Jump to content

Solo Solicitor AMA


Mountebank
 Share

Recommended Posts

Mountebank
  • Lawyer

Ok.

This is the LAST time I'm starting this up. 

Successor thread of the original thread of lawapps.ca, which was the successor thread of the original thread of ls.ca...

  • Like 4
  • Thanks 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kurrika

Do you use a lot of precedents?  If so where do you get them from?  Are those dumb questions?

  • Like 1
  • LOL 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mountebank
  • Lawyer
9 minutes ago, Kurrika said:

Do you use a lot of precedents?  If so where do you get them from?  Are those dumb questions?

As a solicitor, I live in an ecstasy of precedent-building. You have to make standard as much as you can so to do as little work while making bank (if you're not working ever toward the goal of collecting obscene income on income while doing no or minimal work, well then you're pretty well rogered as a human being).

Precedents originate from all over (legal texts/looseleafs, CPD materials, and, many time, generous colleagues), but are adapted by you over time to suit your experiences, needs, and style of practice.

Some precedents are wholly homemade (especially certain standard letters to clients) and you tend to guard these somewhat jealously. While others, such as for real estate transactions, are so widely available and adopted that you'll find the same grammatical, formatting, or even factual errors committed by different firms over and over again.

And no, the questions aren't dumb, but highly suspect coming from an established government lawyer.

By the way, this is literally the first time I've noticed what your avatar is. Did you change it? Does the new forum render them larger on the screen?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kurrika
Posted (edited)

 

  

22 minutes ago, Mountebank said:

 

And no, the questions aren't dumb, but highly suspect coming from an established government lawyer.

By the way, this is literally the first time I've noticed what your avatar is. Did you change it? Does the new forum render them larger on the screen?

I just wanted to get the ball rolling 🙂

I’ve used a variation on Mr Toad for a very long while (reading newspaper, putting on motor car gloves, etc...) - I’ve got the last one I used for ls.ca saved on a different computer so I used an earlier avatar.

 

Edit - also yes the avatars seem bigger here.

Edit edit - switched to the last one I was using at ls.ca

Edited by Kurrika
Link to comment
Share on other sites

GreyDude
  • Applicant
On 6/7/2021 at 4:46 PM, Mountebank said:

Ok.

This is the LAST time I'm starting this up. 

Successor thread of the original thread of lawapps.ca, which was the successor thread of the original thread of ls.ca...

Heh, fair enough on the thread-starting. 
 

I’m wondering what your practice area(s) is (are) and what areas you would consider best suited (least well suited) for solo practitioners.
 

The reason for the question is that I usually think that solo work or work with a small boutique will turn out best for me, but my main interests are all public interest generally speaking—mainly activity  connected to poverty and NGO work, but possibly union side labour, or immigration with a focus on refugees.  You know: the really lucrative stuff.  

Since I’m really just entering 0L, I’ll start to firm up the practice goals if and when I’m actually attending law school, but do these sound like the sorts of practIce areas that could (or could not) sustain a solo practice?

Thanks! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mountebank
  • Lawyer
42 minutes ago, GreyDude said:

Heh, fair enough on the thread-starting. 
 

I’m wondering what your practice area(s) is (are) and what areas you would consider best suited (least well suited) for solo practitioners.
 

The reason for the question is that I usually think that solo work or work with a small boutique will turn out best for me, but my main interests are all public interest generally speaking—mainly activity  connected to poverty and NGO work, but possibly union side labour, or immigration with a focus on refugees.  You know: the really lucrative stuff.  

Since I’m really just entering 0L, I’ll start to firm up the practice goals if and when I’m actually attending law school, but do these sound like the sorts of practIce areas that could (or could not) sustain a solo practice?

Thanks! 

Well, both union-side labour and immigration can be very lucrative practice areas (the former, especially, as there's always plenty of money/corruption to go around). But I don't have any direct experience with either of those - I will say that there certainly are solo lawyers practicing immigration, although I understand it can be somewhat staff-heavy. I expect labour law would be harder since these institutional clients have existing relationships with larger (although not necessary Big) law firms.

I'm basically a solicitor who doesn't do any corporate/commercial work (so, Wills, Estates, and Real Estate). I have a very small litigation practice that I wish I didn't have.

