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Hanging Out Your Shingle

February 16, 2009
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Starting out one’s own law firm as a solo practitioner is not just limited to the purview of older, experienced attorneys.  More and more, young lawyers, including most recently, current Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania President and former YLD Vice Chair May Mon Post, have been starting their own solo practices (and small two-person partnerships).  

There are many reasons to want to have your own shop: good opportunities, you can be your own boss, you pick your own hours, you can actually keep most of the money you make.  Plus, didn’t you grow up hoping to have a law firm named after you? 

Of course, there are many logistical and practical challenges that young lawyers obviously need to consider before making the big leap:

Office Space – You need to find and secure an office location.  Chances are, due to zoning consideratoins, you’re not going to be able to just simply run your firm out of your den or basement.  So instead, you’re going to need to probably lease commercial space.  Then, of course, you’ll need to hope that the office has some furniture (such as desks, waiting room chairs, etc.).

Overhead – There is a ton of necessary overhead beyond the monthly lease for office space.  There’ s insurance to provide first party as well as liability insurance for the premises.  Malpractice insurance is costly.  Depending on your workload, you may need to get a secretary to take care of billing, filing, bookkeeping and other tasks.   You will also need to obtain health coverage, both for yourself and possibly for employees.  Then, there’s supplies to be ordered, such as paper and stationary (with the office letterhead). 

Technology –  You probably won’t be able to get the same high powered printers or copiers that your previous firms may have had.  Unless you really want to shell out a few thousand dollars on a commercial photocopier and then even more money on a computer printer and fax machine, you probably want to consider the purchase of a multi-purpose or all-in-one machine.  These machines, made by companies like hp or Xerox, allow you to print, scan, make photocopies and fax documents.  While not as powerful and fast as commercial machines, they are significantly more affordable.  After getting your hardware, you’ll need to find a host for your website and e-mail accounts.  

Business – Unless you have the most utmost confidence that people will be immediately knocking at your door, you better have some assurance of clients either going with you or promising to give you a steady stream of business.  Most if not all solo practitioners who are friends of mine all had the same assurance from clients of getting steady work.  While there’s always the possibility of work drying up or major clients leaving, my solo friends all say they’re plenty busy right now.  Continued marketing, such as trading referrals with other fellow solo practitioners, also helps. 

Willingness to Risk – Starting off one’s own practice is oftentimes both daunting and exciting.  My friends admit they work harder than they ever did as they no longer have a guarantee of just earning a steady salary.  Still, when it comes down to it, my solo practitioner friends all enjoy what they’re now doing. 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. postlawyer permalink
    February 16, 2009 2:41 pm

    Thanks for the shout out, John. Starting your own firm is certainly daunting, but it’s also very fulfilling, and as you said, exciting.

    If you’re just starting out, like me, don’t worry about the secretary/office space, etc. just yet. That will come later, as you get more clients. The very first things you will need are: malpractice insurance, computer, all-in-one printer (copier, printer, fax, scanner in one — you can get one for a very reasonable price), phone/fax service, email account/web hosting, and office supplies (paper, envelopes, etc.) and above all, willingness to endure the uncertainties that come with being on your own. But don’t let these uncertainties stop you. (The pros and cons of hanging your shingle could be another blog in itself!).

  2. March 4, 2009 2:51 pm

    Nice article. Its also a good idea to net work with your local Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. http://www.greaterphilachamber.com/

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