Should I Go Solo or Find a Partner When Starting My New Law Firm: 6 Questions You Need to Answer

Woo Hoo! You are considering leaving big law. Searching for meaning in your work. It is the number 1 reason lawyers leave big law. I relate to your quest. The first question I asked: should go solo or find a partner for my new firm? It worried me going it alone might be too much. So, I answered these six questions to arrive at my decision, which was to go solo. And I have not looked back. I still jump out of bed each morning filled with enthusiasm to continue my exciting journey.

Leaping alone may not be for you. Here is a summary of my experiences..

The good, bad and ugly of going solo

You are the boss. How great does it feel? You make all the decisions on your own and can change your mind whenever. Heck, you can even turn your entire business upside down overnight if you want. I know this all too well because I have done it myself. Even better, you don’t need to justify your decisions to anyone. Nor wait for partners meetings to make decisions. The best part for me is no compromise. I am the boss, and it’s exhilarating.

The freedom of being the boss comes with a downside: it’s lonely at the top. You’re responsible for strategy and decisions and accountable for mistakes. And boo hoo, you also rejoice in your successes alone. Even if you have found your network of people to cheer you on (here’s what I wrote about it: Unlock the Secret to Finding Your People When Taking the Leap from Big Law), your cheerleaders are not on the same rollercoaster with you. They do not have their skin in the game.

Going solo can also get tough. It’s all on your shoulders. If you don’t make it happen, it won’t not happen. Turning the lights on in the morning and switching them off and everything between is on you. Even hiring someone to help you requires your time to recruit and train.

And hey, when you finally close a deal you have been pitching for a long time, it would be awesome if someone felt the same excitement about it as you do? Drinking champagne alone is not quite the same as sharing it with a person who earned it with you.

My friend, it’s not all doom and gloom being a solo flyer. It’s my jam. Is it yours?

What things should you consider before you decide to find a partner?

1. Understand your why

The most important question is your WHY. You need to understand your WHY and how it translates into your business? WHY are you leaving big law, and how do you want YOUR life and business to serve you? Quitting big law is a huge decision, so clarity on why you are doing it is paramount. WHY do you want to start a new life, a new business, who you want to serve and how you want to deliver those services? Before you talk to anyone, this must be clear in your mind. Rock solid clear.

Introducing a partner to the party means both should share the same WHY. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the same unhappy (but financially comfortable) place you left behind. A shared why is vital when starting up. An aligned view means the north star guides you and the firm in the right direction.

So have an open discussion about why you’re becoming entrepreneurs. Talk about your personal goals for the long term, and also what your vision for the business is. What do you and your partner want, what are your dreams, what do you fear? Like a marriage, it’s about aligned beliefs, values and a united vision for the future. If you and your partner aren’t in synch, tread with caution. It’s not the end of the world. You may not be partnership material, though you can co-operate in other ways down the track.

But, if you find that a great alignment in your WHY’s, you are halfway there. If you can both commit to the joint direction, it creates a powerful starting point for your partnership

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2. Forget you are a lawyer

We are lawyers, and our impulses tell us to focus on the legal aspects of the partnership structure. You are starting a new life, aligned to your WHY. So, you must be considering a partnership with your new life in mind.

Take your time. Often, we create new partnerships in a blur of excitement.  As lawyers, we discuss how to share ownership, financial contributions and decision making – all the technical aspects. And then we run with it. Or let it run us.

This technical legal part is the final part of the discussion.

There are much deeper considerations here. Do not think about typing a partnership agreement before you have all these answers.

3. Should you go into business with your friends or family?

Starting your new law firm with a friend or a family member can seem tempting. The world is full of examples of successful partnerships built on this model. They also come with their challenges.

The most successful and healthy partnerships rely on the combined strengths and skills of each partner. If your partner is a friend or family, your ability to be objective becomes more difficult. Look beyond friends and family as potential partners. Instead focus on a shared vision of the future, complementary skills, competencies and experience.

