Sunday 1 June 2008

Why are we sole practitioners?

At the recent INTA conference I met a few sole practitioners from other parts of the world, and had a chance to chat to some of the UK sole practitioner contingent that were present at the Meet the Bloggers session organised by Jeremy Phillips. Finding out why people are now in sole practice is really helpful as you can learn from their experience. So, anyone feeling generous, why not write a piece for us about your story? Where are you now, why are you there, and where are you heading?
In the meantime, I chanced upon Charon QC’s The Blawg here who has posted a podcast interview with a well known sole practitioner, Susan Singleton here The podcast is well worth listening to. Susan is firmly committed to sole practice. Certainly her name is very apt for sole practice.
The reason I myself set up alone was the lack of flexible working options when I wanted to return to work after more than 5 years out of the workplace. Having no family living nearby, and after a year or so of unsatisfactory childcare solutions when I worked part time at Reuters after the birth of my first daughter, I decided to just focus on raising my two daughters. Little did I know how difficult it would be to get back into a suitable job.
No employer was offering the flexibility that I needed for my child care responsibilities when I tried to return to work in 1996. Ideally I wanted to work till 3pm, leave to collect the children from school, and then carry on working later in the evening at home once my husband was back from work. But this was not an option. At the time my youngest daughter was still just 3. So, I ended up doing various consultancy jobs, and even worked for a while in a professional support role at Eversheds. Although the job was part time, it was hardly flexible, and I didn't want to be a support lawyer anyway. So, in the end afer a couple of years back in the work place, I gave it all up. It was simply too hard.
In the process I probably became totally unemployable as I no longer had the distinction of being ‘freshly out of an LLM degree course’ once I began to look around again in 2002.
Setting up my own firm seemed the way to use my legal skills while having enough flexibility to be around for my daughters who were by then 10 and 12. But I was completely clueless about what would be involved in running a law firm, and having my own firm has been a massive learning curve. For example, if only someone had warned me not to have a client account! I reckon I now spend more than £5,000 a year complying with the requirements of the Solicitors Client Account Rules.
Reading business books, such as Sahar Hashemi's 'Anyone can do it' have inspired and taught me a lot about running a business. Also important have been some key contacts I’ve made through networking, including through the Solo IP network. Sometimes when I have lacked the knowledge or skills to do a piece of work completely alone, rather than struggle over it, I have involved another specialist, and this has benefited both me, the expert, and the client. If nothing else this group has the potential to help others in the same way.
In the process of developing Azrights I have become employable judging by the one or two offers I have had to enter discussions about joining existing firms. I also suspect that now I would be able to work flexibily too, because firms would realise that working flexibly does not mean I work part time hours - far from it.
However, having now created Azrights, I have loads of ideas for developing the practice further, and am reluctant to give it all up, and give it all over to a larger firm. A large law firm would just restrict my freedom, introduce a layer of politics I am not suited to, and I suspect many of my ideas would be rejected out of hand by the other partners. So, I intend to stay solo for the foreseeable future – although it would be wonderful to meet like minded individuals to join forces with, as I definitely want to grow the practice.
I am hoping that some of the wonderful sole practitioners I met from other countries will be persuaded to join this group and contribute their stories.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Shireen

    I learnt of you when you recently joined the Iranian Lawyers Assoc in London. Welcome on board.

    I too am a sole practitioner and I set up Mansouri & Son Solicitors ( in 2002, initially with my father who is a RFL. However I am a sole principal now as dad has retired.

    My reasons for entering sole practice are slightly different from yours. I practiced previously as a partner in a predominately Legal Aid practice in London. I grew increasingly fed up with the Legal Aid Board and long hours and decided that I was too good for the job. I wanted to provide a personalised and very effective service to client's without answering any more to Legal Aid and in particular without having to tolerate watching my busniess partner waste my hard earned cash on a load of useless employees who were unqualified, unsupervised and un-knowledgeable anything much!! Sounds harsh, well it was. Very harsh and a huge waste of my time too00Ever since setting up on my own I have been 1000% hands on and do not allow a letter or email to go out of the office without first checking it myself. I can honsetly say that I know precisely what is happening on every matter all the time, liaise directly with all my counsel, attend most hearings myself, conduct advocacy and am hand on from start to finish of every matter including a simple divorce. I even designed the website myself without any assistance. I too have suffered paying accountants to look after my clint account until I discovered that the only really effective way of mainatining it and saving money was simply to do it myself. Running a client account is quite simple, if you have the right basics in place and have multiple backup systems including paper based and file based records as well as the good old computerised stuff too. I never knew we could just do away with the client account and live off an office account until a short time ago but I have stuck to the old way of running a client account after dicovering the very adverse effect that office a/c can have on your VAT returns.

    I too was unemployable having spent 7 years as a partner in a firm I was simply not used to being told what to do any longer. I could not and never will work for anyone, so the only option was to go it alone. It has been very tough, but I would never go back.

    Keep in touch

    Cyrus Mansouri