Sunday 13 September 2009

Guest Post from Mark Anderson: Sole or SOLO

My good friend Susan Singleton is a sole practitioner specialising in IP/IT/competition law and a regular correspondent on the letters page of the Law Society Gazette. Her letter in this week’s Gazette comments on the joys of being a sole practitioner. One of the necessary qualities for sole practitioners that she identifies is being “emotionally robust”, which certainly applies to her.

Other qualities that I would identify are:

1. When you start in (sole) practice, it helps to have a steady client base that will stay with you when you go it alone.
2. You need to develop a “gene pool” of contacts who will recommend you or feed work to you to replace the clients who inevitably move on, retire, have no further need of your services, or find someone else whose services they prefer.
3. Linked to the previous point, you need to develop and maintain a reputation as someone who is good at what they do, and a credible alternative to using a larger firm. How you do this depends on your skill-set and temperament.
4. You definitely need to be someone who does not need the social interaction of a large office and can concentrate on work without external pressure.

There are different models of sole practice. Susan has chosen the extreme route of having no support, other than occasionally asking me to baby-sit her clients whilst she is on her holiday island off Panama. My route, as someone who worked at the same firm (Bristows) as Susan for 5 years, and set up my firm about 6 months after she set up hers, has been slightly different. Although still a sole practitioner, I employ six people.

What do readers think are the key qualities for successful sole practice?


  1. Thanks Mark
    I wondered how Susan managed her incommunicado holidays. Now we know. Having some reliable and trustworthy local associates is one of the key issues for a true SOLO.

  2. ....Although I was emailing from my blackberry from Panama on boat and on the island in our 10 days there - better signal than in this part of Pinner. It's largely removed the issue over where you are physically located. It's litigation that was so busy in August but huge fun. I suspect my clients would not really have noticed any difference whether I were in Pinner or Panama given how good modern telecoms are.

    Anyway I'm breeding lawyers rather than hiring them in the traditional way. 2 down, 3 to go.. although I'm sure it would only be in extremis that my daughters (the trainee and the law student) would want to be part of their mother's firm.

    Lots of people planning to set up on their own do call me. I always say that the principal issue is whetehr they will be able to generate any work. That's the key to the whole thing and for me giving talks for which I am paid helps too. There are still spaces at my 3 hour course this week


  3. A good set of qualities, Mark.

    One you missed out, but clearly demonstrated by your posting, was the willingness to work on a Sunday!

  4. I think it helps if you set up in sole practice because you wanted to, rather than because you had to (e.g. because of redundancy or not being able to find a job!)

    You also need to have the right sort of personality to be able to cope with it. Some people (such as me) are happier being independent, others are happier being employees. Nothing wrong with either, we are all different. However people who fall into the second category are probably best doing something else.