This article was originally published on the OBA's Sole, Small Firm and General Practice Section site.
When COVID-19 hit, I was only two and a half months away from completing articling. It was the final hurdle in the long arduous process of becoming a lawyer. As law firms struggled to figure out next steps amidst the pandemic, hire-back and opportunities for first year associate positions were sparse.
One day while researching associate positions for new calls I turned to my boyfriend and half-jokingly said, ‘well what if I just opened my own firm?’ He replied, ‘why not?’ Well, I had a few answers for that question. I was a brand-new lawyer, who was I to start a firm? Who would pay me? Where would I find clients? How would I afford running a firm, isn’t that expensive? What about my student debt? What about Bar fees and LAWPRO? Despite all of these daunting fears and questions, I was a brand-new lawyer with no job prospects.
With more time on my hands during lockdown, I figured now was as good a time as ever to look into whether going solo was the best fit for me. I researched and read blog posts, I reached out to solo lawyers, I planned out financials, I joined Facebook groups, lurked #lawtwitter, and joined the OBA. I was absolutely amazed by how many lawyers were sole practitioners. In law school there was such an emphasis on getting a good articling position at a firm or organization, getting hired back and getting on a partner track. I never realized how many people actually go out on their own.
After many pros and cons lists, I decided to take a chance on myself and open Erin O’Rourke Law. I must admit I am blessed to have many talented relatives who helped and supported me throughout this process. My cousin designed my logo, my uncle (who is also my financial advisor) assisted me in mapping out the finances and helped me build my website from scratch. My other cousins and uncle came up with some excellent slogans that I have yet to use (my personal favourite is: Choke on a Fork? Call Erin O’Rourke!).
As I started my firm in the midst of a global pandemic, I intentionally set up my firm to be virtual and paperless. I meet clients over Zoom or over the phone. I got a membership at a local co-workspace and use it as a mailing address. I keep electronic files of everything and shred the rest. Staying virtual and paperless also means I have the flexibility to work wherever I am and on my own schedule.
At every turn I look for cost-effective options to keep my expenses lean and flexible. I am not kidding when I say I tested nearly every legal Customer Relationship Management software to find which was the most effective and efficient for my practice. I had my friend from high school take my headshots for a reduced fee. As I grow, I am slowly adding on services that help me run my practice and streamline the client experience. I found answering the phone could easily throw my day off track, so I invested in a virtual receptionist. I subscribed to a time tracking tool so that I could monitor exactly how I spent my time each day. I made sure to sign up for monthly plans for everything, including Law Society of Ontario fees and LAWPRO fees. While many companies offer discounts for purchasing a year ahead, if this past year has taught me anything it is that we have no idea what the future holds. Having the flexibility to cancel my subscriptions if the phone stops ringing has brought a lot of peace of mind.
I am eternally grateful for all of the lawyers who took the time to chat with me and continue to support me in this journey. While I may not have a built-in support system like I would in a traditional law firm, I have found some absolutely amazing mentors.
Six months later, I am grateful I invested in myself and in my future by embarking on my solo practice so early in my career. I am able to focus my practice on areas of law that I am passionate about. I can structure my day to best suit my schedule and my client’s needs. Naturally, there are some growing pains but overall, I am so glad I took this leap. I was particularly nervous to announce that I was going out on my own to my former classmates and fellow lawyers. However, I have been overwhelmed with words of encouragement. If you are considering starting out solo, I’m always here to chat!