I recently answered the question about which practice areas are best for solos in the other forum, so I'll just paste my answer here:

Quote

Any retail law is good for a sole practitioner because you're not relying on larger firms for institutional clients. Examples of retail law, at least as I mean it, would be: Wills, Estates, real estate, corporate/commercial (although this is a bit of a crossover because just as much corporate/commercial work is institutional as it is retail), family, criminal, and immigration. Other areas less classically suited to sole practice, but still doable, would be plaintiff-side employment, and personal injury (the latter of which is retail in the sense of how you get and end files, but is relatively heavy on the front-end and so not as scalable as some of the foregoing practice areas). Areas that would not be generally conducive to sole practice (but not necessarily impossible - there are solos in every field) would be municipal, labour, management-side employment, and some other, frankly, awful types of law. General civil litigation, like corporate/commercial, runs the gamut and is carried on in firms of all sizes. I would personally never want to be a sole civil litigator, but it's one of the most scalable practices and one of the most straightforward to run completely virtually and without staff at the outset. 

 

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

GreyDude
  • Applicant

Gotcha. I almost followed up right away, but as I was writing I saw that I need to think about it first!

I appreciate the patient reply. 🙂

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Disbarred
  • Law Student

I’ve always thought about becoming a solo one day, but I am worried I will get too comfortable and never pull the trigger. Maybe some more information can persuade me to go down this road when the time comes. 
 
How would you recommend getting started? Should you look for articles with a solo practitioner or small firm doing similar work you want to get into, or would you be best to take a job in a full service firm for a few years?

How soon do most solo’s go off on their own? Is it practical to start shortly after completing articles, or is it best to get 3-5 years experience? 

Can you comment on how much money you make as a solo? (Perhaps a ball park range via PM if you don’t want to share publicly) I am curious how much/if any money you make during the first couple years, and what a good year might look like 5-10 years in. Money is not my primary concern, I would rather find fulfillng work, but I do have hefty loans to pay off.

Thanks a lot in advance for your insight! 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mountebank
  • Lawyer
On 6/11/2021 at 2:24 PM, Disbarred said:

I’ve always thought about becoming a solo one day, but I am worried I will get too comfortable and never pull the trigger. Maybe some more information can persuade me to go down this road when the time comes. 
 
How would you recommend getting started? Should you look for articles with a solo practitioner or small firm doing similar work you want to get into, or would you be best to take a job in a full service firm for a few years?

How soon do most solo’s go off on their own? Is it practical to start shortly after completing articles, or is it best to get 3-5 years experience? 

Can you comment on how much money you make as a solo? (Perhaps a ball park range via PM if you don’t want to share publicly) I am curious how much/if any money you make during the first couple years, and what a good year might look like 5-10 years in. Money is not my primary concern, I would rather find fulfillng work, but I do have hefty loans to pay off.

Thanks a lot in advance for your insight! 

I'm going to paste a recent response to a similar question from the old new forum:

Quote

For my part, I guess I always knew I wanted to run a business and I didn't really ever have any other skills. So, I applied to school partially with the thought that I could turn my law degree into a business.

One of the best things about being out on your own is that you have freedom to do other things. For instance, I have some side-interests and work that I do to vary things, hopefully help to develop more passive or semi-passive income, and so that I don't get sick of my main job as a lawyer that I wouldn't be able to do while at a firm because: A) my employer would own my work product; and B) my employer would probably forbid me from doing it in the first place. I like being able to do my own thing and not having to explain myself to anyone.

I wouldn't really recommend against going solo to anyone as long as that's what they want to do and they think they've prepared themselves adequately (and no one can be a better judge of that than you). I think the people who wouldn't be suitable for a solo practice already know it and lack the interest anyway. I mean, there's a lot that's shitty about running your own business so people don't generally get into it unless they've thought about it.

In terms of when to go solo, this is very personal and will vary a lot. Probably, a lot of people would've waited longer than I did (I was in my second year of call when I left to do my own thing) and it's definitely true that the more experience you can get in practice in a firm environment, the better. But you learn as you go and it's not like you stop learning after you go solo (on the contrary, you spend a heck of a lot more time making yourself competent and relying on yourself more to make it happen).

