Advice on starting a law firm abounds. All across the web – here, here , here or here, you can find all kinds of tips and suggestions and plans on getting started. Have at it. But for today, let’s focus on a different topic: what NOT to do when you start a law firm.
1. Do NOT Listen to Naysayers: When you first start thinking about starting a law firm, you’ll receive plenty of advice from people who want to talk you out of it. They will tell you that you don’t have enough experience, that you’re too young, that you’ll be ending your career and that you’ll likely struggle or fail. These are the naysayers and you do NOT listen to them under any circumstances. Why? Because they are small-minded and lacking in vision and creativity. Or maybe because they tried to start a firm and failed and don’t want to see anyone else – including you – succeed. Or maybe they just feel like they have to bring you down a notch. Their motives don’t matter. Block them out. They are nothing but white noise. Say nay to those naysayers.
2. Do NOT Wait to Start. There will never be a right time to start your firm. As a new graduate, you’ll be buried in debt, as a parent with children, you may think you have no time and as a parent to older kids, you may have college on the horizon. Waiting won’t make the economics starting a firm any easier; to the contrary, you may find that if you wait, the opportunity is foreclosed. And don’t wait to read yet another blog post or ethics opinion or practice management book. You will always have questions; the trick is to embrace them.
3. Do NOT Think Small. You’ll want to start small of course and not overextend yourself. Repurpose what you have and buy only what you absolutely need – which for some may be office space, for others, a large monitor for productivity and for others, CLE and research tools. But starting small isn’t the same as thinking small. And behind your thrift-shop suits and virtual office space and 5-year old smartphone should be a vision or a purpose so enormous and bold and bright that it can’t be confined by its humble surroundings. When you think big, you won’t stay small for long.
4. Do NOT Lock In. There’s a video for this one!
5. Do NOT Say That You’re “Just a Solo.” I authored a book called Solo by Choice so I have nothing against the term solo. But when you start a firm, you are not just a solo – you are also an owner. A law firm owner. And there’s something transformative about the power of ownership both in how it changes others’ perceptions of us and our own perception of our abilities. When you announce yourself as an owner, you convey an “I’m in charge” kind of confidence that will command respect and attention from those you meet.
6. Do NOT Do What Others Are Doing. Programs like “Start a Six Figure Practice” or “Law Firm In A Box” or “Build a Million Dollar Estate Planning Firm” sound so tempting. Like a sure thing. Just do what someone else did and it’s certain to work for you, right? Not necessarily. Because you may learn that generating those 6 figures may require you to hard-sell $5000 estate plans to folks who’d be better off with the $500 model. Or that you may need to run your practice with such a high degree of efficiency that you lose the human contact and personal element that drew you to want to start a firm. That’s not to say that you can’t learn from experts and others who have succeeded. But there’s ample time for that – and if you do select a program, it ought to be one that can be modified to still suit your goals. But if you’re simply going to copy someone else, why bother?
7. Do NOT Lose Sight of What Matters. When you start a firm, you may succeed wildly or fail miserably. Who knows? Whatever happens, your law practice is, at the end of the day, just another job. It can never matter as much as the people we love . But that’s not all – because there’s another thing that matters too: that somehow, amidst uncertainty and negative feedback and all of the obstacles standing in your way, you nevertheless mustered up the courage to start and to bring something new into the world that would not have existed but for your efforts. And even if it doesn’t work out, you also know that if push comes to shove, you could do it all over again if you had to.