Going solo: could life as a sole practitioner be for you?

Linda Lamb - Going solo: could life as a sole practitioner be for you?

Going it alone at the start of my legal career would have been a daunting prospect, but if I had been working in today’s legal profession, where there are more opportunities, more chances to connect and a legal environment that encourages me to work independently, I may have jumped at the chance.

Nowadays, there is more freedom for junior lawyers with enough experience not to be overwhelmed working alone to work on a flexible basis rather than staying in the confines of private practice. The rise of the gig economy and disruptors in the legal market have created an environment where lawyers can work as a self-employed consultant, for contract lawyering services such as Pinsent Masons’ Vario, or set up their own practice on their own terms. This is coupled with a market where businesses are in desperate need of this flexible legal resource due to in-house budgets shrinking and clients, plagued by Brexit uncertainty, needing lawyers on a more project basis.

Long perceived and stereotyped as an option for senior lawyers to wind down at the end of their careers, I’ve been seeing more junior lawyers joining the ranks, realising that working as a self-employed consultant or opening their own practice gives them the ability to improve their work/life balance and work on the projects they enjoy.

Working as a sole practitioner entails managing all aspects of operating a business – from the registration, to the financial to client sourcing. If you work through a business that provides the flexibility as a self-employed consultant, the business will be responsible for certain aspects such as billing, but it’s important that you do your research before joining them – make sure the terms and conditions around income and flexibility suit your needs.

However, going solo isn’t for everyone – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re considering setting up a sole offering in future, it’s good to work out if it would suit your lifestyle, ethos, personality and financial needs. When finishing your training contract, it’s useful to reflect and work out the feasibility of setting up your own offering.

1. Ask yourself: do you have the get-up-and-go?

Having confidence and the resilience to be able to deal with hiccups and knockbacks along the road is perhaps undervalued, but developing your emotional intelligence in this area is important if you’re thinking of going it alone. Working without the structure of a law firm, where you may be used to more senior lawyers bringing in the work, you will need to be able to source your own clients and projects if working under your own practice. Signing up to work under a business may not always give you a constant stream of steady work when you need it, so you will need to be flexible and realistic. It isn’t for the faint-hearted and one knockback can’t send you flying. You have to hone the ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off.

2. Reflect: how does your experience and ethos set you apart from your competitors?

Consider how your offering will set you apart from other sole practitioners, or other firms in the market. Go back to the drawing board and contemplate what really inspired you to open your own practice or set yourself up as a consultant or contract lawyer. Or ask yourself: what gap in the market did you see that could be used to help your potential client base?

One of the key reasons why I went solo was that, after being head of a family law department for a number of years, I really did miss the one-to-one support I gave to clients. My practice is centred around this – a holistic approach that can help with the legal, financial and emotional aspects of going through a divorce and the changing family tree.

Another task I would encourage is getting to know people in your field. Attend networking events, join associations and attend seminars when you can. You never know where it could take you.

Building an existing network before I launched my business was essential. Keeping in touch with people I had met throughout my career led to referrals and the opportunities to strengthen my professional recognition. Of course, building connections is part of running the day-to-day business so this is something I very much still do.

3. Plan and prepare

Maybe you can’t wait to get stuck into running your own offering or perhaps some of you may feel overwhelmed. It’s all about taking small steps and seeking advice before jumping in at the deep end. Make sure to:

  • do your research when it comes to banks and the business products they offer;
  • draw out your main financial outgoings, for example, the office, creating and maintaining an online presence, branding, legal resources, employees, technology, insurance – do your research on the costings of each;
  • seek advice from an accountant on how your new business will be structured and tax efficient; and
  • plan where will you get your work from if running your own practice. Through your previous firm, existing connections and referral network?

4. The lifestyle

A change in work/life balance is perhaps what you seek and working under your own business model means that you have the ability to work when and from where you like. Going from working in the structure of private practice to under your own terms requires commitment. But if this is something you are passionate about and are keen to work hard at, you could make a success of it. Good luck!

Linda Lamb is director and solicitor at LSL Family Law.

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