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No Navigator, No Parachute, No Problem: An In-Depth Look at Flying Solo

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I graduated from University of Florida College of Law in 2011, and like most of my classmates, I already had my entire career planned out: I would work as an associate for a few years at a small-to-moderate sized firm, climbing my way up the ladder as I built up my knowledge base, contacts and book of business. After a few years, I would leave to open my own firm and use the experience (and clients) I brought over from my time at the firm to make it an instant success.

Not so much.

Life threw a few dozen curveballs my way, and I wound up working as a law clerk for two years before taking and passing the bar exam.  My boss then told me that he wasn’t interested in hiring an associate, leaving me to become the only attorney I’ve ever known to be fired for passing the bar exam. I remembered my dream of someday owning my own practice, but I immediately dismissed that thought. After all, I didn’t have years of experience, I wasn’t a member of the area’s Legal Good Ol’ Boys Club and my book of business was less “War and Peace” and more “Famous Jewish NBA Legends.” There’s no way I was prepared to be a solo attorney, and if I tried, I’d crash and burn for sure.

My wife and I talked it over, and after a lot of discussion and soul-searching I realized that if I didn’t go out on my own now, I wouldn’t get another chance to do it until 20 years down the road after our imaginary kids were heading to college. The decision was made: I was going to hang my shingle.

As part of my preparation, I started combing the Internet for any and all information I could find about starting a firm. I was looking for hard data: what are the costs involved in starting a firm, how much do new solos bring in, what works and what doesn’t when you’re starting out, and so on.  Unfortunately, there was almost nothing like that. Instead, nearly everything I found fell into one of two very unhelpful categories: One was the “LAW SCHOOL IS A SCAM!  BURN YOUR J.D.!  YOU’LL NEVER MAKE IT!” crowd which has taken over many popular law blogs and message boards.  The other was very basic, generalized stuff like “Network, do good work and if you make it through your first year, you’ll probably be okay.” Neither was much help.

One exception to this came from Greg Doucette, a North Carolina attorney whose blog I stumbled across one day. Greg did something I hadn’t seen any other attorney, new or established do: he put up a one year “postmortem” of his new firm with hard numbers, showing exactly what he made and spent, along with examples of what he did wrong (and right!) that first year and the changes he planned to make going forward.  This information was just what I was looking for, and was much more helpful than pretty much anything I had found before.

Fast forward a few months, and I’ve just finished my first three months as a solo attorney and am in a position to do for others what Greg did for me: provide some hard numbers and talk about the mistakes I’ve made so far, in an effort to give new and prospective solos an idea of what this experience is really like. My next post will detail my first quarter, then I’ll continue every month with a new update. Follow along, and fire away with any questions, comments or hate-filled mockery you might have. Also, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright positions; if there’s one thing I’ve found so far, it’s that you can’t fly solo without occasional turbulence.

 

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About Florida Esq

Florida Esq. is a 2011 UF Law grad, country boy and solo attorney, practicing somewhere in the beautiful Florida sunshine. When not kicking tail and taking names (in a law practice sense, of course), he’s usually hanging out with his beautiful wife and two dogs, reading, gaming or lying on a beach somewhere. While you’re here, he’d appreciate it if you could take the sunscreen and get this one spot on his back.

5 comments

  1. Not to be a party pooper, but the perspective on thing done right and wrong tends to be different after, say three years or five years. Three months provides little insight, and is more likely to be distorted by external influence or luck than reflect any useful information.

    If you’re going to proceed (as I suspect you no doubt will), try to make this clear lest someone in a similar position to you makes the same mistake you made with Greg Doucette’s one year recap.

  2. I don’t understand your comment regarding Greg’s post. I simply said I found the info he gave to be helpful and informative. I think that’s less of a “mistake” and more of just my own opinion.

    Also, I feel I made it clear that I’m not exactly a grizzled veteran, and common sense would dictate that my perspective may not be “worth” as much as the perspective of someone like yourself. However, I’ve made a couple of monthly update posts on a solo/small firm Reddit, and most of the responses I received were from other new and prospective solos, saying how helpful the info was and how much they appreciated someone being willing to share this information. Keith seemed to agree, and offered to let me start posting here so I would have a wider audience than a specialized subreddit could provide. As long as people are getting some value out of what I share, and maybe even using this info to avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made (and will no doubt make in the future), then I plan to keep on writing. Just because I haven’t been doing this for thirty years (yet) doesn’t mean I don’t have anything of value to say.

    • In your defensiveness, you have completely missed the point of my comment. I wasn’t being critical of you, but trying to help you to appreciate the value of a bit of longer term perspective, which both you and anyone who finds value in your writing, should bear in mind.

      But never mind my caution. I hope you make more right choices than wrong, and wish you the best of luck in your new practice.

      • I would say I wasn’t being defensive, just trying to explain why a (very) new solo such as myself was doing this… Of course, then I’d probably be getting defensive about not being defensive.

        Naturally, a longer-term perspective than mine will have value, and probably more value that what I’m able to provide at the moment. I appreciate that, as would anyone with half a brain. When I was doing research prior to starting my practice, however, I wasn’t just looking for the perspective of someone who had been doing this for five or ten years. I was also looking for someone who was at the same point in their career; I wanted to see how the buck private in the trenches was doing right now, because I had a lot more in common with them than the captain who was farther back behind the lines. The problem is, it’s very hard to find that point of view out there (outside of the bitter “law school is a scam” sites), whereas it’s easy to find an established attorney offering advice. I’m just trying to provide that point of view.

        Thanks for the good wishes.

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