After you leave law school with your law degree, what’s next? Now you get to choose the areas of law you want to work in, and whether you want to join an existing firm or become a solo practitioner.
There are many reasons you might consider going solo. First, the local market in your area might not be large enough to support an entire firm, especially for the legal work you want to do. Another reason you might want to work on your own is if you are returning to your hometown where potential clients already know you personally and wouldn’t necessarily trust an outsider to help them with complex legal matters, such as reviewing mortgage documents for estate planning. Attorneys practicing on their own not only practice law, but they run a business, which means they will need additional staff or outsourced help for accounting, secretarial work, and other important day-to-day tasks so that they can handle the professional legal work on their own.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Practice Areas as a Solo Attorney?
If you plan to become a solo practitioner, you need to consider the following:
- What is most important to you. If you feel the need to work on your own, there is likely some urge that is driving you forward. What is that? What interests you most? Do you prefer an environment that is abundant in high-emotions and a lot of pressure? If so, you might find the personal drama surrounding family law to be best. Instead, if you prefer looking carefully into nuanced documents, real estate law might be your calling.
- Your capacity will vary based on the environment around you. Do your homework when it comes to the area in which you plan to operate. A small town of mostly retirees on a fixed income might be conducive to steady estate planning or real estate work, but it won’t be a good place to open a firm if there is already one established in town.
- Your marketing budget will likely come from your personal budget when you first begin. Take a good look at your finances to see whether you can afford to start a new business without a salary for the next few – possibly even five – years. Take into consideration your budget for the firm, which will directly influence your marketing capacity.
- On that note, how will you market? Is the town one in which you are familiar? Is it one where you will have more success being entirely digital with a website, social media following, and digital QR codes? Or is it one where most people don’t even know how to turn on a phone and need to use the yellow pages to find the phone number for a lawyer.
- The potential client base is going to be limited when you start. This happens to every attorney who goes solo, even those who leave a larger firm to do so.
What Are the Best Practice Areas for Solo Attorneys?
There are many different areas of practice from which to choose when you go solo, but the best area of law for you is something that you are genuinely passionate about – or at least very good at doing! The best option is going to look different for every attorney, and you don’t want to settle for something that you absolutely hate just because you think it will make you money. If you look at the average income across different fields of law, within a successful career, you will likely make within an average of $25,000 annually no matter which area you choose.
#1: Bankruptcy Law
If you like working with numbers and prefer a high-stress environment that requires a lot of personal empathy, bankruptcy law might be a good fit. This is actually an excellent option for solo practitioners because they are often able to give one on one help to their clients from beginning to end. This can start with restructuring, which often allows the lawyer to receive payment as part of the restructuring process. This guarantees regular,long-term income.
#2: Estate Planning Law
Another of the most lucrative solo law practice options is estate planning. This is a field that allows you to help people prepare their assets before their passing. It can be a particularly successful area of law if you are in an area with wealthy residents who are keen to protect their assets or move things around as they have more children. It can also be a lucrative area of law if you live in an area of older people who might be nearing retirement or nearing a transition into a nursing home. It’s at these times that many people consider estate planning.
#3: Employment Law
The best practice areas for solo lawyers depend largely on your area, the demographics therein, and what drives you. However, you might also consider employment law. Employment law is an area that allows you to help clients through the relationship they have with their employers. This often entails representing them in court, but it can also mean helping them evaluate a potential employment contract, negotiate a settlement, or file a discrimination complaint. This is an area that might have a lot of overlap with workers’ compensation claims. If you like negotiating and you are also a certified mediator, an area that has a need for employment lawyers or has a lot of employment problems might prove very successful.
#4: Business and Compliance
Business and compliance is a field in high demand. Here, you would help small businesses with the strategic part of their business, such as helping them plan for increased growth or helping them with legal transactions. It works well for solo practitioners because they, too, are small business owners, and often have personal experience with the areas they are providing help in.
#5: Civil Litigation
Other legal practice areas for solo attorneys that can amount to success include civil litigation. Within civil litigation, you can also choose the segment where you want to work, such as arbitration litigation with big telecommunications companies on behalf of their clients. Suing telecommunications companies in small claims court might serve as your bread and butter in an area that has a lot of dissatisfied clients who were overcharged. Civil litigation is better for people who prefer a busy environment and enjoy arguing. Civil litigation can be very exciting, but it does require you to juggle a lot of cases at once, devoting yourself to court dates, opposing counsel, and court and evidentiary procedures.
#6: Intellectual Property Law
Another successful practice area for solo attorneys is intellectual property. Intellectual property is an area of law that protects your clients and their intellectual property. This Includes working with patents, copyrights, and trademarks, filing with the respective federal offices, and ensuring your client has the right paperwork completed. People with a high scientific or technical background, like an engineering degree, often excel here.
#7: Family Law
Family law involves a lot of work with divorce, adoptions, child custody, and more. This is a great area of law for people who can manage multiple aspects of numerous cases at once, and those who are comfortable going to court, working with the opposing counsel, and can handle the emotional aspect of involvement with children. It is a high stakes and high emotion environment, so it’s important to be prepared.
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#8: Immigration Law
Immigration law does not have the highest income potential of the group, at around $131,000 annually, which places it in the bottom of the pack. However, it does have the morality aspect to it, with an opportunity to help many people in need, especially if you focus on helping clients in an area known for a lot of immigrants and you speak a second or third language. Immigration lawyers fight to keep families together,oppose deportations, and help with visa applications for recently married couples. It does require an ability to read detailed forms and to have empathy for clients. Again, being bilingual will help a great deal in this field.
#9: Personal Injury
Personal injury law is an area where you help people after an accident to navigate their compensation claims. This is a unique area of law in that you typically don’t receive compensation until after a settlement is reached or the trial is won.This means if you don’t settle or win your client’s case, you could end up getting paid absolutely nothing. You have to be able to navigate the emotional, physical, and psychological repercussions of car accidents or workplace injuries. These cases require a lot of work with insurance companies, a lot of back-and-forth, paperwork, negotiations, and potentially time spent in court.
#10: Real Estate Law
Real estate law covers issues such as property sales, mortgage documents, tenant disputes, landlord disputes, title issues, and purchase transactions. If you are a detail-oriented person and you like making sure that all documents are perfect at all times, this is going to be a great practice area for you. It is something that requires a lot more transactional legal work as opposed to high-stakes or high emotion battles in court.
#11: Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice attorneys handle medical malpractice lawsuits. This is an area of personal injury law, but it has some nuances and can be your main focus. This is particularly advantageous in an area that has a lot of large industrial plants, an area where employment law and medical malpractice might overlap.
How much do solo attorneys make?
This depends entirely on your ability to find work in the area, but on average, medical malpractice attorneys are currently at the top of the list. The average income for solo attorneys is about $200,000 once the practice is successful and established. Medical malpractice lawyers currently make an average of $267,000 per year, making it one of the best options for income potential.
Personal injury attorneys average $254,000 per year, followed closely by workers’ compensation and employment lawyers at around $226,000 per year. Intellectual property lawyers bring in around $224,000 per year, and business lawyers average $218,000 per year.
Overall, choosing the best practice area for you is a complex process. There is no simple and easy solution, no one-size-fits-all. It is up to you to figure out what you like most, where your skills and strengths lie, and what particular area of practice might help sustain you as a solo practitioner.