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From Solo Practice to Small Firm and Back Again, Successfully

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 02, 2017 11:57 AM

If you're a solo practitioner, you might envy your colleagues who work with, well, colleagues. After all, working in a firm can mean more resources, more support staff, a larger reputation.

But not everyone finds firm life fulfilling. Take Fabian Lima. Lima left his solo practice for a small law firm in 2013, after seven years on his own. He missed his life as a solo practitioner though, so in 2015 he went back, creating his own one-man firm. So far, it's been a success.

Preferring the Solo Life

Lima, who now practices immigration and criminal law on his own in Philadelphia, was recently featured in a Forbes column as one of "a growing number of solopreneurs who are figuring out how to generate six-figure revenue while navigating the challenges of operating independently." (Side note: Successfully building revenue while maintain independence sounds great. The word "solopreneur" does not.)

Why the switch back to solo? Though Lima had moved into a small firm, not a BigLaw behemoth, he says he still felt part of "a slightly oppressive bureaucracy."

"I had been ruined for firm life by my seven years on my own," he told Forbes contributor Elaine Pofeldt. And he missed the business-side of running a practice, "having to go to the bank and make deposits and pay bills." So he went back.

Keys to Shifting Successfully Between Small Firms and Solo Practice

Don't stress if it takes you awhile to build your business, though, Lima advises. Solos don't earn BigLaw salaries overnight. "You always think attorneys start at six figures," he says, but that's rarely the case -- at least not outside of major firms. That success needs to be built.

One of the keys to Lima's success was a dedicated client base. When he first started his solo practice, he invested heavily in advertising and building his name. But this time around, his clients followed him as he moved between practices, easing the transition.

"Because he had taken the time to develop strong relationships with these clients and gotten to know the challenges in their lives," Pofeldt writes, "many turned to him as they moved ahead with the next steps of their lives." Lima's immigration focus helped, as clients generated repeat business: A green card turns in to a citizenship application turns in to a recommendation to family and friends. And with that comes the freedom to be independent.

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