So you think you're ready to hang your own shingle?

Issue January/February 2016 By Nicole B. Norkevicius

Yes, being your own boss can be invigorating and allows an attorney to set their own schedule and manage their caseload. However, solo practitioners often struggle in their practice and do not get to enjoy such benefits. The Massachusetts Bar Association's Solo Practitioner & Small Firm Section offers some very poignant pointers before delving into the vast world of solo practitioners, with ongoing support and education programs offered throughout the year.

Of course, the legal profession is a calling that can lead to a very worthwhile profession, but first-time solo practitioners are often faced with numerous pitfalls that can be very costly. Knowing the law is just the beginning; a successful solo practitioner must balance so much more than keeping current with the changes in their respective specialties - they must also run a successful business!

Here are some tips for every solo practitioner starting out:

Be a minimalist: Manage assets wisely. Start small and spend sparingly - work from home. Reserve a conference room in the local law library or registry. You can even rent or borrow a conference room from another attorney to meet with new clients. Many large practices often allow this practice for other attorneys as part of their pro bono initiatives.

Create an Internet presence: Developing a simple website can be much less expensive than traditional advertising and can reach a vast audience with minimal cost. Today, most prospective clients will research online before contacting an attorney, and your website is their first glimpse at you as an attorney.

Volunteer: Time spent volunteering can be a worthwhile way to create contacts in your field and sometimes obtain new clients. Several Probate and Family courts throughout the commonwealth offer Lawyer of the Day programs, which are run by the local bar association or legal services program. Volunteering in these types of programs allows a solo practitioner to meet and work with the registry staff in these courts, while offering a value service to public. These relationships can be quite beneficial when you are later in court on your own matter. However, a solo practitioner must manage their time wisely; ideally, all time is billable time. Volunteering in the courts you routinely practice in can also be quite beneficial to building your practice.

Find a mentor: Practicing on your own is often lonely. While there are lots of benefits to having your own practice, you can't successfully practice in a bubble. You must find a mentor or ideally an experienced attorney and another contemporaneous colleague that you can consult with about case-related matters and court specific procedures. A great way to meet different attorneys is to join bar associations, which often also provides opportunities to socialize with judges and court staff. Try to have lunch with a different attorney once a month or, realistically, once a quarter, because as a business manager, a solo practitioner must be vigilant in balancing their time. But building relationships with other attorneys are integral to your success.

Contact LOMAP: Every attorney considering hanging a shingle and going out on their own should contact the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP), which is a free and confidential program offered by Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Inc. LOMAP provides invaluable materials for attorneys considering opening their own practice and steps to avoid ethical pitfalls. In addition, attorneys can schedule a meeting with one of LOMAP's law practice advisor to discuss specific questions about their practice.

Nicole B. Norkevicius is a solo practitioner in Buzzards Bay. She previously worked at two small firms before opening her own practice in October 2015, where she primarily practices in all aspects of family law.