10 Key Mindset Shifts You Must Make When Starting a Law Firm

Some say entrepreneurs are born, not made.  I disagree.  Even if you don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in your body, you can start and run your own law firm if you can train yourself to make these ten key mindset shifts.  Here’s goes:

Accountability. Whether at a job or in law school, you had external schedules and deadlines to keep you accountable and moving forward. When you work for yourself, you’re largely on your own. Though your cases may have deadlines, there’s no one to force you to start work at a particular time, to schedule consultation meetings with clients, or to set up a law firm website. So even as you prepare to launch, adopt the habit of setting deadlines and holding yourself accountable.

Networking. At government jobs and large law firms, networking is optional since you can still get by simply by churning hours. As a law firm owner, however, networking is the lifeblood of your practice. If you’re not willing to start meeting other people – whether chatting with a lawyer sitting next to you at a CLE or distributing business cards at a law school alumni event – it’s time to adjust your mindset about networking. As the clock ticks down towards starting your law firm, find a way to get comfortable with this new perspective on networking; it will make all the difference to your revenue stream.

Money. Accustomed to receiving a paycheck twice a month, many new solos have never had the experience of quoting a fee or collecting the money later. And let’s face it, legal costs are expensive and many clients are involuntarily dragged into a matter and never wanted to hire counsel to begin with. So when a client starts haggling about your quoted rates, or claims to be unable to pay because they lost their job or had to pay for car repairs, a bell should ring in your head. Many lawyers are inclined to feel sorry for the clients, or ashamed of their meager experience or guilty about the high cost of legal services, and may agree to write off a bill or to start work without an adequate retainer.  Don’t … repeat, don’t. Even if you believe that you have an obligation to ensure access to law, you won’t be much help to anyone if you can’t afford to keep your doors open. By standing firm, you can generate enough revenue to donate to pro bono organizations or to subsidize the cost of a few low-income clients.

Understanding the value of time. Time is money. And nowhere is that more true than when you start your firm: The hours spent doing low-rent work detract from time that you could spend bringing in more valuable work. That means calling in a baby-sitter or house cleaner occasionally to free you up to go to networking events to bring in business and to minimize any guilt you may have in asking your spouse to constantly pick up the slack on the home-front.  Or you could hire a law student to help you draft blog posts if the task takes you so much time that you can’t finish client work. True, when you’re starting out without much money, it’s tempting to do it all on your own.  But spending cash prudently and strategically even starting out can free you up to earn even more.

Self-Investment – Once money starts flowing in, many lawyers — particularly those with families — are inclined to divert all of it to the household to compensate for early lean months. Trouble is, when you pull all of the money out of your firm, you can’t invest in products or programs that can help accelerate your growth or hire staff so that you can scale.  Though it’s important to pay yourself and support your family, if you don’t invest some of your revenue in building your firm by growing your client base, hiring others and automating processes, you’ll find yourself more akin to an employee or freelance working client to client rather than the owner of a real business and valuable asset.

Ownership. Ownership is transformative.  When you launch your firm, you’re no longer a lowly associate slaving for a partner or an unemployed graduate who needed three tries to pass the bar.  As an owner, you’ve moved from a seat at the kids’ table; your concerns and responsibilities now put you on par with the owner of an AmLaw 100 firm or a founder of a ginormous tech company. And like those owners, you need to set a culture for your firm, take responsibility for your staff because the buck stops with you.  When you start your own firm, you may view yourself as an awfully small fish in a sea of big (and often arrogant) kahunas.  Don’t – own your ownership!

Perfectionism. As lawyers, we’re trained to be perfectionists, whether it’s withholding advice until an issue has been meticulously researched, or subjecting briefs to three levels of proofing before filing them at the court. Yet, the focus on getting every aspect of a case right is time-consuming, and can often lead to delay or adopting a safer path rather than taking risks. Unfortunately, lawyers too often take that mindset to starting a firm. This is a recipe for disaster. For example, that opportunity to meet with a tech company CEO who’s looking for outside counsel may not be around if you postpone until you can take a half-dozen classes on privacy law. Likewise, each month you spend perfecting the font and text on your website is a month that potential clients can’t find you online. As you embark on launching your firm, recognize the truth of that old saying: Done is better than perfect.

Persistence –  As an employee, advising a supervisor that you’ve tried everything will usually suffice to move on.  But as you struggle to find clients, saying that you’ve tried everything doesn’t cut it…because chances are that you haven’t.  For example, some solos complain about lack of clients despite dozens of free consultations…but turns out, that they never bothered to follow up with those clients after the meeting ended. Other solos chat up colleagues at networking events in hopes of referrals, but never bother with the obvious: a phone call letting referrals know that you’re available to take on new clients.  In most cases, it’s very rare for lawyers who’ve truly tried every single thing to fail.  You just need to be persistent.

Experimentation. Trained to follow and apply rules, many lawyers are rigid and seek certainty. You may be inclined to put in place the same systems because “that’s how it’s always been done.”  Or you may be reluctant to accept a certain type of case because you’re not sure that you have enough experience to handle it. Now that you’re considering a practice, it’s time to get comfortable with uncertainty. Go ahead, take that case outside your comfort zone or play around with an automated workflow or a virtual assistant taking calls rather than you. Your firm can’t grow, and you can’t expand your skills, without a willingness to experiment.

Constraints. Many lawyers fear a lack of money, an office, website, or staff, will doom their firm before it gets off the ground. But as a firm owner, you should embrace such constraints because they force you to develop creative solutions that can set you apart.  Many solo lawyers learned that lesson during the pandemic: with quarantines pervasive, they were forced online to serve clients virtually and in the process discovered entire new markets of customers who didn’t want to take time off to visit a lawyer.  What will you discover you can do once you let go of what you can’t?

Leave a Comment