Thinking About Hanging Your Shingle Right Out of School? Read This First!

Post authored by Jason Shimotake

When I was in law school, I had a friend who wanted to hang his own shingle straight out of law school. He was a big fan of Daredevil and thought if Matt Murdock could do it, why not me?  Notwithstanding that Matt Murdock was intellectual property, and therefore didn’t have to worry about rent or getting paid, my buddy started his firm. And, wouldn’t you know it, he landed on his feet, just like Daredevil.  A decade later, I decided to go out on my own, too.  It led me to think about him and my own experiences and what stopped me from doing it back then. Here are a few ideas to consider if you are thinking about going out on your own immediately after law school, long into your career or anywhere in between:

1. Find Your Motivation. Why be a solo? Be honest with yourself. Sit down with a piece of paper and write it down. If, after thirty minutes, you’re still staring at a blank piece of paper, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re doing it because you can’t find a job–or worse, because you don’t want to be a lawyer–you’re going to have a terrible time.  No matter how you cut it, there’s a lot of work in being a solo attorney, and it’s going to be a terrible experience if you don’t want to do it.

2. Do You Have the Time? Despite your critics, becoming a solo practitioner straight out of school isn’t “crazy.”  The reality is that comparatively speaking, starting a firm is less risky than other typical business ventures, such as opening a restaurant or launching a tech firm.  It’s not like you have to lease an entire suite in Willis Tower, stock a full kitchen with perishable inventory or wine and dine angel investors for start-up capital. However, what firms lack in financial cost, they make up in time.  From buying stamps and drafting motion templates to driving to status hearings, a law firm will cost the solo practitioner gobs of time.  As the firm expands, technology and staff may be able to alleviate some of the chronal cost; however, other tasks will replace those deferred. It will make work-life balance an eternal struggle. While there are plenty of positive tradeoffs, time management is always going to be a factor in decision-making, both in personal life and practice. There are plenty of legal careers that are founded on a 9-to-5 lifestyle. Being a solo practitioner, at least for the onset, isn’t one of them.

3. Technology. If the concept of case management software doesn’t make your palms sweaty with excitement, it’s not the end of your solo career. That said, while the solo doesn’t have to be technology-centered, being “technology-adjacent” will have its advantages.  Keeping up with the changes in the law has always been a cornerstone of the legal practitioner but, in the 21st century, keeping up with the latest software or app is a must.

4. Talk, Talk, Talk. If you decide to become a solo practitioner, you have also decided to be the head of your marketing department and your advertising department. Unless you have the bankroll or connections to marketing gurus, the vital component of people knowing your business falls on you. That means making professional engagements, getting involved in your community and utilizing social media are going to be a part-time job. There is an ebb and flow to the “part-time job,” and it can be lots of fun, but it is mandatory.

There are a million other things to consider, but one thing not to consider is the fear of failure.  It should be acknowledged as a definite possibility.  Businesses fail all the time.  Firms can close down. It may even happen to you.  But there’s not much more to it than that. Either you accept the risks, or you don’t. And if you can’t accept the risk of failure, don’t worry about it.  Not all of us can be–or should be–Daredevil.  The choice is up to you.

About the Author:

SHIMOTAKE.headshot_05_2018Jason Shimotake is dedicated to the financial security of his clients.  After a decade’s experience in filing and representing clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies, attorney Shimotake started The Shimotake Law Firm, LLC to help clients get peace of mind. He is a member of the Justice Entrepreneur Project, a part of the Chicago Bar Foundation and under its program, spent time as a volunteer attorney with the Lawyer’s Committee for Better Housing, a non-for-profit that advocates for tenant’s rights.  Attorney Shimotake is a proud graduate from the John Marshall Law School and was admitted to practice in 2008.

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