Why Purpose Is More Important Than Planning When Starting a Law Firm

Imagine that you plan to get married. You race over to the bookstore and buy up a half-dozen bridal magazines to look at dresses or tuxedos or outfits for the wedding party. You peruse the wedding websites to identify a couple of cool venues in your area, then hop over to Pinterest or Instagram to salivate over post after post of gorgeous, mouth-watering wedding cakes. Too bad you forgot just one thing: finding the right person to marry to begin with.

While this hypothetical seems far-fetched, in reality, it’s not all that different from how many lawyers go about starting their a firm. Visit any of the blogs of the “start a law firm genre” and you’ll find endless discussion of the pros and cons of using the cloud or renting space versus working from home or what to name the firm. But there’s little discussion about the kinds of clients that you’ll choose to serve, or even broader than that, why you want to start a firm to begin with and what kind of mark you want to leave on the world when you close it down.

Some lawyers starting firms have a grand vision in mind from the get-go — and quite honestly, for all the focus on the need for business plans and six-months’ worth of savings — in my experience, the big picture lawyers are the ones most likely to succeed. They’re both obsessed with their mission and proud of being business owners so they focus on the task at hand like a dog with a bone. They almost can’t lose. By contrast, lawyers who think small focus on details rather than the possibility.

In Viktor Frankel‘s extraordinary book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankel describes a particularly awful day when he and his work group were forced to march in tattered rags through the snow to a worksite. Suddenly, Frankel envisioned himself standing in a warm classroom lecturing about logotherapy to a group of interested students. That vision distracted him from his grim surroundings and made them surmountable. Frankel would later observe that many of those who survived the camps likewise had similar purpose to live for – maybe a beloved spouse or children or an exciting research project – to drive them forward in the face of pain and despair.

So instead of focusing on the minutia of running a law practice –  tech and automation and systems –  lawyers should take the time to obsess themselves with a purpose. All the other pieces will fall into place


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