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Two weeks ago, I bade farewell to a stimulating and secure job with the U.S. Senate to open my own law firm. I liked my job in the Senate and had other career opportunities available to me, but in the end I simply craved autonomy over my life and my practice and had a desire to build a business that I hope one day will provide for my family’s financial security. I’ve been fortunate in my legal career thus far, but have always felt something was missing. After graduating from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1998, I clerked for then-Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and next had a job waiting for me in the D.C. office of O’Melveny & Myers. As an associate at O’Melveny, I focused my practice on employment law and litigation. I routinely was given interesting and challenging legal work and was mentored by several outstanding lawyers. I left O’Melveny for a terrific opportunity in the Office of the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment, where I advised U.S. senators’ offices on their obligations under the federal employment laws and represented them in employment-related litigation. It was stimulating and high-profile work. The resolution of a discrimination complaint against a senator can make or break a senator’s political career, and I loved being in the middle of it. Despite the great work and the mentors I found at O’Melveny and the Senate, I wanted something more. Professionally, I wanted the autonomy to choose my cases, to select my pro bono work, to get involved in bar activities, and to write and speak without concern about the impact on my billable hours requirements. Personally, I had a strong desire to control my schedule. My personality bristled at having to ask someone else for time off to take my son to the doctor or to vacation with my family. I wanted to get involved in community organizations and be able to commit to an event without fear that I’d have to cancel at the last minute because of someone else’s schedule. Financially, I craved the security that comes with being successfully self-employed. I was never comfortable with the lack of security inherent in an at-will employment relationship and, as an employment lawyer, have seen firsthand how the loss of a “secure” job can devastate a family. I wanted to pursue the financial opportunities that come with keeping what I earn and building a profitable business. When I calculated the risks of going out on my own, I recognized that I might fail. I might not drum up enough business to justify what I set out to do. I might not be good at, or enjoy, the business side of the law, which always had been taken care of by someone else. I decided that if I failed, I could always find another job. On the other hand, if I let my fear of failure stop me, I would always live with the “what ifs.” I took the plunge. It has been only two weeks, but I have already learned a few lessons that might be useful to others considering whether to go out on their own. KNOW YOUR MARKET Before I decided to open my own firm, I researched whether there would be a market for my skills and experience. As an employment lawyer, I deal with the multitude of laws and regulations that govern the workplace. Since the employer-employee relationship is one of the most common legal relationships, I knew there was a need for the skills I had developed at O’Melveny and the Senate. The fact that our federal courts are flooded with employment-related cases and that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accepted more than 80,000 charges of discrimination last year confirmed that the need was acute. I also spoke with small and midsize businesses about their employment law needs, and learned that people needed and were willing to pay for quality legal representation, but that large-firm rates were prohibitively expensive for smaller companies. I knew there were potential clients willing to pay reasonable rates for my services. I just had to find them. REACH OUT TO OTHERS I’ve been overwhelmed by how supportive other solo practitioners and small firm attorneys have been. Having lived my legal life to date in a large firm and then in government practice, I realized that I knew little about the nuts and bolts of running a solo practice. I picked up the phone tentatively and started cold-calling successful solo and small firm attorneys. Without exception, everyone I’ve contacted has gone out of his or her way to talk to me, to offer advice, and to direct me to others who might be helpful. My friends at other firms and my former colleagues have been overwhelmingly supportive as well. The nature of the practice of law is that most business comes through referrals, often from other attorneys. Indeed, the majority of my clients so far have come to me at the recommendation of my former colleagues, and I’m hopeful that the trend will continue. My former colleagues and friends at other large firms know that I can competently and efficiently handle a matter too small for them to take, or where a conflict exists, without worrying that I will “steal” other business from them. I also chose my office space with cross-referrals in mind. I am subleasing space from a well-regarded firm that focuses its practice on corporate work and estate planning and administration. It isn’t interested in my business and I am not interested in its, but each firm’s clients will at some point have a need for the services of the other. LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY Solo practitioners and small firms can’t duplicate the support staff at large firms, but we can keep up with the latest technology at a fraction of a large firm’s cost. I automated my case management, time and billing, and accounting systems for less than $1,000, which has allowed me to reduce my dependency on support staff and to pass those savings on to my clients. Similarly, Westlaw and Lexis offer great flat-rate deals to solo practitioners and small firms. I have access to almost every legal research tool I used at O’Melveny and the Senate for about $200 a month, and I can pass my savings on to my clients. Not billing my clients for online legal research is another way I’m able to set myself apart from other firms. BE SELECTIVE WITH CASES The instinct just starting out is to chase every possible client out of a fear that it will be the last one you ever get. I have promised myself, however, to know my realm of competence and not to stray outside of it. I am an employment lawyer, and this is where I focus my marketing. That said, I will take other matters that I know my background and experience will enable me to handle competently and efficiently. For example, I have clients who came to me with small nonemployment civil litigation matters that I accepted gladly. On the other hand, my first potential case arose when I was asked to represent a woman in a land use dispute with Montgomery County. I decided that I could not afford to consume myself learning land use law and, with a pit in my stomach, turned the case down. I just had to have faith that other work would come along. Thankfully, it has. It has been only two weeks, but I have a passion for my new job that I never had even on my best days when I worked for someone else. I work long hours, including nights and weekends. But I am working for myself, my family and our future, and I love every minute of it. Daniel E. Farrington of Bethesda, Md.’s The Farrington Law Firm, LLC, can be e-mailed at [email protected].

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