One of the principal reasons that many lawyers decide against starting a law firm is fear. That’s not surprising, because it’s only natural to fear the unknown. In fact, if a lawyer isn’t even a little bit nervous starting a firm, they may not have thought it through seriously enough.
To be sure, as a lawyer, you may have sound reasons for not starting a law firm. But here are eleven reasons why you shouldn’t let fear be one of them.
I’m afraid that….
I just don’t have the money to start. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to get started. Plenty of lawyers running six and seven figure practices today started with nothing more than a laptop, cellphone, kitchen table and a few hundred dollars in their pocket. And there are also ways to manage expenses like student loans and health insurance to make them manageable starting out.
I’ll be unable to support my family No question that starting a firm can place a strain on finances so your family may have to cut back on vacations, meals out and other luxuries or your spouse may need to pitch in more. That’s why it’s important to share your plans and your vision for your firm with your partner to make sure they’re onboard. In the end, you’ll find that most partners enthusiastically step-up because they recognize that investing in your career benefits the entire family in the long run. And by the way, if your spouse balks about the money or constantly questions your ability to succeed, the problem may lie in your relationship, not your budget.
I don’t have the experience or the smarts to practice on my own Keep in mind that the law is always changing and even the most experienced attorneys frequently encounter new issues they’ve never addressed. That’s why it’s called the practice of law. In any event, law isn’t rocket science — so if you’ve graduated law school and passed the bar, that’s all you need to take on clients. That said, if your confidence is still shaky due to poor performance in law school or a prior job, realize that your perceived shortcomings aren’t due so much to lack of aptitude as to teaching methods or a work environment that didn’t suit your strengths. Fortunately, there’s a host of options for mastering substantive skills as a new solo, from an abundance of affordably priced CLEs, bootcamps and pro bono trainings, bar mentorship programs, Facebook groups dedicated to specific practice areas and publicly available resources online like court filings and contracts to use as templates.
Clients will never hire me If you’ve never had the experience of bringing in business, it’s not surprising that you can’t envision anyone wanting to hire you — whether because of lack of experience or physical office space or simply the fact that you’re a new solo. Truth is, those perceived shortcomings matter only to a few elitist lawyers and not to most clients who simply want a lawyer who is prompt and professional, will listen to their problems and help solve them. Moreover, you can’t expect clients to hire you until you’ve actually opened your doors. You’ll find that once your practice is more than theoretical, clients who may have expressed interest in sending you business will actually do it.
I’ll be tied up with administrative work and won’t be able to practice law Be honest – there’s no job in the world that enables you to practice law 24/7 free of distractions like firm-wide meetings, employee trainings and compulsory social events. As a solo, you no longer have those same obligations. As for the administrivia of running a firm, keep in mind that you don’t have to do it all on your own. Many tasks like invoicing, scheduling, managing documents that once consumed several hours a day can be easily and inexpensively automated starting out. You can also hire help far sooner than you might think thanks to an abundance of inexpensive outsourcing options for online answering services, gig marketplaces, and virtual IP, paralegal and freelance attorney services.
Solo practice doesn’t fit my personality As an extrovert, you may view solo practice as lonely, isolated work while as an introvert, you may worry about constantly pitching your services to strangers. The beauty of solo’ing is that you can build a firm that plays to your strengths. So if you’re a gregarious type, organize mastermind groups to bounce ideas off colleagues or social activities for networking – something other lawyers will appreciate. By contrast, if you’d rather not idly socialize, you could sponsor educational webinars for potential clients or join a bar committee focused on reforming the courts to meet other attorneys who could refer you cases.
I can’t compete with established law firms You may believe that without resources, an office, website, or staff, you’ll never be able to compete for business with well-known firms that dominate the market. But as a firm owner, you should embrace these constraints because they force you to develop creative solutions that will set you apart. One attorney I know was a stay-home dad who couldn’t afford an office space. So branded himself as a house-calls lawyer, visiting clients at their home on evenings and weekends to meet with them about estate planning. Other solos have found break-out success representing groups like young entrepreneurs, black inventors, moms in tech, cyber-bullied teens (to name a few) whose needs are inadequately served if not entirely ignored by traditional law firms.
I’ll be giving up a stable position Really? Making partner at a law firm is a crapshoot at best (with the odds even higher for women and lawyers of color) and although government jobs may be more stable, there’s also no guarantee that the salary will keep pace with skyrocketing housing and college tuition tuition costs. And the recent global pandemic has shown us that certain industries – movies, sports and travel – can be decimated in a matter of weeks. We live in uncertain times, and the only sure bet is the one you make on yourself. Why not control your own destiny rather than leave it in someone else’s hands?
My peers will think that I couldn’t find a “real” job or cut it at biglaw Many lawyers worry that others will assume that they started a firm because they had no other options or lost their job. I thought so too, but over the years, I’ve come to realize that most big-firm lawyers either admire or secretly envy the lawyers who had the gumption to go out on their own. In any event, it doesn’t really matter what elitist lawyers think; “regular” people have more respect for lawyers who own their own firm than those lawyers churning hours at an AmLaw 100 firm that most people have never even heard of.
It’s just not the right time Many lawyers postpone launching a firm until the time is right — maybe after a couple of years at biglaw, or paying off student loan debt or after the next bonus comes through. Truth is, you may never know if it’s the right time to start – but one thing is certain: if you wait too long, you may take on additional financial obligations like a mortgage or children’s college tuition or you or a loved one may fall ill and just like that, the time to start will pass you by.
I’ll fail. With the right planning and determination, you’re likely to succeed…if not right out of the gate, then within two or three years. But even if your practice doesn’t work out, you haven’t failed. You had the guts to take a leap that few lawyers are willing to take and along the way, learned skills that law school never taught you, like setting up a practice management system and finding clients actually willing to pay for your services. Maybe your firm didn’t survive, but so what? The experience you gain and the connections you make will advance you to your next opportunity (which might even include giving solo practice a second try). That doesn’t sound like failure to me.