An attorney is thinking about going solo but he’s considering the value of taking partners. He says,
“My friend told me that he has long fought the perception that his firm is too small for many clients who are looking for more horsepower. He recommended partners with one or two other lawyers as a way to combat that perception.”
He wants my take on the subject.
His friend is right–many clients are more comfortable with a bigger firm than a solo. But many clients prefer a solo. And there are plenty of them. Small companies that want a close relationship with a lawyer. Clients who don’t want to (or are unable to) pay higher fees for a bigger firm and all of their associated overhead.
If you are inclined to go solo, target clients who don’t want a big firm. Sell the benefits of working with you and ignore everyone else.
If you want to target bigger companies with bigger budgets and lots of legal work, sure, partner up. It’s a different model, more competitive, but so what? If that’s what you want and you’re prepared to work hard and fight for market share, go for it.
But don’t be too quick to choose.
Smaller companies have a lot of growing to do, and will have a lot of legal work along the way. Big companies usually start out as small ones and if you get in with small companies before they get big you can grow with them. Marketing is easier when you target smaller clients. There’s a shorter time frame, too.
There’s a third choice. You could start out with an office sharing arrangement with other attorneys. You can look bigger and cut costs this way until you decide on a formal partnership or you rule that out.
Speaking of partnerships, have you heard the stories? Or should I say the nightmares? Partners who steal. Partners who don’t do their fair share. Partners who drink. Partners who cost you some of your best employees.
So yeah, there are pros and cons for every business model.
Best thing to do is to have a talk with some solos and some small-firm partners. Ask them what they like and don’t like. Get a sense for what you’re up against before you make a decision.
If you’re still not sure, start out as a solo. You can always ramp up in a year or two if you feel compelled to do so. That’s a lot easier than the hassle of getting out of a bad partnership. It will also give you time to find the right partners if you decide that’s where you want to go.
Whichever way you go, make sure you have a marketing plan