FTE to freedom: Deciding to fly solo

December 14, 2020

This is the first installment of a four-part series exploring the transition to a solo legal practice. Be sure to read: 

The global health crisis of 2020 not only ushered in the era of remote work — it gave it a push.

As companies expand their remote workforces, some plan to offer up to 70% of their office employees the option to work from home. Many employees are already relocating away from expensive larger cities and building their careers from home.

The legal industry has yet to fully realize the impact of the shift to remote work, but a wave of technological innovation and professional flexibility is giving entrepreneurial attorneys new opportunities to launch their own ventures. The possibilities and benefits of solo practice have never been greater.

Making the decision to fly solo

A law school degree hasn’t always guaranteed a plush law firm job. During the Great Recession of 2009, law school commencement speakers informed newly minted lawyers that “every one of you is now an entrepreneur, a small business owner.” Today’s law firms still throw around the word “entrepreneurial” during interviews and information sessions. It’s a quality that firms claim to reward — allowing intrepid lawyers to directly reap the benefits of their hard work through billable hours. 

However, the personal and social pressures of firm work often diminish those rewards, leading some lawyers to seek change. But lawyers are risk-averse; the idea of working outside the structured environment of a law firm and its reliable book of business often deters potential solo practitioners. 

Yet despite its risks, solo practice can benefit many legal practitioners: 

  • Lawyers who are parents can better balance family and work responsibilities.
  • Long-term caregivers can re-enter the work world on their own schedules without needing to explain a resume gap.
  • Seasoned practitioners can scale back their practices while maintaining a stimulating workload. 
  • Lawyers restricted to a narrow field of practice can work on matters outside the silo a firm may place around their work. 

Evaluating your potential business: Are you ready to go it alone?

If you’re considering whether to launch a new venture, begin by assessing your risk profile as a business owner. Evaluate your potential business’ strengths and opportunities against threats and weaknesses—also known as a SWOT analysis. 

Some questions to consider:

  • How can I expand my book of business or begin developing one? 
  • What are my long-term goals as a practitioner? Buyout? Long-term growth? Becoming the next big name in law? 
  • Do I have the resources to secure a client engagement, complete it, and collect on a bill? 
  • Do I live in an area where my compensation expectations keep me competitive with the big firms? 
  • How consistent of a revenue stream do I hope or need to develop? 
  • Do I have the skills and tools to develop a professional brand for myself and my business? 
  • Have I saved or located enough capital to finance my new venture?

Read Ontra's guide, “From FTE to Freedom”

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