One big decision governs most other decisions in your solo practice.  It doesn’t come up in law school.  I’ve never seen a CLE about it.  Yet it’s almost certain to be a major influence on where you work, what you earn, and how you spend your time.  In fact it’s the question you’ll be asked first and most often:

“So what’s your practice area?”

My law-school response would have been, “Huh?”  Classes aren’t organized by practice area.  Back in the day, firms weren’t always organized into practice groups.  As a student, I had only the dimmest idea of what a “practice area” was – and no idea that different areas might call for different skill sets.  I was going to get a job, people were going to give me work, I was going to do it, and they would pay me.  And in fat times or lean, that’s pretty much how it goes when you start at a firm.

Solo practice is different.  You can hang a shingle anywhere you’re licensed, and can choose (in theory and eventually, in reality) the people you’ll serve, the problems you’ll solve, and the fit between means and ends.   What’s more, you’ll probably want to develop at least one specialty where you have deep expertise – a niche practice – something you enjoy, something clients and referral sources will remember.

When I started designing my practice, I was surprised at how little guidance was out there.  Many excellent resources on starting a solo practice assume you already know your practice area – and perhaps you do.  You may already have worked in an area you like and are good at.  Heck, you may already have a book of business (good for you).  But if not, you’ll need to choose.  You may not have a lot of choice at a firm, but you do in a solo practice.  And let’s face it – your competency and efficiency will increase if you specialize.  An experienced practitioner gave me some good advice:  “Choose your practice area, or it will choose you.”

So, about that choice.  Where to start when you’re just starting out?   In the next few posts I’ll offer some thoughts on finding:

  • Your passion:  what gets you up in the morning
  • Your skills:  what you do (and want to learn to do) well
  • Your fit:  personal preferences that enhance your effectiveness
  • Your market:  the clients and geographical area you want to serve
  • Your mentors:  the people who can guide you
  • Your professional goals:  how to roadmap the next three years

More about these in my next post.

But first, a question for the experienced solos out there:   how did you find your current practice area(s)?

Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments!

By Karin Ciano

Karin Ciano
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Karin Ciano

Attorney at Law at Karin Ciano Law
Karin Ciano is a former federal career clerk in solo practice who likes to meet good people, work on interesting cases, and get back into federal court whenever she can. She practices civil rights and employment law, and she is also a freelance attorney who assists other attorneys with putting their best foot forward in federal cases. She is also the Twin Cities director of Custom Counsel LLC, the freelance legal network, and one of the co-founders of the Minnesota Freelance Attorney Network.
Karin Ciano
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