Yes, it's definitely worth it financially for me. What a solo lawyer earns runs the gamut. Some soles barely make minimum wage, while others pull in well in excess of half a mil. For me, I haven't been on my own even two full years yet, but I'm basically now making what I would have as an associate and, honestly, I'm probably working less (or at least, doing less legal work). I make enough to be the sole breadwinner for a family of five and work almost no weekends. I have one assistant and am in the process of searching for another one. We have a house and some, admittedly meagre, savings, but we don't have cause to worry much about money. I spend a lot of time with my family and I don't have a boss to answer to. It's a good life.

 

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
historicaladvantage
On 6/7/2021 at 4:46 PM, Mountebank said:

Ok.

This is the LAST time I'm starting this up. 

Successor thread of the original thread of lawapps.ca, which was the successor thread of the original thread of ls.ca...

For a young lawyer just of out articling looking to get into solo practice without working as an associate at another firm or working as an associate only for a year or two, what are the biggest challenges, legal, business, marketing, or otherwise? And how do you overcome them? 

Also, what's the time commitment like as a solo practitioner? Do you have a lot of control over the amount of files you take or do you feel overwhelmed at times? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mountebank
  • Lawyer
2 hours ago, historicaladvantage said:

For a young lawyer just of out articling looking to get into solo practice without working as an associate at another firm or working as an associate only for a year or two, what are the biggest challenges, legal, business, marketing, or otherwise? And how do you overcome them? 

Also, what's the time commitment like as a solo practitioner? Do you have a lot of control over the amount of files you take or do you feel overwhelmed at times? 

For the first question, I would strongly encourage you to work as an associate first. This is important not just for competence reasons but also to help you make contacts in your local bar and to help you learn the business of law, office procedures, etc.

If you're starting out on your own without an existing practice, then your principal challenge will always be developing your core business (i.e. building your practice). A lot goes into this, including some of the items you mentioned, but basically this is the never-ending work that you have to do as a sole practitioner (unless you've purchased or otherwise inherited a strong, existing practice, although I expect that comes with a host of legacy problems). You don't ever overcome this challenge; you just keep working at it until you quit or die. So, you're going to have to learn to enjoy it.

More concretely, I would say the biggest challenge is building legitimacy/a name for yourself (again, this may not be applicable to someone who has taken over an existing practice). You want to be thought of as someone reliable to turn to, especially among the local bar. If you can position yourself as a the local expert on some niche or even broader area of law, that can really help. Failing that, just being generally pleasant to deal with goes a very long way in generating referrals.

As to the second question, this is very tough to answer. On the one hand, it's extremely flexible because if you choose not to take on a file, you don't have to explain that decision to anyone. On the other hand, when you're on your own, it's sink or swim and you don't ever really seem to stop worrying about billings. I knew a senior sole practitioner who was billing up to $650k annually (which is a lot for a sole when you consider you're keeping most of that). He'd been at it for years and was up to his eyeballs in work. Yet, he could still never say "no" to new work and he always took drop-ins when they stopped by. Now, I'm not anywhere near where he was, but I'm consistently seeing strong growth in my billings and yet I'm no less nervous than I was when I started. It never really ends.

Apart from the mental aspect, which takes a lot of discipline and some financial success to overcome, you'll feel overwhelmed at least sometimes because for those files where it's "all hands on deck", you're the only hand. For this reason, it can also be very difficult to take holidays and I still haven't figured that one out yet.

The holiday issue is a real one that can't be understated. It's one of only two extremely serious drawbacks to being a sole practitioner that I've experienced (YMMV). The first is the relative isolation that you have to actively resist (lunches with colleagues, online communities, listservs, other online communities etc.). The second is long-term holidays, of which I have taken none since going solo.

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

historicaladvantage
2 hours ago, Mountebank said:

For the first question, I would strongly encourage you to work as an associate first. This is important not just for competence reasons but also to help you make contacts in your local bar and to help you learn the business of law, office procedures, etc.

If you're starting out on your own without an existing practice, then your principal challenge will always be developing your core business (i.e. building your practice). A lot goes into this, including some of the items you mentioned, but basically this is the never-ending work that you have to do as a sole practitioner (unless you've purchased or otherwise inherited a strong, existing practice, although I expect that comes with a host of legacy problems). You don't ever overcome this challenge; you just keep working at it until you quit or die. So, you're going to have to learn to enjoy it.