Think about the M word: money. Moola changes relationships, whether we like it or not. Imagine a dispute with your friend or family member about money? They can be devastating if you are unable to separate personal from business. Ask yourself if your friendship is worth this risk?

On the other hand, if you can be transparent, conscious and honest, a partner who knows you well and has your back in the tough times – they can be a massive benefit to your business.

4. Do you have a mutual trust?

Do you trust your potential partner? Jumping into a partnership means putting money on the table. The simple act of investing requires trust and a belief you have an open and honest relationship. A relationship where you can openly share without thinking or worrying about your partner’s next move.

Trust is an action, and it builds over time. Your paperwork will protect the technical legal aspects of your partnership. The papers usually sit in the bottom draw of your desk because going into business is about so much more.

I recommend taking your time. Trust takes time, so give it time. Don’t jump into a deep end right away with a new person. You both build trust over time as you start to work together. Start your relationship by co-operating on individual projects. Your colleague can act as your subcontractor or vice versa. You can handle money transactions with mutual invoicing. Once you find your groove, start building a combined brand and offering.

As the trust grows, so will the confidence a partnership demands. And you will be able to make the decision.

5. How to make it equal?

Equity is another cornerstone of a partnership. We know many new businesses fail. Often because partners are arguing over workload, money, ownership and income sharing – ugly stuff. Does everyone get compensated according to their input?

Equal ownership seems the easiest, yet it’s not always the fairest or most sustainable for a new law firm.

In the beginning, everything is new and exciting you don’t want to discuss the elephant in the room. I get it. It seems very natural to split the ownership in half if there are two of you. After all, you have two equally competent, hard-working, brilliant lawyers getting things started.

But picture this: after a while, you find yourself working around the clock growing your business. Meanwhile, your partner may have received a fantastic job offer or decided to downshift her life.

As a result, you are doing the work while your partner is contributing a few hours a week. Day by day, the situation starts to eat your enthusiasm. You start questioning your efforts when you both share an equal slice of the pie. Over time, if things go wrong, you both decide to quit. And how sad would that be, after all, you have done.

Before you do anything, have a big, hairy conversation about how much time you will each work in the business and how much you are willing to invest. Discuss it all: networks, intellectual property, clients and other investors?

Then weigh it all up. Establish the framework for your collaboration based on everything you are each bringing to the table. Make it flexible, so when things change, you can change it.

6. Are you able to have hard conversations?

If trust is the foundation of your partnership, the ability to have difficult conversations with your partner is the key to success. As you start, the learning curve is steep. If either party is steering away from the north star, have the conversation to bring them back.

The last thing you want is a failed partnership. It is almost like a divorce: fueled with emotion about money, co-created products and dividing up clients like children. It can be painful.

So, treat the partnership for what it is, a relationship, starting with a dating phase to a deepening relationship. And do your homework well.

Time and doing things together teach a lot and show you how your collaboration works and what you can achieve together.

The most important promise you can make to your partner is doing your best to build trust and have difficult discussions when it is time.

Whether you decide to fly solo or find a partner, I applaud your decision to be brave and bold and chase your dreams. You can make them happen. Please take your time before heading down the partnership route. It’s almost the same as a marriage. Treat the decision as such. Find the right person, and the world is your oyster. Embrace it and change the world with your new law.

Your turn: what’s your take away from this? Tell me below in the comments or DM me.

Better yet, click on the link and book a discovery call with me to find out how I can help you with starting your new business in law. 

Grab a virtual coffee with me and let’s figure out the next step!

Image of Hannele Korhonen Legal Designer

Who’s writing?

Hi, I’m Hannele. I am an ex-corporate lawyer, legal designer, pioneer in legal tech, serial entrepreneur and blogger.  I am the founder and teacher in Lawyer’s Design School.

I’m here to teach you new skills and mindset of legal design to thrive in the future of law.

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