?

Thanks.


1. I paid for the business platform. You want your website to load quickly and the business platform is the way to go for that. If you just want to have a separate blog, maybe the personal one will be worth it.

2. I only accept checks or ACH bank transfers (which I do through Quickbooks invoicing). Credit card processing is somewhere around 2.75%, which is a ton of money over time. The only way I would ever do it is if it's a good case and the client has no other means of paying a huge retainer. I think this would probably be the way to go in a family law or criminal law practice.



Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my questions AVBucks.

So I’m all ready to go solo and have some clients. However, now a big firm of around 200-300 attorneys wants to chat with me about my resume.

Do you think these bigger firms may be interested in sending me work per diem? And we can agree on a rate whether hourly or flat fee. Curious if firms like this would be interested in this type of arrangement.

Thanks...

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Thu May 30, 2019 3:01 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my questions AVBucks.

So I’m all ready to go solo and have some clients. However, now a big firm of around 200-300 attorneys wants to chat with me about my resume.

Do you think these bigger firms may be interested in sending me work per diem? And we can agree on a rate whether hourly or flat fee. Curious if firms like this would be interested in this type of arrangement.

Thanks...


I can't guarantee anything because I do not know all of the facts, but usually big firms are that big so they can handle everything on their own.

My greatest success has been co-counseling with attorneys who specialize in areas that I have nothing to do with.

My best referral source is a family law attorney who is very, very, very good at what she does. But she does not do any civil litigation, so when she does get those cases, we come to a co-counseling arrangement. I've made well into the five figures in barely over a year with this arrangement.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonymous User » Fri May 31, 2019 11:52 am

AVBucks4239 wrote:I think I'm one of the few solo practitioners on here, and I've noticed an uptick in posts and private messages from people seeking advice about starting their own solo practice. I thought I'd consolidate everything into this thread so people can ask away and learn from the exchange here.

By way of background, I am not by any means an expert, but I always wanted to start my own practice and did so last April. My practice largely involves civil litigation, with a bit of a focus on business litigation and employment litigation.

There are a ton of issues to discuss, so I guess I'll leave it to you guys to read what you want to read about.

Cheers.


How viable do you think it is to go solo straight out? Job search has sucked for me and part of me wans to say F it and try to go solo.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby AVBucks4239 » Fri May 31, 2019 2:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:How viable do you think it is to go solo straight out? Job search has sucked for me and part of me wans to say F it and try to go solo.


It would definitely be more difficult than if you had experience, but it's doable. All my friends who started a practice straight out are doing well.

The biggest piece of advice is to enter into an office share arrangement with 5-8 other attorneys. They will take you under their wing and they will refer some overflow work to you.

Also very, very, very important to keep expenses incredibly minimal (probably less than $500/month if you can).

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby JCougar » Fri May 31, 2019 3:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
5) Do you cold call other attorneys for business? How often are you networking/ having lunch/coffee?

6) How much of your practice is contingency based?

Thanks so much for doing this!!


I just wrapped up a three-year stint effectively as a solo--mostly contingency-based plaintiffs work. I got almost all of my good cases through referrals, and I worked out of another attorney's office who was well-connected in the area. I practiced in a somewhat more specialized area than most plaintiff's work, and there was really no one else that did what I did in the area I chose. Most of the attorneys in the area were thrilled to have someone local to refer those cases to, because none knew how to handle them themselves, and yet they got a fee just for referring the case. Most plaintiff's attorneys are lazy, and they're more than happy to get 1/3rd of the fee for doing nothing instead of taking the whole fee in exchange for 2 years of grueling litigation.

