You’ve spent some time finding your passion and thinking about your market.  By now, you may have a short list of practice areas connecting your law practice to your life outside the law.  It’s time to take the next step:  talk to your mentor(s).

Don’t have a mentor?  Let’s fix that, because you’re going to need one (in fact, more than one).   Solos need mentors for all kinds of reasons:

  • Help learning new subject matter
  • Orientation to the professional community
  • Role modeling

Finding someone who knows the law

Chat with your former boss or co-workers, or contact your professors.   If you’ve chosen a field such as tax or estate planning where practicing lawyers form study groups—join one.  If none of the above apply, you’ll likely be coming up to speed by reading books and attending CLEs; both are great opportunities to connect with subject-matter experts.  It can be as simple as approaching a presenter on a break and asking if you might keep in touch.   Contacting a subject-matter expert is a bit like taking a final exam – best done when you’re rested, sober, and thoroughly prepared – except you get to choose the time and place, and you get to ask the questions.  Be respectful, be brief, and above all, be sure you’ve done your homework.   Subject-matter experts can help you assess the health of a potential practice area.  Growing or shrinking?  Saturated or open to new niches?  What do they love about the field, and where do they see it going in the next ten years?

Finding someone who knows how we do it here

Bar associations, committees, listservs are great ways to connect with experienced lawyers as well as those who are only a few years ahead of you; both can be excellent resources as you start a solo practice.  Reach out to them; buy lunch; ask them what it’s like to practice in their field; and listen to what they say.  Experienced solos in a variety of fields can help you compare practice areas:  where do they spend their time and money?  How do they market?  What attitudes and skills are needed to succeed their field?

Finding a role model

As you meet subject-matter experts and experienced solos, you’ll find people whose practice you admire.  This is where you want to be in ten years (or twenty).  As Justice Sotomayor recently observed in her wonderful memoir, “There are very few people in the world whom you can’t learn something from, but even rarer are those souls who can reveal whole worlds to you if you observe them carefully.”   So observe: watch them in court, read what they write, and learn about their practice.  If you have the chance, offer to help.  With luck, they may invite you to get to know them better.  A role model can help you understand how to translate subject matter that you love into a rewarding practice.

Experienced solos:  have you ever mentored someone starting a practice in your field?  What advice did you give them?

By Karin Ciano