After you leave law school with your law degree, what’s next? Now, you get to choose the best areas of law for solo practice you want to work in and whether you want to join an existing firm or become a solo practitioner.
There are many reasons you might consider going solo. First, the local market in your area might not be large enough to support an entire firm, especially for the legal work you want to do. Another reason you might want to work independently is if you are returning to your hometown, where potential clients already know you personally and wouldn’t necessarily trust an outsider to help them with complex legal matters, such as reviewing mortgage documents for estate planning.
Solo lawyers not only practice law but also run a business, which means they will need additional staff or outsourced help for accounting, secretarial work, and other critical day-to-day tasks so that they can handle the professional legal work on their own.
If you plan to become a solo practitioner, you need to consider the following:
What is most important to you? If you feel the need to work on your own, some urge is likely driving you forward. What is that? What interests you most? Do you prefer an environment with high emotions and a lot of pressure? If so, you might find the personal drama surrounding family law to be best. Instead, if you prefer looking carefully into nuanced documents, real estate law might be your calling.
Your capacity will vary based on the environment around you. Do your homework regarding the area in which you plan to operate. A small town of primary retirees on a fixed income might be conducive to steady estate planning or real estate work, but it won’t be a good place to open a firm if there is already one established in the town.
When you first begin, your marketing budget will likely come from your personal budget. Look at your finances to see whether you can afford to start a new business without a salary for the next few years — possibly even five. Consider your budget for the firm, which will directly influence your marketing capacity.
On that note, how will you market? Is the town one in which you are familiar? Is it one where you will have more success being entirely digital with a website, social media following, and digital QR codes? Or is it one where most people don’t even know how to turn on a phone and need to use the yellow pages to find the phone number for a lawyer?
The potential client base is going to be limited when you start. This happens to every attorney who goes solo, even those who leave a larger firm to do so.
There are many different areas of practice to choose when you go solo, but the best area of law for you is something you are genuinely passionate about — or at least very good at doing.
The best option will look different for every attorney, and you don’t want to settle for something you absolutely hate just because you think it will make you money. If you look at the average income across different fields of law, within a successful career, you will likely make an average of $25,000 annually, no matter which area you choose.
If you like working with numbers and prefer a high-stress environment that requires a lot of personal empathy, bankruptcy law might be a good fit. This is actually an excellent option for solo practitioners because they are often able to give one-on-one help to their clients from beginning to end. This can start with restructuring, which often allows the lawyer to receive payment as part of the restructuring process. This guarantees regular, long-term income.
Also, there is an opinion that the easiest law to practice is estate planning. This field allows you to help people prepare their assets before their passing. It can be a particularly successful area of law if you are in an area with wealthy residents keen to protect their assets or move things around as they have more children.
It can also be a lucrative area of law if you live in an area of older people who might be nearing retirement or nearing a transition into a nursing home. It’s at these times that many people consider estate planning.
The best practice areas for solo attorneys depend largely on your area, demographics, and what drives you. However, you might also consider employment law. Employment law is an area that allows you to help clients through the relationships they have with their employers. This often entails representing them in court, but it can also mean helping them evaluate a potential employment contract, negotiate a settlement, or file a discrimination complaint.
This is an area that might have a lot of overlap with workers’ compensation claims. If you like negotiating and are also a certified mediator, an area that needs employment lawyers or has a lot of employment problems might prove very successful.
Business and compliance are fields in high demand. Here, you would help small businesses with the strategic part of their business, such as helping them plan for increased growth or helping them with legal transactions. It works well for solo practitioners because they, too, are small business owners and often have personal experience with the areas in which they are providing help.
Other legal best solo law practice areas for lawyers that can amount to success include civil litigation. Within civil litigation, you can also choose the segment where you want to work, such as arbitration litigation with big telecommunications companies on behalf of their clients.
Suing telecommunications companies in small claims courts might serve as your bread and butter in an area with many dissatisfied clients who were overcharged.
Civil litigation is better for people who prefer a busy environment and enjoy arguing. Civil litigation can be very exciting, but it requires you to juggle many cases at once, devoting yourself to court dates, opposing counsel, and court and evidentiary procedures.
Another successful practice area for solo attorneys is intellectual property. Intellectual property is an area of law that protects your clients and their intellectual property.
This includes working with patents, copyrights, and trademarks, filing with the respective federal offices, and ensuring your client has the right paperwork completed. Like an engineering degree, people with a high scientific or technical background often excel here.
Family law involves a lot of work with divorce, adoption, child custody, and more. This is an excellent area of law for people who can manage multiple aspects of numerous cases at once and those who are comfortable going to court, working with the opposing counsel, and can handle the emotional aspect of involvement with children. It is a high-stakes and high-emotion environment, so being prepared is essential.
Immigration law does not have the highest income potential of the group, at around $131,000 annually, which places it at the bottom of the pack.
However, it does have a morality aspect, with an opportunity to help many people in need, especially if you focus on helping clients in an area known for many immigrants who speak a second or third language. Immigration lawyers fight to keep families together, oppose deportations, and help with visa applications for recently married couples. It does require an ability to read detailed forms and to have empathy for clients. Again, being bilingual will help a great deal in this field.
Personal injury law is where you help people navigate their compensation claims after an accident. This is a unique area of law in that you typically don’t receive compensation until after a settlement is reached or the trial is won.
You could be paid nothing if you don’t settle or win your client’s case. You must navigate the emotional, physical, and psychological repercussions of car accidents or workplace injuries. These cases require much work with insurance companies, back-and-forth, paperwork, negotiations, and potentially time spent in court.
Real estate law covers property sales, mortgage documents, tenant disputes, landlord disputes, title issues, and purchase transactions. If you are a detail-oriented person and you like making sure that all documents are perfect at all times, this will be a great practice area for you. It is something that requires a lot more transactional legal work as opposed to high-stakes or high-emotion battles in court.
Medical malpractice attorneys handle medical malpractice lawsuits. This is an area of personal injury law, but it has some nuances and can be your main focus. This is particularly advantageous in an area with many large industrial plants, an area where employment law and medical malpractice might overlap.
This depends entirely on your ability to find work in the area, but on average, medical malpractice attorneys are currently at the top of the list. The average income for solo attorneys is about $200,000 once the practice is successful and established. Medical malpractice lawyers currently make an average of $267,000 annually, making it one of the best options for income potential.
Personal injury attorneys average $254,000 annually, followed closely by workers’ compensation and employment lawyers at around $226,000 annually. Intellectual property lawyers bring in around $224,000 annually, and business lawyers average $218,000 annually.
Overall, choosing the best practice area for you is a complex process. There is no simple and easy solution, no one-size-fits-all. It is up to you to determine what you like most, where your skills and strengths lie, and what particular practice area might help sustain you as a solo lawyer.
Inna Chumachenko is the Content Lead at Lawrina. She is responsible for managing all the content found on the blog, guides, and other website pages. Inna has a degree in philology and a vast interest in law. In her role at Lawrina, Inna oversees the content team, establishes collaborations with writers, and curates content from various contributors.