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Legal Tech: Solo Success and Real-World Insights

Penn Dodson is solo attorney based in New York, NY with AndersonDodson, P.C. She practices employment law with an emphasis on wage-an-hour on behalf of plaintiffs. Our own Loretta Ruppert caught up with Penn for a Google Hangout following her participation on a panel at Legal Tech 2014 titled: Solo Success: Real-World Insights.

A video recording is posted nearby and runs just 17 minutes. We’ve summarized (paraphrased) four questions and four answers below, however it’s important to point out Penn also discussed goal setting and how to find mentors or role models in the video.

How do you start a solo law firm?

Like most things in life there isn’t a magic moment, rather at some point you just take the leap and go for it. Gaining experience working in different firms and different locations provides an opportunity to learn how to effectively run a firm and what entrepreneurship means in the process.

Getting excited about money can also be like getting excited about copy paper

What career guidance would you offer to women who are attorneys, vis-à-vis inside counsel, established law firms or staring a solo practice?

It’s important to consider first what your definition of success in choosing a career path. If your goals are financial, it’s very sound advice to calculate the number of clients and work you will need to back into that goal. However getting excited about money can also be like getting excited about copy paper: both are important to getting work done. However for some people, the best goals may not be financial, but rather a quality of life or time management objectives.

According to Penn, what was important to her was ensuring quality time with her children – and that was (and is) her measure of success. Take and honest assessment of where you are in life and what you want out of your career; don’t follow a career path just because everyone else has done it that way.

What are the biggest challenges of starting an independent practice?

One of the biggest challenges is just being yourself. It’s easy to feel like there are so many aspects of running a firm you just don’t know going into it, but once you make a decision to start a firm, you find ways to work through the challenges. There are some pragmatic steps that aspiring solo attorneys can take such as developing a detailed business plan.

As an independent attorney and working mother, are there challenges that are unique to women in terms of work-life balance?

This question boils down to: how do I have a firm and have a “life” too? Sometimes work and a life-outside-of-work are presented in questions as if they are diametrically opposing, however having an independent firm may mean those things don’t have to be at such odds. The way that you structure your firm presents opportunities to balance those priorities that you might not otherwise have.

For example the technological advancements mean you don’t have to physically be located in the office which can make a tremendous difference. You can respond to emails in a doctor’s waiting room or you can take a phone call while waiting to pick up the kids from school. That said, you have to set up your firm so that those technology resources are there to be used if that freedom or mobility is important to you.

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Many thanks to Penn for making time and sharing her story with us and the Legal Tech community.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Solo Law: Four Unexpected Challenges Hanging Up a Shingle

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director with the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and currently as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University.


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