I recently came across the story of a new solo from Washington who started his law practice. He was doing well for about 6-months (and by well, I mean he had one paying client a month) and then all business just stopped. For the past several months he was netting about $350-$500 per month. There was no way he was going to survive. He started to get desperate and took on cases even though his full retainer wasn’t paid. He resorted to taking cases in areas he didn’t want to practice then. He worked from home and then one day, the unthinkable happened. Unbeknownst to him, his roommate missed a rent payment and his landlord illegally locked them out. he was suddenly homeless. He didn’t have his computer, client files, clothes or anything – just the clothes on his back. He sent an email out to a listserv sounding desperate and maybe suicidal. He was definitely at the end of his rope.
Should he quit as a solo? I think so. And there’s no shame in that. He probably didn’t have the advantage of starting out his solo practice with a nest egg or help with family. As a fellow SOSer, Jonas Jacobson said, “Money provides the lubrication to make mistakes.” When you don’t have money, you have no wiggle room for mistakes.
Growing up in school, we were processed through this assembly line of education where we sit, learn and take tests. If we failed a test, it was a bad thing and we were shamed. If we got an A, we were praised and everyone assumed we were smart. School however doesn’t teach us the necessary life skills such as learning from failure; coping with failure; picking ourselves up when we fall; and the value of failing. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Afterall, if we succeeded, why change or learn. Then as adults, when we fail, many of us never learned to cope and failures, like death and taxes, are inevitable and like interest rates, are only compounded as we get older.
My advice to the attorney in Washington would be to quit solo practice (at least for now) and do something else. Try to get a legal job. If that’s not possible, get a non-legal job. If you can’t get a full-time non-legal job in this economy, then get a part-time job. Get several part-time jobs. The important thing is to stay alive, learn from your failures, and live to fight another day.