Terrifying. Scary. Frightening. Those words describe horror movies, but you’ve probably heard them quite frequently from others in reference to what it feels like to start a law firm. And in part, that’s true. Because starting a firm is scary — particularly when you don’t have a single client, you don’t know whether you’ll make any money, can’t figure out what practice areas you want to handle or you have no idea how to draft a complaint or how to get a motion on the court calendar.
And yet, at the same time, there’s nothing quite like those first few months of getting a law firm off the ground: the heady feeling of building something that doesn’t exist, the thrill you experience the first time you introduce yourself to “your client” and the wild optimism you feel once you take charge of your destiny. I’ve had my own practice fourteen years now so the memory of starting out has dimmed. But a recent meeting with two new shinglers took me back to the excitement of my firm’s early months. Back then, I couldn’t afford legal research services so I shepardized cases manually, I couldn’t get legislation on line so I spent hot afternoons in the bowels of House Office Building Annex 2 to procure copies for clients or I drove around the seedy parts of DC with my criminal clients in their jeeps with shaded windows. Today, I just don’t do that kind of stuff anymore – I can pay for a legal search tool and criminal practice is no longer compatible with my business model or my family situation. I still enjoy my practice and welcome challenges, but sometimes, nothing parallels the excitement of those early days.
Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void says “savor obscurity while it lasts” in this awesome post on how to be creative (as an aside, you should read the whole thing in its lengthy entirety because it can equally well serve as a template for creating a law practice). He writes that
The funny thing is, when you hear the “rock stars” talk about their climb to the top, the part they invariably speak fondest of, is not the part with all the fame, money and parties. It’s the part BEFORE they made it, back when they were living in a basement without electricity and “eating dog food, back when they were doing their breakthrough work. Back when they were young, and inventing a new language to speak to the world with. More importantly, back when they were young, and inventing a new language other people could also speak to the world with…[But] It’s hard to invent a new language when a lot of people are already heavily invested in your work [including yourself].
For those of you thinking about solo practice, embrace the uncertainty. And for those of you struggling through your own salad days, just remember…this is the time of your life!