So you've decided to "hang your shingle" (oh, do I hate that phrase). Being a solo practitioner, by definition, is a solitary affair. That seems obvious from the word "solo," but it's solitary in a metaphysical sense, too.
If you're part of a firm, you can bounce ideas off others, take a break to discuss non-legal happenings, and you know that you can always rely on someone else if you have to. Solos don't have any of that, which means they more than anyone else need to get out there and network.
So how do solos network? Here are three suggestions that may work for you:
1. Find Other Solos.
It's obvious, but not as easy as it sounds. Where do you find other solos? Social media is a good place to start, particularly Facebook and LinkedIn. There will most likely be a group for solo practitioners in your area. If not, then congratulations -- you get to start one! There are also practice-area-specific email lists and organizations geared toward, say, estate planning attorneys in Pittsburgh, where they can all ask questions of each other. These organizations may have occasional "trainings" where you can learn practice techniques in your field -- but these events are mostly to meet other lawyers.
A more traditional method of finding other solos is to join the solo practitioners' section of your local bar association. Even if all they do is go out for happy hours twice a month, that's still more interaction with other solo practitioners than you were getting before.
2. Establish a Relationship.
So how do other solos start working together, symbiotically, like in a nature documentary? In the beginning, a lot of the activity involved in solo networking is securing a group of people you can rely on for one-off tasks. These can include research projects and referrals ("Hey, does anyone know a DUI lawyer in Fresno?"), but much more often, solos need other lawyers to make special appearances for them in the event they're busy with something else or on vacation. Appearances are the most basic level of solo assistance, and even if you get paid for it, it's like helping someone move: If you appear for someone else, they're expected to appear for you if you need it later on.
3. Attend Lots of Events.
Go to all the bar association events you can, armed with a pile of business cards. Solos need to build up a Rolodex (remember those?) of people they can trust, and they do it by going to events and finding people worth staying in touch with. Don't go to these events hoping to walk away with a suitcase full of referrals. All you're doing is meeting people. It's kind of like dating or a job interview: if all goes well, maybe you'll see these people again.
- Legal Networking Advice for New Solos (American Bar Association)
- Going Solo? Think About These Things Before You Do (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Fake It 'Til You Make It: Networking for Introverts (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Spend more time practicing and less time advertising. (FindLaw Lawyer Marketing)