“It’s a steep learning curve.”  You’ll hear this a lot from experienced solos reflecting on the start of their practice – and they’re right.

One way to beat the learning curve is by choosing a practice area that capitalizes on what you know.

Try borrowing a short exercise from performance coach Achim Nowak.  To help identify the types of expertise you value, and how you feel yours compares to that of others, Nowak suggests making two short lists:  “What I Know,” and “What I Don’t Know.”  You can take them in either order; I’m going to take them in reverse.

List What You Don’t Know

When I was starting my practice, this would have been a very easy list to make.  My don’t-know list would have included bookkeeping, marketing, graphic design, most of law practice management, and all things tech, among many others.

Don’t judge, and don’t panic – just write, quickly.  Let the list fill up with topics, tasks and skills about which you can clearly say, “Need some help here.”

List What You Know

So what do you know?   Areas of the law that you feel you can explain to a first-year law student.  Software and technology you’ve mastered.  Life and interpersonal skills.  Nowak’s list includes directing plays, renovating houses, and making friends.  Mine includes bicycling, snowshoeing, and making compost.

Again, go with your gut and don’t judge.  These are areas where if someone needed a hand, you’d raise yours and say, “let me help you, I know that.”

Let Your List Lead You

Congratulations!  You’ve mapped out the areas where you feel you do (and don’t) have expertise.   And your lists should start to clue you in to what kind of expertise you value.   This is not only helpful in building connections and relationships with other people, as Nowak discusses in his book, but also in helping you think about your practice area.

How so?  Because it maps the learning curve.  You’ll want to start your practice in areas that connect with what you know.  And if an area you love falls into “What I Don’t Know,” you’ll need to make a decision:  learn it, leave it, or outsource it?   There’s no right answer—and you can defer the decision until after you’ve started your practice.

Understanding where you feel competent, and concentrating your focus on those areas at the outset, will let you tap into the power of expertise.

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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