More than half of the 29,000 active, practicing lawyers in Washington choose to practice on their own or in small firms of five or less.1 A core value for those lawyers who choose solo practice is freedom, or independence.
The freedom to do what you want, make your own decisions, set your own billable hours target, take only matters you want, and work only with clients you like; it is a big draw for the majority of solo practitioners.
Going solo also gives many lawyers the freedom from the pressure they experience when they are accountable to their partners. I know of a lawyer who, upon leaving a large firm and going out on his own, said, "I didn't realize that I would no longer be judged by others and not judge others myself." The freedom from no longer judging or being judged was a huge relief.
It's ironic that the freedom or independence that solos gain in many areas is offset by the limited amount of freedom (as in leisure) that results when going solo. Especially in the early years of going out on your own, the amount of leisure or time off is curtailed by the large amount of time required to do all the things necessary to manage and grow your practice.
The sense of satisfaction from practicing as a solo (or in a large firm) comes from being in alignment with your core or important values. Your values are not morals, but rather beliefs that are the foundation of what matters and is important to you.
Don't believe that having more money will make you happy. Money is not a value. It's what money can do for you - give you the ability to be more in alignment with your values, such as freedom, security, pleasure, beauty or adventure.
Living in alignment with your values is inherently fulfilling even though at times it may be difficult. You may experience discomfort in order to live in accordance with your core values; but ultimately you'll feel a sense of integrity or harmony within yourself when you align with your values. When you are not working or living in alignment with your values, you'll have a sense of dissatisfaction or toleration rather than fulfillment.
For example, not being honest with a client about something, because you're afraid they'll fire or not hire you, might have you feeling dissatisfied. To get back into alignment or harmony with yourself, you need to be honest with the client rather than worry about what they will think of the truth.
When you're having a difficult time making a decision about something important, it's often because you are stuck deciding between two important values. Choosing to stay late to get something done for a client might conflict with your desire to get home to your family. Staying late has you in alignment with values such as integrity, professionalism, service or compassion. Going home to your family has you in alignment with values such as freedom, connection to your family, love, fun or comfort.
Both sets of values are compelling. Ranking your values on their level of importance helps you decide which values to be in alignment with. If you rank professionalism higher than fun, you'll find it easier to stay late for the client.
When you are in alignment with your values, things just feel right. It's difficult to work in accordance with your values if you don't know what your core values are.
If you're thinking of joining the ranks of solo practitioners, determine and evaluate your core values to help you make the decision. If you value freedom/independence more than you value the security or comfort that working in a large firm can give, you'll likely feel happier and more satisfied choosing a solo practice.
Irene Leonard has been a professional business coach for lawyers for over 14 years, after practicing law for 18 years. Leonard helps lawyers determine their values and find satisfaction in their law practices. She can be reached at 206-723-9900 or through her website, www.CoachingForChange.com. © 2012 Irene Leonard
1 WSBA April 12, 2012 Demographics Report.