I think networking at bar association meetings and/or political fundraisers is far more important and effective than cold-calling people for coffee. Attorneys are busy during the work day, and they don't want to talk to you--but they're going to bar association meetings and political fundraisers after work specifically for the purposes of networking themselves, and there's usually alcohol involved, so everyone's a little bit more willing to strike up a conversation with someone new. A business card and a handshake will get you pretty far at these things, especially if you are a regular. Not to mention, political fundraisers are where the really heavy hitters socialize--these are people that get tons of calls. If they're only doing personal injury, they don't bother with specialty areas, and are more than willing to refer their non-injury plaintiff's cases for a referral fee. It's a win-win. You don't have to invest a ton in advertising up front this way--you only have to pay a referral fee after you win and get paid while mooching off the established players' investments in marketing up front.

I ended up getting more referrals than I could even handle, and was even turning away good cases at the end because I was literally working 80 hours a week and couldn't jeopardize the good cases I already had. Because of the nature of contingency work, my first two years were really lean, but then it exploded in year 3. And after you send one of the most powerful attorneys in the area a $30,000 check just for forwarding a phone call to you, then everyone around takes notice.

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby Anonymous User » Fri May 31, 2019 7:33 pm

JCougar wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
5) Do you cold call other attorneys for business? How often are you networking/ having lunch/coffee?

6) How much of your practice is contingency based?

Thanks so much for doing this!!


I just wrapped up a three-year stint effectively as a solo--mostly contingency-based plaintiffs work. I got almost all of my good cases through referrals, and I worked out of another attorney's office who was well-connected in the area. I practiced in a somewhat more specialized area than most plaintiff's work, and there was really no one else that did what I did in the area I chose. Most of the attorneys in the area were thrilled to have someone local to refer those cases to, because none knew how to handle them themselves, and yet they got a fee just for referring the case. Most plaintiff's attorneys are lazy, and they're more than happy to get 1/3rd of the fee for doing nothing instead of taking the whole fee in exchange for 2 years of grueling litigation.

I think networking at bar association meetings and/or political fundraisers is far more important and effective than cold-calling people for coffee. Attorneys are busy during the work day, and they don't want to talk to you--but they're going to bar association meetings and political fundraisers after work specifically for the purposes of networking themselves, and there's usually alcohol involved, so everyone's a little bit more willing to strike up a conversation with someone new. A business card and a handshake will get you pretty far at these things, especially if you are a regular. Not to mention, political fundraisers are where the really heavy hitters socialize--these are people that get tons of calls. If they're only doing personal injury, they don't bother with specialty areas, and are more than willing to refer their non-injury plaintiff's cases for a referral fee. It's a win-win. You don't have to invest a ton in advertising up front this way--you only have to pay a referral fee after you win and get paid while mooching off the established players' investments in marketing up front.

I ended up getting more referrals than I could even handle, and was even turning away good cases at the end because I was literally working 80 hours a week and couldn't jeopardize the good cases I already had. Because of the nature of contingency work, my first two years were really lean, but then it exploded in year 3. And after you send one of the most powerful attorneys in the area a $30,000 check just for forwarding a phone call to you, then everyone around takes notice.


Incredibly helpful! Why are you not soloing anymore? What tips/recommendations do you have that you didn’t already discuss? Thanks for this!!

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby cheaptilts » Fri May 31, 2019 11:47 pm

Are your clients aware of the referral fee/co-counseling arrangements? It seems like some states require their consent. If so, how do you tell them, and what do you set the referral fee as? If not, do you think it’s a problem?

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Re: Solo Practice Q&A

Postby JCougar » Mon Jun 03, 2019 11:22 am

cheaptilts wrote:Are your clients aware of the referral fee/co-counseling arrangements? It seems like some states require their consent. If so, how do you tell them, and what do you set the referral fee as? If not, do you think it’s a problem?


I put the referral fee and the attorney who is receiving the referral fee in my own fee agreement with the client. My former state does require their consent, but I never had a client that did not consent. What do they care about a referral fee, as long as you take their case?

In my state, an acceptable referral fee is 1/3rd. I do have to caution that this is not uniform across all states, and some states require the referring attorney actually do work on the case to get the fee. So read your state's ethics rules first!



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