Those who have just graduated with a law degree have many different options available to them, ranging from going to work for a large law firm, to working in the legal department of a corporation, to setting out one’s own shingle. While setting up one’s own practice may seem like an appealing idea, there are many considerations that should factor into this decision in order to determine if this is the right path for you to follow.
There are a number of things to take into account when thinking about whether or not to set up shop on one’s own. While one of the biggest benefits of working for yourself is the fact that you’re your own boss and answer to no one, the flip side of that is that…..you’re your own boss. Everything falls on your shoulders, and there is no one else to cover for you. Planning on taking a vacation? Great idea, but remember that you’ll still have to answer to clients if you’re a one-man operation. You can only do so much as far as making arrangements is concerned.
And while independence can be a heady thing, it can also be a bit tricky when it comes to managing finances. Being a sole proprietor often means no steady paychecks, unless you’re lucky to have a steady client who pays you on a regular basis. Otherwise, it can be difficult to plan ahead or do any kind of financial planning, as you won’t know when you’ll have money coming in, or how much. Feast or famine is often the name of the game when it comes to being self-employed.
Working in someone else’s law firm – large or small — you would be responsible for tracking every hour of your time and making sure that you have a sufficient number of billable hours, or those that can be billed to a client. This can be tedious and frustrating, and tends to make law firm employment among the most demanding of legal practice environments. These practices can also lead to very long hours put in at work.
Would this still be the case if you were working for yourself? Yes, probably, as you’ll be working to bring in new clients and handling that work yourself. But at the same time, the money you bring in will be for you, and so you won’t have to make more in order to compensate for what the law firm is getting – though of course you’ll have your own private practice expenses. Also, you’ll set your own hours, which gives you much more control over what kind of practice you want to have and how much you want to work. You may decide that making less money and working less is okay – and that’s a choice you’ll be able to make, unlike if you were at a large law firm.
The bottom line, of course, is that only you can decide what’s right for you – but if the idea of opening your own practice looks appealing, now would be an opportune time to find out.
The American Bar Association maintains a GP-Solo Practice Division, with lots of useful information, at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/gpsolo.html
Many local bar associations offer help and guidance to solo practitioners, and there are several web-based programs available for entrepreneurial lawyers, including