Carolyn Elefant, Sole Practitioner, Washington, DC

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   LAW STAR                                                                                    1. 800.973.1177

                              Carolyn Elefant, Sole Practitioner, Washington,
                              [by Regan Morris]
                              Attorney Carolyn Elefant started her own boutique law firm in 1993. LawCrossing speaks with Ms.
                              Elefant about building a practice and about her popular blog,

When Elefant was a student at Cornell Law          appeal. And it didn’t really look like I was     because they’re so smart,” she said. “But the
School, she said professors often spoke of         going to have the opportunity at the firm I      thing is with law, the smartness only gets
sole practitioners as something to be pitied.      was at because financially, things were not      you so far because you need clients. And you
A sole practitioner for 3 years, Elefant has      going well for them.”                            can be a really smart attorney who makes
built a successful practice focused on energy                                                       partner at your firm; but if you don’t have
regulatory law and an expertise in renewable       When the firm gave her six months’ notice,       the client base, you’re always going to be at
ocean energy. She is also a champion of            she decided to hang her shingle instead          someone else’s mercy.”
small, niche firms and works to raise the          of looking for a new job. One energy client
profile of solo firms.                             moved with her, and her former colleagues        Elefant’s practice is about 70 percent energy
                                                   referred other clients. She picked up a lot of   law, and the rest is a combination of areas,
Too many attorneys, especially women, leave        court-appointed cases during the first few       from civil rights to criminal cases. She says
the legal profession when they have children       years, expanding into different areas of the     going solo is easier if you have a niche like
because they feel pressured to choose              law by trying criminal and civil cases.          energy.
between firm and family, Elefant said.
                                                   She handled an energy case in the Court of       “Become an expert in something, and really
“If you’re unhappy with what you’re doing in       Appeals for the DC Circuit, and soon former      develop a client base, because then you can
the profession, if you’re considering leaving      colleagues were sending her appellate work.      call your own shots,” she said.
the profession, that’s fine; but you should        In addition, she did contract work for other
really see if solo practice might give you         attorneys.                                       She started to help solo
some of the excitement or the freedom or                                                            practitioners network together and to
even the financial opportunities that you          “I had done pro bono work very early in my       offer advice to attorneys starting their own
might be looking for outside of the practice of    career, and I had represented a homeless         practices. She also hopes the website has
law,” she said.                                    man in a dispute with a hotel,” she said. “He    helped advance the choice to become a solo
                                                   had gone in to eat breakfast, and they kicked    practitioner as a smart career move for
Elefant intended to become a writer and            him out. And I wound up getting him a nice       people who want control and freedom and
thought law school would help her craft            settlement. And he went on to move into an       not a last resort. When she first started,
stronger, more logical arguments, which it         apartment, and he got a job at the Better        Elefant says many of her colleagues from big
did. But she also discovered a passion for         Business Bureau.”                                firms presumed she couldn’t find another
moot court, especially appellate arguments.                                                         job. Having her own practice gave Elefant the
                                                   Because of that case, when people called the     flexibility to raise her two daughters and bill
Interested in public service, Elefant joined       Better Business Bureau asking for attorney       hours around their schedules.
the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission           referrals, Elefant’s former client often
after law school. A few years later, she           referred cases to her.                           “Ultimately, in this profession, it’s money
moved to a boutique energy firm in                                                                  that talks. And when you have that, you can
Washington, DC. Like many young attorneys,         Attracting and keeping clients is the most       really do what you want,” she said. “When I
Elefant was frustrated and ambitious.              important aspect of running a solo practice,     read about all these programs trying to help
                                                   she says.                                        women work part time in a firm when they
“I felt that after working for five years, I                                                        have children, the advice is to tiptoe around
hadn’t gotten any experience,” she said. “I’d      “A lot of lawyers are really very smart people   and be very polite; and if the firm says no,
never argued a motion. I’d never handled an        who have gotten by and done very well            just listen to them. But my feeling is if a

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   LAW STAR                                                                                     1. 800.973.1177

woman attorney has a base of clients, she          With oil and gas prices so high, especially in    “Ocean energy is the thing that has kept me
can write her own ticket. They’ll let her do       the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Elefant believes   interested in energy and gotten me into the
what she wants.”                                   interest in renewable energy will increase        renewable area of energy, which is a growing
                                                   and create more opportunities for energy          area now,” she said. “It’s still something
Elefant says it’s never too early to start         attorneys. She is particularly interested in      that’s developing, but it’s very exciting to be
building a client base and urges first-year        technology that generates electricity from        part of this emerging industry. It’s like how
associates to attend bar meetings, write           either ocean waves or currents.                   attorneys working with dot-coms must have
articles for legal publications, and start their                                                     felt.”
own blogs.                                         Elefant believes gas and oil prices will stay
                                                   high in the foreseeable future and predicts
“You can do a lot of things to really get your     North American energy companies will
name known in the legal community,” she            borrow techniques from their European
said. “That is really the advice I have for        counterparts, who have been more actively
anybody in the profession.”                        developing ocean energy.


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Description: Carolyn Elefant is a sole practitioner, Washington, DC. She has started her own boutique law firm 1993. She has built a successful practice focused on energy regulatory law and an expertise in renewable ocean energy.
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