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Solo & Small Law Firms

A Valentine’s Post: Business Porn and Putting the Magic Back in Starting a Law Firm

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photoBecause of this blog and a national practice, I travel out of town several times a year for speaking engagements, conferences and hearings.  Rather than feign work on a long cramped bus or plane ride, I generally stay up until 3 am the night before I depart, scrambling to push assignments out the door.  That way, I can relax a little on the road and take a break from the day to day grind.

Often after a productive trip, I’ll indulge in what I’ve come to refer to as business porn – glossy magazines selling the fantasy of the start-up, featuring superstar [role] models like Seth Godin  or tech-start up CEOs.  Read enough of these publications, and after a while, all of the stories on companies and founders run together: tales of missed opportunities, serendipity and caffeine-fueled all-nighters. But despite the cliches, somehow, each of these entrepreneurs and visionaries convey a sense of excitement and wonder and promise that’s captivating. I envy them not for their enormous wealth (though who wouldn’t want some of that?) but rather, because they love what they do so thoroughly that every day is joy-filled; as exhilarating as dancing a jig, Malcolm Gladwell would say.

It’s that spirit that’s often missing from starting a law firm.  So many solo practice blogs focus on the minutia;  billable hours v. flat fee , home versus virtual versus rented space and technology choices and ethically, what not to doMea culpa, Myshingle is guilty of that too (at least, some of the time) because frankly, that’s what many readers want.  But for me, the how-to always comes second to the why and what -or of starting a practice. The laundry list of tasks are merely footnotes to our larger narrative, yet they often overwhelm us so much that they sap the joy out of what we do. I’d rather build my castles in the air first ; it makes the job of building the foundations under them all the more palatable. 

Celebrating the fun of starting a law firm isn’t only – well – fun, it’s important to the continuity of our profession.  There are lost generations of jobless lawyers, from grads to granddads moping around, depressed about the future. For many, the allure of entrepreneurship or non-legal callings are far more appealing than starting a law firm.  In some instances, these lawyers (who after all, are newbies with no experience or lifelong grinders who’ve forever been under someone else’s thumb) just don’t realize that law can be fun and fulfilling; they’d rather do anything but hang out a shingle.  Though the profession won’t suffer when those who never wanted to practice depart, I fear that other grads who really do want to practice law are drawn to other work because it sounds more exciting.  I’m here to shout from the rooftops, that it’s not; that work that’s exciting and fun may be standing here, right under your nose.

Because that there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get from a grateful client or a judge’s praise or snatching a victory in the case that seemed DOA.  There’s nothing quite like that adrenaline that courses through your blood when you’ve got a brief due at 9 am that needs to be filed, and the satisfaction you feel afterwards when you make the deadline.  There’s nothing that compares to satisfaction of knowing that you built something – a law practice – of value to others that didn’t exist but for you and your efforts.

Though some view the legal profession as crumbling, from my perspective, we stand on the edge of enormous possibility. We live in an age where technology and social-media enable and empower us; when dynasty- firms are crashing and burning and new ways of practicing law and expanding access to justice are emerging every day. There there’s no defined path ahead, just a broad canvas of possibility and dozens of stories of innovation and hope and accidental practices waiting to be written with grit and determination as we live the question of where our profession is headed. Uncertain, yes, but still, there’s never been a more magical time to start a law firm or build a law enterprise.

Seth Godin and all the other business visionaries will always thrill me and I’ll always eagerly look forward to our brief flings whenever I’m on the road. But solo practice, hanging a shingle, law firm startup – however you want to brand it or build it – that’s what has my heart.  Maybe this year, it will capture yours too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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