Starting your own law practice isn’t for the faint of heart. Although it may seem scary to sit in the driver’s seat, it could very well be the best decision of your professional life. Leaving the security of my established career at a big law firm with a hefty salary to start my own practice wasn’t an easy decision, but I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier and more fulfilled. I learn something new every day and am in charge of strategizing my clients’ cases in a way I feel most comfortable without bureaucratic interruptions. Based on my experience so far, here are some tips to help you get started if you’ve been considering going out on your own.
Make time for networking. Networking is not just for those who are looking for a job or for those who have their own business and need to generate leads. Networking is crucial to the professional development of all attorneys. Building a good referral network is one of the most important things you can do as a new solo attorney, especially at the beginning. Make sure everyone knows what you are doing. Ninety percent of my business comes from attorney or existing client referrals.
Have a solid business plan. Your business plan should include a mission statement, market analysis, marketing plan, operational plan, business development, and financial plan and projections. Your business plan will develop over time based on experience. It’s always important to revisit your business plan from time to time to ensure you’re on the right track.
Keep overhead costs low. This is crucial in my opinion. Separate your needs from your wants and keep out-of-pocket expenses to a minimum. Leasing office space seems to be one of the most substantial costs for a new law practice. Signing a long-term lease before collecting your first client fees can seem like a scary thought. An alternative and much less expensive way to have office space without the long term commitment of a lease is considering the prospect of a virtual office. A virtual office can provide phone messaging and routing services, physical mailing address and designated conference space.
Realize that not all money is good. This is a lesson that many new entrepreneurs may struggle with. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking money from anyone who offers it to you. The truth is not all clients are worth it. While this is a learning experience, try your best to avoid clients who consistently have unrealistic expectations, think that you will miraculously solve all of their problems overnight, take up too much of your time, or who you simply dread working with. In the end, it’s just not worth it and that’s OK.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I still haven’t fully embraced this concept. Being an entrepreneur means that you may not have the steady and consistent paycheck that’s common with a nine to five corporate job. Starting and growing a business is all about risk and taking risks requires you to feel really uncomfortable sometimes. Starting out, some months will be great and some months will be downright horrible, but the point of all this, again, is to keep your head up and keep going through it.
Embrace the journey. The first year of solo practice will be tough. You may have minimal clients and the phone might ring on rare occasion, but you need to stay the course. Always remember that it’s about the journey, not the destination, as you will naturally arrive to the latter.
Wait until you feel ready. One mistake that I see prospective entrepreneurs making time and time again is waiting until they feel completely ready to take the leap. It’s likely that you will never feel completely ready. The time is now. As Daniel Handler once wrote, “If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.”
Expect success overnight. Running your own law practice is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you have all of your ducks in a row, enough financial backing, the right team and perfect focus, there will always be unexpected challenges along the way. Your client acquisition rate may be slower than you anticipated or you might have underestimated how much time would be given to a particular case. Whatever the reason, the key is to stay focused and not lose sight of your end goal.
Assume it will be easy. Starting and maintaining your own law practice will be, without a doubt, one of the most difficult tasks of your life. There is nothing easy about leaving your comfortable space to start from scratch. However, all entrepreneurs have been there and the key to success is to keep trying.
Be afraid of making mistakes. Business owners who are afraid of making mistakes become paralyzed and when they do, it stunts the growth for the entire law practice. Mistakes will be made and it is important to embrace them as a learning opportunity because they will likely lead to smoother, more efficient processes in the future. The most important thing is to be able to learn from your mistakes and apply these lessons in the future.
Become complacent. Sooner or later, as a business owner, you will develop a routine and feel more comfortable than you did when first starting out. Don’t let this comfort lead to complacency and contentment. Always strive for more. Feeling comfortable is an entrepreneur’s worst enemy. Shiraz Simonian