Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About Solo Practice
November 19, 2011 § 9 Comments
I’ve been going nuts with lists lately it seems. I created one about lessons I learned from my first year in practice. It turned into an amended list about things I learned over the last 7-8 years of practice in general. You can find the link up there in the main menu bar at the top of the page under the title. I’d appreciate you taking a gander. By reading it, you’ll join an exclusive group since nobody else reads the goddamn thing.
Why lists lately? Well, I’m attempting to wrap up a few cases before January 1, and to do so I’ve made a lot of lists for each client. At this point, it’s habit.
Now, I’m writing about something that’s been stuck in my craw for a while. When I first decided to leave my comfy government job with a pension and regular paycheck, I did a lot of research about solo practice, the business of running a practice, and things that help my particular business model. I saw tons of articles and lists called “Everything you WANTED [emphasis added] to know about solo practice.” Sure, there was a lot I wanted to know. I wanted to hear that I’d make millions. I wanted to hear that it was easy. I wanted to hear that I’d get great cases and find myself arguing before a jury in minutes. I wanted to know that I’d have no problem finding success. I wanted to know that a rainbow would pop through the window every morning.
OK, I made-up the thing about rainbows. I give a damn about rainbows.
I wanted to hear a lot of things, but I needed to hear more that I did not want to hear.
Nobody published that list. I exaggerate. Some did. Some people talked about aspects about practice that were challenging or undesirable, but they were drowned-out by the volumes of folks talking about solo practice with wide-eyed wonderment and zeal. Sunshine was regularly injected into my rectum.
So, let me attempt to fill the gap or, at the least, write something in solidarity with those who stated that it ain’t all a bed of roses.
First, solo practice is a wonderful experience and great way to practice law, except for the stuff that sucks ass. It’s not all roses. Far from it. A lot about it is painful, stressful, heartbreaking, and tedious. You want baldness-inducing and ulcer-making madness? Open a solo practice.
The moment you establish yourself as Solo Lawyer Dude/Dudette, a whole bunch of doors close. If you were hoping to take a few years, work for yourself, and then pop-into a senior associate job at a firm, think again. Appointed as a bigtime Judge? Ha! Aspiring AUSA? Surely, you jest! Oh sure, it could happen. You could also get a tapeworm from eating at the Four Seasons, but it’s not likely. From the moment you hang that solo shingle, get ready for pitiful looks followed by “Oh, you have a solo practice. That’s………um……….nice.” On the first day you open your solo self, listen carefully. Pause for a minute. Hear that? Yep, doors slamming.
Remember all the stuff that you took for granted when you worked for a firm or the government? Well, now it’s your problem. That printer isn’t going to re-toner itself. Coffee? Juan Valdez ain’t there anymore to make it for you every morning. Want lights? Pay the power company. No more blaming the paralegals for stains in the commode.
Those wonderful thoughts you had about answering your own phone evaporate once you answer your own phone. The world is full of tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists. They’ve all been wronged by the government. They all have a highly complex story to share. They know how to trap someone on a phone better than a telemarketer. They’ve all been probed by aliens, and they love talking to lawyers. Now, you’re fresh meat.
The business side of things is great, except when you have to do it. You like taking care of lawyer stuff? Like cases and appeals and briefs? That’s great, because, when you really need to do one of those things, some absurdly tedious business task rears its ugly head. There will be a day when you must sit and write checks for half an hour, or when you must unscrew the printer, or when you must wage war with negligent internet providers, or when the office floods during a spring rainstorm. Get ready for it all, because it is all your responsibility.
Take how much you think you’ll earn. Divide by 3. That’s how much you’ll earn if you work your ass off. Money is not waiting for you. Money is hard to get. Money is especially hard to get for many of your potential clients. Potential clients with no money cannot pay you money. Oodles of other lawyer guys and gals are out there looking for the potential clients who have money. I’m not saying you can’t make a living. You can. You’re just not going to make as much as you thought you could.
Gross income and net income are two very different numbers. That overhead is all you, bucko.
Get ready for your friends to remind you regularly about the days when you had a “real job.” Your friends will do it. Your spouse will do it. Your kids will do it. You remember the days when you’d disappear to the unknown and important-sounding world of “work.” You remember how everyone recognized the importance attached to that world. Now, your world is less important to them. People assume you have time to watch their kids during the day. “Oh, see if Eric will watch Cody for the day. He’s probably not busy.”
You’ll start talking to yourself. One day, I watched a YouTube video that tickled my funny bone. It was cute and amusing. I chuckled out loud. Then, I looked up from the computer and around the office for someone to share my funny. Nobody was there. I looked around more. Still, nobody was there. So, I went to get a cup of coffee, mumbling to myself and giggling about the video. I know, it’s pathetic. Get ready, you’ll be pathetic, too. Same thing goes when some prosecutor pisses you off. You’ll want to vent to someone, but nobody will be there. Eventually, you’ll just look into space and say “I can’t believe what that ass did! Can you? Yeah, me too!” Occasionally, you’ll fear for your sanity. You’ll recall your Aunt Edith who spent the last 5 years of her life shuffling around Shady Oaks Retirement Center talking about her garden to the cinderblock wall. Now, instead of seeing Aunt Edith in your memories, you see yourself. Meds help. Alcohol helps better. Meds and alcohol together equals cure.*
Instead of talking to yourself, you may attempt to share thoughts with a non-lawyer spouse, girlfriend, family member, or friend. They will never understand. You’ll share your story. You’ll laugh. Then, you’ll get a lot of blank stares. Most are at a loss for words. Many are utterly confused. Eventually, they’ll stop asking you out for happy hour, or dinner, and eventually Thanksgiving and Christmas. Soon, on Thanksgiving, you’ll talk to yourself about not getting invited by family for holidays while consuming a Hungry Man dinner, but then you’ll chuckle about the last YouTube video you watched.
Your dog and/or cat could give a damn about your cases, too. It’s sad when you realize it. Eventually, you’ll come to accept it.
You may eventually turn to Twitter for companionship. There, you’ll meet lawyers and lawyer-friendly people. You’ll share your funnies and thoughts, but, eventually, you realize something. Everyone there is pathetic, just like you. Like you, they just want to share their thoughts and funnies. They could care less about your thoughts and funnies. They only want you to read their thoughts and funnies. Like you, they sit at a computer, mumble incoherent thoughts, and chuckle at internet humor–all while farting their last highly-processed TV dinner. Calling Twitter one big circle jerk is an insult to circle jerks.
So, there you have it. Solo practice is the most wonderful, pathetic, rewarding, stressful, beautiful, maddening, fruitful, insulated, suicide-inducing, and enlightening experience you’ll ever have.
I love it, and I’d have it no other way.
*Do not misinterpret my musing about alcohol and meds. If you have a problem with alcohol or substance abuse, please get help immediately, and do not mix medications and alcohol. Seriously. When you get help, get it from a professional. Don’t try to get help from me. I’ll just fuck with you.