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The Practice Corner: Interview with a Solo Practitioner

by Daniel DeWoskin
Trial Attorney
www.atlantatrial.com

Last month I discussed some of the considerations and challenges involved in establishing a solo law practice right out of law school. This month, I spoke with Douglas Tozzi, an attorney who spent more than seven years working at a firm in Buckhead before starting his own firm, Tozzi Law Group, LLC, in Decatur.

Where did you work before starting your own firm?
I worked for a boutique firm located in Buckhead providing corporate services and commercial litigation/alternative dispute resolution representation involving business and commercial disputes. I started working there in my third year of law school as a law clerk and continued to practice law there for the next seven years.

Are you still engaged in the same areas of law that you worked in at your previous firm?
There were, of course, some areas of the law that I enjoyed and was more successful at than others. I continue to focus on commercial collections for law firm and business clients, in addition to representation of commercial building owners in landlord-tenant matters.

What influenced your decision to make a change after seven years at your previous firm?
I had been contemplating going out on my own for a number of years. I was fortunate in that many of the clients I had been working with wanted to continue working with me at my new firm. This made the transition to a solo practice fairly smooth for me. I elected to forego partnering with other lawyers at the outset to maintain control over the practice. While this may change, going solo has also allowed me to keep my schedule relatively flexible since I have no one to report to but my clients.

Furthermore, my new firm is located closer to my home in Decatur, which allows me to have lunch with my wife occasionally and spend more time with my one-year-old son, so I feel like my professional and home life are now more in synch.

What alternatives, if any, did you consider prior to starting a solo practice?
After speaking with a number of corporate lawyers who raved about how great it was to be in-house, I thought very seriously about taking that route. However, given the fact that I had invested so much time and energy into developing a client base over the years, I felt that it made more sense to go ahead and work for myself. This is what I had wanted to do for a long time, and I had learned the ins and outs of the operation of the firm at which I had been working. I think this knowledge gave me more confidence to go it alone than I otherwise would have had.

Did you experience any difficulties with your employer when leaving your previous firm, such as disputes over clients or continued representation?
Not really. My prior firm took a very professional attitude about this delicate issue, leaving the decision entirely up to the clients.

Was there any resentment between you and your former firm?
No, there was no resentment. While working there, I had the opportunity to travel internationally to meet with foreign clients and to do some really interesting work very early in my career. Since it was a small firm, I was able to obtain a great deal of experience in cases involving complex legal matters within a relatively short period of time. My employment there had been mutually beneficial, but after seven years, it was just time for a change. I appreciate how supportive they were in my decision to start my own practice.

What were your biggest concerns about starting a new solo practice? How did you address these concerns?
Initially, it was very difficult to forego the perceived “security” of a steady paycheck. Other than that, I used to have a paralegal and an associate who assisted me and shouldered some of the workload. For the moment, it’s just me. I have found that there is actually a great deal of support from other lawyers in the solo/small firm community. My experience over the past few months has done a lot to bolster my faith in my profession and the community at large. It seems strange to me, but where I thought my lack of certain resources would detract from my efficiency, it has actually provided more time and opportunity to focus on my clients. I am, of course, no longer required to spend time in meetings dealing with administrative matters and do not miss the law firm environment.

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