By Susan Smith Blakely • March 16, 2012•Choosing a Career and Landing a Job
Editor's Note: Ms. JD is excited to announce that Susan Smith Blakely, author of Best Friends at the Bar, will be speaking at Ms. JD: She Leadson October 5, 2012. This post originally appeared on the Best Friends at the Bar blog on June 30, 2011.
Going solo is an interesting concept and one that is gaining more popularity during these tough economic times when law firm hires are down. A new book has just been published by the American Bar Association addressing the issue after a three-year study by the ABA Commission on Women. The book is based on letters written by women lawyers addressing their experiencing in launching their own firms. According to a recent description on the ABA web site, the reasons for women going solo have nothing to do with work-life and family pressure. That seems to make sense because a solo practice can’t be any less demanding than a firm practice—at least not in the formative years. Rather, the reasons most often cited are control, ambition, success and challenge.
The book, The Road to Independence: 101 Women’s Journeys to Starting Their Own Law Firms, seems to me to be a bit like Best Friends at the Bar. It gathers the advice and wisdom of established practitioners and puts it at your finger tips. Although I have not read the ABA book yet and I never practiced solo, I can identify a little with the issues from my own experience starting a small business. The Best Friends at the Bar project, including the book, speaking engagements and consulting services, is part of my company LegalPerspectives, Inc. Sounds easy, right—researching, writing, speaking and consulting? Piece of cake if you know what you are writing and talking about. And that would be correct—that is the easy part. The not-so-obvious parts that are really challenging are the PR, the marketing, the technical issues that will either make you or break you, and the cash outlay for all of the incidents of setting up a small business—-web site designers, lawyers to handle the IP issues, techies to make sure that the equipment does not break down and, if it does, that it is fixed before the next deadline, and professional PR folks to make you look good and get your name out, to name just a few. And, believe me, I have come to appreciate the old days when I had “people” who were at my beck and call in a law firm at a moment’s notice. Not having people will define the importance of having people in a nanosecond.
That must be what it is like to go solo in law practice. It must be pretty scary at first, but it also must be really satisfying to be your own boss, set your own goals and objectives, make the rules and practice law the way you want to—instead of the way the Management Committee tells you to. So, hats off to all of you who decide to make the leap, for whatever reasons. But, first, before you leap, it seems like a good idea to check out some of the excellent web sites on going solo and/or reading the new ABA book on the subject. Trust me, you can never be too prepared for what lies ahead.
There are two solo practitioners in my family, and one was my Dad. He practiced solo for 50 years. That is a really long time, and I can honestly say that he loved what he did. He was a fiercely independent type, and it served him very well. He also was the most ethical lawyer I ever knew, and he was able to steer clear of anything that had the “appearance” he did not like. I know that meant a lot to him, and it was one of the things I admired most about him. He was a great sounding board for me, my brother and my husband when we were starting in practice, and I miss his wisdom.
However, I do not think I could have done what he did. I am too social an animal, and I think that I would miss the human interaction that a firm or company environment provides. But, to each his own, and it sure worked out for my Dad.
As for me, I could not be happier in what I do today. This is the most gratifying work I have ever done in my life, and I thoroughly enjoy meeting all of you along the road as I travel the country giving speeches and helping young women lawyers and law students. There is no manual for what I do, and that is part of the appeal. I make it up along the way, and it is never dull or boring. I could not ask for more, and I do not take your support and interest for granted. Never will.