Successful solos

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Successful solos

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Nov 10, 2018 4:31 pm

I’m a junior biglaw associate in a major market (LA, NY, DC type market). My mid-long term goal is to open my own firm, either solo or with a few colleagues as a partnership.

Does anyone here run their own firm and make good money (i.e. comparable to biglaw) that would be willing to share their experience? How long did it take you to turn a profit? What year were you when you left your firm to start your own shop? How do you like running your own firm?

For background, im in lit in a fairly broad field (commercial, entertainment, L&E, etc).

Posting anonymously to protect my identity based on previous posts. Sorry if thats against the rules.

Aptitude

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Re: Successful solos

Postby Aptitude » Sat Nov 10, 2018 4:43 pm

UTLaw2007 provided really good insight on how to be a successful solo. You should check out his posts. There were more than a few threads he wrote that I found helpful and that cleared up a lot of misconceptions on here about solo or small firm practice.

Here is his profile: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/m ... le&u=72293

Here are some threads I found particularly interesting and I've found to be pretty spot on:

http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/v ... r&start=50

http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/v ... 4&t=210075

r6_philly

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Re: Successful solos

Postby r6_philly » Sun Nov 18, 2018 11:46 pm

I am no longer a solo, have an associate now!

I left biglaw 3 years ago and I now make more as a solo (well independent practitioner) on an hourly basis than I would be as a biglaw associate (caveat I don't work nearly as much so the total income is not the same).

Ask away.

And to answer your questions:

How long did it take you to turn a profit?
About 18 months. I took hybrid (reduced fee + contingency) cases and it took about that long to start getting profit payouts. Also it took that long to have a couple of steady clients doing outside GC/corp counseling type of work.

What year were you when you left your firm to start your own shop?
2nd year.

How do you like running your own firm?
Awesome. But much more awesome when you have an associate.

QContinuum

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Re: Successful solos

Postby QContinuum » Sun Nov 18, 2018 11:57 pm

r6_philly wrote:What year were you when you left your firm to start your own shop?
2nd year.

This is super interesting. Congrats on your success!

How were you able to find clients after leaving BigLaw at such a relatively early stage in your career? Did you have a robust preexisting personal network, or were you able to market yourself effectively through bar association events and such?

What made you decide to hang your own shingle, instead of lateraling to at least get a couple more years' experience first?

Do you still specialize in your original practice area in BigLaw, or do you litigate across the spectrum these days?

r6_philly

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Re: Successful solos

Postby r6_philly » Mon Nov 19, 2018 12:12 am

QContinuum wrote:
r6_philly wrote:What year were you when you left your firm to start your own shop?
2nd year.

This is super interesting. Congrats on your success!

How were you able to find clients after leaving BigLaw at such a relatively early stage in your career? Did you have a robust preexisting personal network, or were you able to market yourself effectively through bar association events and such?

What made you decide to hang your own shingle, instead of lateraling to at least get a couple more years' experience first?

Do you still specialize in your original practice area in BigLaw, or do you litigate across the spectrum these days?


Thank you! I am very happy with the path I took. Biglaw was a pleasure, and it gave me the credential and training I needed.

I am somewhat of a special snowflake ( :D ) because I had a lot of experience before law school. My personal network did not prove to be super beneficial, but my background/experience did. So is my law school and biglaw brand. I have posted before, but I have a unique niche which I only started to fully take advantage of recently -- I am an immigrant and there are not a large number of us who are biglaw trained litigators. My English language abilities and willingness to litigate is a big draw.

I did patent lit/general lit split, with some L&E mixed in. Had corp experience before law school. My firm is full-practice.

I am both fortunate and purposely strategic that I got to do a lot in my 2 years at biglaw. I got to do things that 4th and 5th years got to do. I didn't feel like being a lateral as a 3rd year was going to add much to my skillset. Interesting enough, I actually had talks with small/mid firms to come as a of-counsel and/or partner, but ultimately I decided that (1) I was not comfortable guaranteeing the amount of billables I would have to generate; and (2) if I came close to the amount of billables I would rather just keep them to myself. I think being an associate again was never on my mind, I had what it take to get clients and do the work.

Anonymous1216

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Re: Successful solos

Postby Anonymous1216 » Mon Nov 19, 2018 11:33 am

R6-Philly, Congrats on the success! I was in biglaw for almost two years and now at a botique. I have always thought about hanging my own shingle but still haven't grown the balls to take the plunge. I have a billion questions for you . . .

What were you initial start up costs?
How did you survive the first 18 months until you became profitable? Contract work?
At what point did you know you had enough work coming in where you could support another attorney?
Whats your overhead looking like before and after hiring an associate?
How did you grow the balls to leave a big cushy salary and dive into the unknown?
Do you expect to ever make what a biglaw partner makes? If so, how long do you think it will take you to get there?
What strategy has been most effective for you in terms of bringing in new clients?
What do you spend on marketing and what kind of ROI do you get?

Thanks!

r6_philly

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Re: Successful solos

Postby r6_philly » Mon Nov 19, 2018 7:55 pm

Anonymous1216 wrote:R6-Philly, Congrats on the success! I was in biglaw for almost two years and now at a botique. I have always thought about hanging my own shingle but still haven't grown the balls to take the plunge. I have a billion questions for you . . .


Well thank you! It gets both harder and easier once you get more senior, especially at a boutique. It will probably take some occurrence for you to look at yourself and say "this is it." This is in my case, personal considerations overcome my hesitation and desire for safety.

What were you initial start up costs?


