Ramsey County Bar Association

HomeAttorney ReferralBarristerCLEs and EventsFoundationLegal LinksMembershipPlacement ServiceEventsNew LawyersRamsey County Bar Association, E-1401 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Saint Paul MN 55101Email: info@ramseybar.orgPhone: 651 222.0846, Fax: 651 223.8344, Attorney Referral Line: 651 224.1775


Flying Solo
A practical guide to starting a solo practice . . .
Compiled by: Peter Grayson, Sanborn & Grayson, Attorneys at Law

The number one problem with going solo from the start is that you have no idea about the limits of your knowledge: neither what they are nor what they should be (i.e., you don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know what is or isn’t OK not to know.) You are in a constant state of doubt and confusion. This is especially troubling to you because it will be a new experience. You are probably not accustomed to not knowing what you are doing.

The number two problem is the failure to understand the difference between the practice of law and the business of practicing law. A solo right out of school must teach him/herself how to be a lawyer and how to run a business--simultaneously. Each of these is difficult to learn. It will take you at least twice as long to learn each as it would take you to learn either while under the direct tutelage of someone who has a personal interest in teaching you.

I. Absolute Don’t Do’s
• contingency fees and other nightmarish war stories, unless you know exactly what you are doing
• lack of preparation due to lack of client funds

II. Absolute Must Do’s
• retainer agreements and client information (what to expect) letters
• stuff you need to know: collection, evidence, jury instructions, selecting a jury, general courtroom demeanor

III. Renting Space
• cost vs. location
• other services besides space

IV. Equipment Needs
• inter alia, the benefits of an automatic feeder on your copying machine
• computer, phone, FAX, etc

V. What Software?
• timeslips, word processing, bookkeeping, billing, internet, etc.
• how to get the most out of each

VI. What books or references?
• legal research: books, CD Rom, on-line research
• practice guides
• references

VII. The Practice of Law; “Lawyer 101”
• how to serve and file a summons and complaint
• basic laws and motion practice
• “I need you to get me an injunction,” and other “immediate” nightmares
• basic client filing systems
• focus your practice

VIII. The Business of Practicing Law
• getting clients, keeping clients, avoiding problem clients
• returning phone calls
• billing and collecting
• filing system for bills, advertising received (e.g., cell phone deals, computer deals, MCLE, etc.)
• secretaries and other hiring/payroll issues

IX. Creating a small firm or “association”
• inherent problems with all partnerships
• essential matters to consider

X. The Main Problems starting out
• not having money!
• taking the wrong cases
• inability to prepare the cases

XI. Ethics
• malpractice insurance
• conflicts