More concretely, I would say the biggest challenge is building legitimacy/a name for yourself (again, this may not be applicable to someone who has taken over an existing practice). You want to be thought of as someone reliable to turn to, especially among the local bar. If you can position yourself as a the local expert on some niche or even broader area of law, that can really help. Failing that, just being generally pleasant to deal with goes a very long way in generating referrals.

As to the second question, this is very tough to answer. On the one hand, it's extremely flexible because if you choose not to take on a file, you don't have to explain that decision to anyone. On the other hand, when you're on your own, it's sink or swim and you don't ever really seem to stop worrying about billings. I knew a senior sole practitioner who was billing up to $650k annually (which is a lot for a sole when you consider you're keeping most of that). He'd been at it for years and was up to his eyeballs in work. Yet, he could still never say "no" to new work and he always took drop-ins when they stopped by. Now, I'm not anywhere near where he was, but I'm consistently seeing strong growth in my billings and yet I'm no less nervous than I was when I started. It never really ends.

Apart from the mental aspect, which takes a lot of discipline and some financial success to overcome, you'll feel overwhelmed at least sometimes because for those files where it's "all hands on deck", you're the only hand. For this reason, it can also be very difficult to take holidays and I still haven't figured that one out yet.

The holiday issue is a real one that can't be understated. It's one of only two extremely serious drawbacks to being a sole practitioner that I've experienced (YMMV). The first is the relative isolation that you have to actively resist (lunches with colleagues, online communities, listservs, other online communities etc.). The second is long-term holidays, of which I have taken none since going solo.

Wow. Thank you so much for this response. It really captures a lot of things I wasn't thinking about.

Holidays are a big thing for me. I really enjoy and look forward to them. Wouldn't it potentially be possible to take a holiday once you've finished with a particularly big file, and you find yourself in a bit of a lull? I imagine such lulls get fewer and farther between the more popular your practice gets, and you'd have to be open to planning a vacation with little to zero notice. I know many articling students that would be absolutely hammered one week, and then find themselves completely free another, during which time they'd spend a lot more time doing things for themselves. Do you get weeks like that? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mountebank
  • Lawyer
1 hour ago, historicaladvantage said:

Wow. Thank you so much for this response. It really captures a lot of things I wasn't thinking about.

Holidays are a big thing for me. I really enjoy and look forward to them. Wouldn't it potentially be possible to take a holiday once you've finished with a particularly big file, and you find yourself in a bit of a lull? I imagine such lulls get fewer and farther between the more popular your practice gets, and you'd have to be open to planning a vacation with little to zero notice. I know many articling students that would be absolutely hammered one week, and then find themselves completely free another, during which time they'd spend a lot more time doing things for themselves. Do you get weeks like that? 

It's a lifestyle thing too. If you expect to have kids, for instance, then last-minute holidays aren't really feasible. Certainly, the further in advance you plan, the better. But you have to be prepared to suffer a dip in billings and potentially turn away work or disappoint an existing client.

A week isn't crazy - I've had almost a week off. I meant proper holidays longer than that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

bamalam
  • Lawyer

Any tips for finding contract lawyers? lawclerk.legal seems like a decent platform, but it doesn't appear to have Canadian lawyers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mountebank
  • Lawyer
Posted (edited)
On 6/25/2021 at 6:41 PM, bamalam said:

Any tips for finding contract lawyers? lawclerk.legal seems like a decent platform, but it doesn't appear to have Canadian lawyers.

I don't know if I understand the question. Do you mean finding lawyers on contract for overflow? If so, that's very difficult. If the lawyer is advising clients or has carriage of a matter and they're not part of your firm, then this is an issue for Lawpro unless you've made a straight up referral out of your firm (in which case, you may consider a referral fee agreement if you're referring out good files). I know this because I've tried to clear this arrangement with Lawpro before and they said no sir.

If you're just looking for someone to do some legwork behind the scenes, then you're looking for a clerk anyway and, honestly, I don't know that I would trust a lawyer who was looking for work like that.

Edit: I guess I should add that this doesn't preclude a co-counsel situation, but it has to be clear to clients that co-counsel is a completely separate lawyer/firm. But this is a position of trust and expertise so you'd normally already know the lawyer.