Office, technology, marketing materials. I am pretty good with tech, so the latter two didn't cost must. Had to bite the bullet and rented a space in a coworking space. Worked out okay, I stayed for almost 3 years, but I am moving to a larger space now. Honestly it wasn't that bad, my bonus + unused vacation pay was more than enough.

How did you survive the first 18 months until you became profitable? Contract work?


The 18 months of living is the larger cost. I did a few things to survive: took lower pay work, did some contract as an of counsel (didn't really want to do actual contract i.e. doc review work), took personal injury cases (ironically most of the early ones I took are just paying out now, so they didn't help, but they are paying out handsomely now, so no complains), went for other income (I taught a lot, which actually lead to a tenure-track position now), and of course use up my savings.

At what point did you know you had enough work coming in where you could support another attorney?


2 years. I think if you search around online you will see most solos who makes it beyond struggling find that there is light at the end of the tunnel between 1-2 years. This is when some earlier clients start to (1) trust you enough to give you more/bigger work (2) start to get referrals from earlier clients (because it really does take that long to produce results) (3) start to build a reputation. 2 years in I realized that I had to bring in someone junior to help me if I want to continue to focus on getting business (takes sooo much time) and pick and choose what I WANT to do. I hired a new grad, so I could train him my way.

Whats your overhead looking like before and after hiring an associate?


Not much different for now. I gave him my office and I am working flex (plus I am teaching quite a bit). Cost of labor is higher of course due to the additional payroll taxes. I am moving to a bigger space then overhead will increase then.


How did you grow the balls to leave a big cushy salary and dive into the unknown?


This is just me. I was a serial entrepreneur before law school. But I would admit it was hard for me to leave biglaw, because it was so cushy. I only did it for a few personal reasons, or I would have probably stayed longer. But it is absolutely the right thing for me, and I am glad my personal reasons prompted me to leave instead of staying longer.

Do you expect to ever make what a biglaw partner makes? If so, how long do you think it will take you to get there?


I am not sure, realistically, I can ever make the same as the partners at my old firm. Their billing rates are so high, I don't think I can ever reach that margin. I went from NYC to Philly. But I would probably be able to make what a Philly mid/large firm partner makes in 3-5 years. I mean, my billing rates are higher than many of them now, they just have higher utilization. I plan to grow the firm to 10 attorneys (maybe with 1 partner), then I will probably be able to leverage and make more. I think $1m is a good goal.

I am also now open to keeping personal injury as a practice area for my associate (and future associates). I think if I continue to be willing to keep that line of business it would be easier to reach $1m.

What strategy has been most effective for you in terms of bringing in new clients?


I did a lot of free workshops. A lot, like one a week a lot. I built a really good reputation for knowing what I know, and charging what I charge. It is difficult to find solo/small firm attorneys who worked in biglaw and understand complex practices. I did workshops knowing that most of them would not immediately be able to afford to pay my rates (or have my kind of matters), but people grow and become successful, so over time I was able to get returns. One side note, many of them referred personal injury cases to me. I used to refer them out, now I have decided to take them. I didn't really appreciate how much people disliked PI lawyers and it is actually an advantage in PI to just be a good, knowledgeable lawyer.

What do you spend on marketing and what kind of ROI do you get?

Thanks!


I spent a lot of money on marketing in the beginning and didn't see much results. Then I changed by using myself to do marketing rather than spending money (workshops, networking, panels, etc.). I had a newspaper ad for a while in a community paper and got a lot of calls, but nothing I would take. Now that I am going to let my associate do small matters I will advertise again. But I think alternative marketing/branding is probably going to give you the most ROI. You can do this before you leave the firm.

QContinuum

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Re: Successful solos

Postby QContinuum » Mon Nov 19, 2018 11:48 pm

r6_philly wrote:Thank you! I am very happy with the path I took. Biglaw was a pleasure, and it gave me the credential and training I needed.

I am somewhat of a special snowflake ( :D ) because I had a lot of experience before law school. My personal network did not prove to be super beneficial, but my background/experience did. So is my law school and biglaw brand. I have posted before, but I have a unique niche which I only started to fully take advantage of recently -- I am an immigrant and there are not a large number of us who are biglaw trained litigators. My English language abilities and willingness to litigate is a big draw.

I did patent lit/general lit split, with some L&E mixed in. Had corp experience before law school. My firm is full-practice.

I am both fortunate and purposely strategic that I got to do a lot in my 2 years at biglaw. I got to do things that 4th and 5th years got to do. I didn't feel like being a lateral as a 3rd year was going to add much to my skillset. Interesting enough, I actually had talks with small/mid firms to come as a of-counsel and/or partner, but ultimately I decided that (1) I was not comfortable guaranteeing the amount of billables I would have to generate; and (2) if I came close to the amount of billables I would rather just keep them to myself. I think being an associate again was never on my mind, I had what it take to get clients and do the work.

Thanks for the detailed response & kudos again!

corporate_regret

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Re: Successful solos

Postby corporate_regret » Tue Nov 20, 2018 11:08 pm

Thanks to all solos answering questions!

Here's a Q to litigation solos -

Did you ever wish you left later and accumulated more training in biglaw or another firm? That is, how much of your experience did you learn on the job?

Just curious about how long I should stay in biglaw as a litigator if my eventual goal is to go solo.

Thanks!

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Re: Successful solos

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 21, 2018 11:03 am

I started a solo practice without biglaw experience. #1 is how do you get clients. The rest you can figure out.

Aptitude

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Re: Successful solos

Postby Aptitude » Thu Nov 22, 2018 3:53 pm

r6_philly wrote:
I didn't really appreciate how much people disliked PI lawyers


Can you please expand more on this thought?



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