For attorneys who want to start their own solo practices or
small firms, knowing where to begin is often the first
Attorney Marc L. Breakstone believes a practical place to start
is with this question -- What does success mean to you? That
question is often the way he begins "How to Start and Run a
Successful Solo or Small Firm Practice," a Massachusetts Bar
Association conference he has co-chaired for the past 20 years with
his law partner and MBA Past President David W. White.
Breakstone and White ask attendees to write the answer to that
question on a piece of paper. That answer ultimately helps steer
the new solo or small firm in the right direction based on
work/life balance. The key is to find a practice area that you can
enjoy and have satisfaction working in while still building in time
for what's important to you.
"It's a very personal voyage starting your own firm, and we
really try to emphasize that the practice should be built around
you, rather than you building yourself around the job," said
Another key goal of the conference, which was most recently held
on May 29 in Randolph, is to simply instill in attendees the
confidence to go out and start their own solo or small firms. While
starting a solo practice or small firm may seem daunting and
overwhelming at the outset, this conference provides some practical
and simple steps that can be taken to ease that anxiety.
The conference is just one of several resources the MBA provides
for attorneys who are thinking about starting their own firms. In
addition to free continuing legal education courses for members,
the MBA also offers networking and career building opportunities in
specific practice areas through its sections, committees and social
events. The MBA also works in collaboration with area law schools
to host events and programs geared to law students and recent
"The MBA has made great strides in providing so many resources
now to law schools and law students than it ever has before," said
Beth M. Padellaro, chair of the MBA's Sole Practitioner & Small
Firm Section Council.
Who's going solo?
Designed for recent law school graduates, young lawyers who have
started their own practices and groups of more experienced
attorneys who are leaving firms to start their own small firm, the
conference typically attracts a diverse group of attendees.
"There's always a broad cross-section," said Breakstone.
"Sometimes we have lawyers with 30 years of experience who have
finally decided to go out and do their own thing."
Breakstone and White note that recently the conference has
primarily drawn younger lawyers and recent graduates, a fact they
attribute to a tight job market and the merging of many large law
firms. Given the current job market, employment options for young
lawyers and recent law school graduates can be limited with many
becoming public defenders, assistant district attorneys or serving
in legal roles with nonprofit or service organizations.
"It's difficult to get experience without going into some sort
of a public sector," said Leo M. Spano, vice chair of the MBA's
Sole Practitioner & Small Firm Section Council.
With limited opportunities at larger firms, starting a solo or
small firm practice is another option for young lawyers or recent
graduates to pursue. In addition to resources such as the MBA's
solo and small firm conference, advances in technology have made
starting a solo or small firm less complicated.
New technology and 'virtual lawyering'
In the pre-Internet age, attorneys could market themselves in
person through word of mouth or pay for advertising in the yellow
pages. Today, the Internet is the primary source of finding lawyers
for most people. This technological shift has required most
attorneys to have websites and perhaps a presence on free social
media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The conference
addresses the most recent technologies to market a solo
practitioner or small firm including the use of social media,
options for creating a website and how to appear on search
"We are always evolving the course and no new technology escapes
us as far as we know," said White.
Thanks to the prevalence of technology, launching a simple
website for a solo practice or small firm is now relatively easy,
inexpensive and can be done quickly.
"You can really get up and running for next to nothing today,"
As technology keeps advancing, Breakstone believes there will be
a shift from brick and mortar to "virtual lawyering" with more
lawyers practicing remotely. In the '90s, Breakstone met 100
percent of his clients face to face. Today, he only meets 30
percent of his clients. In most of his smaller, non-complex cases,
most business is handled over email and the phone. He believes the
legal field will continue moving in that direction.
"With all the technology out there, all the office equipment out
there, and the idea that you can really work from your home, the
library or the coffee shop, I think is somewhat appealing," added
Word of mouth still relevant
Even with advances in technology, word of mouth marketing is
still very much a part of starting a solo or small firm. Breakstone
and White urge conference attendees to tell everyone what they do
and that they are available to help. Clients can be found at health
clubs, churches or rotary club meetings. Anyone could realistically
be a potential client.
The conference also addresses the importance of joining bar
associations, registering for referral lists and networking with
other attorneys for cross referrals.
"You really need to be in front of people all the time," said
Networking opportunities are provided at the conference for
attendees to connect with each other. One popular feature of the
conference, known as "the ultimate networking lunch," involves
experienced attorneys in specific practice areas talking with
attendees about the secrets to their success. As a result of these
networking opportunities, law partnerships for small firms have
been formed at past conferences.
By joining the MBA and participating in conferences and other
events, the networking opportunities can be vital, especially when
starting a solo or small firm in the early stages of a legal
"Sometimes the only way to get your face out there is to join an
organization," said Spano.