Edited by Mountebank
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

bamalam
  • Lawyer
5 hours ago, Mountebank said:

I don't know if I understand the question. Do you mean finding lawyers on contract for overflow? If so, that's very difficult. If the lawyer is advising clients or has carriage of a matter and they're not part of your firm, then this is an issue for Lawpro unless you've made a straight up referral out of your firm (in which case, you may consider a referral fee agreement if you're referring out good files). I know this because I've tried to clear this arrangement with Lawpro before and they said no sir.

If you're just looking for someone to do some legwork behind the scenes, then you're looking for a clerk anyway and, honestly, I don't know that I would trust a lawyer who was looking for work like that.

Edit: I guess I should add that this doesn't preclude a co-counsel situation, but it has to be clear to clients that co-counsel is a completely separate lawyer/firm. But this is a position of trust and expertise so you'd normally already know the lawyer.

Yeah, I'd like someone to assist behind the scenes. Stuff that an articling student or junior would do in a corporate/commercial group at a firm. I don't have nearly enough work to hire someone full time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mountebank
  • Lawyer
4 hours ago, bamalam said:

Yeah, I'd like someone to assist behind the scenes. Stuff that an articling student or junior would do in a corporate/commercial group at a firm. I don't have nearly enough work to hire someone full time.

If it's work that a clerk is capable of doing, then there are options out there for remote clerks on a per-file basis. I've done this before for real estate and it's a decent solution if you have some overflow but don't yet want to hire additional staff.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
PhoenixWright
  • Lawyer

Which financial institutions do you use for your trust/general accounts a solo? Is a local Credit Union feasible, or would you stick with a Big 5 bank and try to build a relationship with the local branch manager?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mountebank
  • Lawyer
21 minutes ago, PhoenixWright said:

Which financial institutions do you use for your trust/general accounts a solo? Is a local Credit Union feasible, or would you stick with a Big 5 bank and try to build a relationship with the local branch manager?

Lawyers generally bank with the Big 5. I've thought about the credit union thing, but ultimately I don't think they're set up for business banking, especially with trust accounts, in the same way that the big banks are.

I bank with TD for my general and trust accounts. Your experience with each bank will depend heavily on the local branches, so I can't really recommend any to look at or avoid. Where I am, it seems like TD and BMO are the best for lawyers and RBC has a reputation for being the worst, but I've heard differing accounts from lawyers elsewhere in the province.

All the Big 5 are pretty well lockstep in terms of fees and plans, so it really just comes down to convenience and service. Personally, I prefer TD because it has the best hours of any of the banks (as in, it's actually open 9am-5pm or later every day. Some banks, like Scotia, close at 4pm or 4:30pm on some days during the workweek, which makes no sense to me).

I've had a good experience with TD overall, except that it's clearly the worst bank for wire transfers as they're subject to delay more than any other bank. On sale files, you have to really keep on top of those and I always advise purchasers' solicitors to deliver the balance due on closing by direct deposit unless they can wire in the morning to ensure receipt in time for closing.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

bamalam
  • Lawyer
3 hours ago, PhoenixWright said:

Which financial institutions do you use for your trust/general accounts a solo? Is a local Credit Union feasible, or would you stick with a Big 5 bank and try to build a relationship with the local branch manager?

I'd encourage you to due some due diligence when making this decision, especially if you're in a smaller centre. I launched without much planning and simply went with the bank that gave me my PSLOC. I have regretted that decision on many occasions, but I haven't had the time/energy to change banks.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

PhoenixWright
  • Lawyer
19 hours ago, bamalam said:

I'd encourage you to due some due diligence when making this decision, especially if you're in a smaller centre. I launched without much planning and simply went with the bank that gave me my PSLOC. I have regretted that decision on many occasions, but I haven't had the time/energy to change banks.

What in particular do you regret about your bank? The hours? Branch Staff? Rates/services offered, etc? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

bamalam
  • Lawyer
4 hours ago, PhoenixWright said:

What in particular do you regret about your bank? The hours? Branch Staff? Rates/services offered, etc? 

The branch hours and my advisor's lack of knowledge and/or motivation are the main issues.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By accessing this website, you agree to abide by our Terms of Use. YOU EXPRESSLY ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU WILL NOT CONSTRUE ANY POST ON THIS WEBSITE AS PROVIDING LEGAL ADVICE EVEN IF SUCH POST IS MADE BY A PERSON CLAIMING TO BE A LAWYER. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.