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The only thing I was sure of as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado was that I did not want to be a lawyer. There were far too many of them. So I majored in finance and became a credit analyst. I decided that I hated finance, so I joined the U.S. Army and became an infantry soldier. I did not want to “be all I could be” for the rest of my life, so I decided to go to seminary at Southern Methodist University and become a minister. After a year in seminary, I had the revelation that my theology was too liberal for the conservative churches and too conservative for the liberal churches. I decided to leave seminary and go to law school at Texas Tech University School of Law. If I couldn’t impact the world through the pulpit, I would change it in the courtroom. My friends teased me that if I could not make it in law, I could always become a TV evangelist and make millions. Well, it has been 10 years and I have yet to heed the call of basic cable. Here’s what I have learned from 10 years as a solo practitioner — the good, the bad, and the ugly. THE PLUSES � I find satisfaction despite long hours. There is a good chance that a lawyer will have to work 50 to 80 hours a week no matter who he or she works for in the legal profession. Those hours do not decline when a lawyer goes to work as a solo. In fact, they just might increase. But the good news is that there is a lot more joy in working for yourself than there is in working for someone else. A solo builds a firm that he or she created. It reflects the solo’s values, and it makes a clear statement about what the solo is about in this world. Solos should take pride in the fact that they are attorneys. But if you are a single solo, like me, and want a date, I suggest you become a part-time volunteer firefighter, then tell the ladies you’re a fireman. � I choose with whom I work. Chemistry between a solo and the office staff is critical. Invest a lot of time in selecting staff. Don’t be afraid to be selective — it’s no fun working eight to 10 hours a day with someone you don’t click with. � I gain an extended family. When this profession becomes like a pressure cooker, having a strong support network is invaluable. Family usually is the first source of support, but why not extend your family? I tell applicants that when they come to work for me, they become family. Then I treat them like family. I have discovered that when I try to help people attain their goals in life, they will help me attain my goals. The result is that I hear laughter coming out of my assistants’ office every day. Every day I look forward to working with my staff. They charge my battery, and in this profession, it’s wise to collect as many battery chargers as possible. � I choose my work. Being a solo practitioner, I can work how I want. For example, I am a big believer in naps and have been known to catch a midday catnap right on the floor in my office. Somehow I don’t think I could do that if I worked for one of the big boys. (Be careful, though. The first time I did this, one of my staff walked into my office and thought I was having a heart attack. She started to do chest compressions. It might be wise to inform your staff just before you take a nap.) � I control my ethical decisions. In the practice of law, there often are ethics lines that cannot be crossed. I like to stay as far away from those lines as possible. Some firms have working environments that pressure lawyers to walk perilously close to that line. I experience no such pressure. � I set my own schedule. If I get a date, which is not often, I can schedule around it. If a friend wants me to babysit, I can be booked solid for the next 10 years. � I take the cases I want. I don’t have to get approval from partners. More importantly, I can decline the case when my gut tells me that a client is trouble. � I choose my areas of practice. For example, I have chosen not to practice family law. There is a practical reason for this choice: Many of my friends have been divorced at least once and usually have some family law issue that needs to be addressed. When a solo takes a friend’s case, he is either working for free or subsidizing the case. I have the perfect defense: I don’t do family law. But I do practice criminal law, and I hope I won’t have to assist any of my friends in that capacity. THE MINUSES � Getting started is perilous. Try not to follow in my footsteps. I had no job offers before graduating. I guess it was because I also was not one of the 50 percent of my law school class who claimed to be in the top 10 percent. I looked for work for a year to no avail and finally decided to just hire myself. I started with a borrowed typewriter from my sister and bartered for rent. My first computer was a 286 that ran DOS. I have since donated it to the Smithsonian Institute, which informed me that it is being housed next to the dinosaurs. � I often learn as I go. The cruel thing about law school is that students invest a lot of time and money, but after graduation they do not know how to practice law. It is much easier to learn how to practice law while getting paid and while being supervised by an experienced attorney. Once a lawyer has worked for a firm long enough to develop competence in the field of his choice, he or she is in a much better position to go solo. � Money can be tight. Have a big financial cushion when going solo. The fact is, business may not come in right away, yet a solo will need to eat every day. Get married before going solo if possible. � The hours can be long. I have had three short vacations in 10 years. One was when my best friend from my Army days got married. (He is still waiting to come to my wedding; I told him not to hold his breath.) It takes two things to get married: You need a lot of time to devote to the relationship and a little bit of money to go out. I never have had both at the same time. The surest sign that a solo is getting older is when his best friend’s bride wants to fix him up with her mom. � There is no division of labor. Large firms have accountants to file the taxes, personnel to do the hiring and an IT person in the building when the computer system crashes. New solos probably will wear all of those hats. Get used to making coffee and taking out the trash. � I am the firm. There is no other lawyer to go to court for a solo. Solos may want to give up skiing and bungee jumping. � I can become beholden to my staff. Turnover is a huge productivity killer for solos with small staffs. The best turnover prevention measure is to pay staffers as much as possible and treat them better than anybody else. Plan B is to cry. I hope my staff chooses not to quit because they cannot stand to see a grown man cry. Tim Rusk is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he received a bachelor of science degree in finance. He received his J.D. from Texas Tech University School of Law. The Law Office of Tim Rusk is located in Bedford, Texas.

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