On Your Own: Wait for It?

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In the six years since I started my own law practice, I’ve had a number of friends chat with me about my decision-making process as they weighed their own move. Generally, it’s like anything else – there is no perfect time. New Year’s may be a good time to start a diet, but it doesn’t take long before those pesky Girl Scouts start peddling their wares or Cadbury mini eggs sing their siren song. You have a say in making the timing right through preparation and swallowing fear.

First, take care of your money. Don’t “golden handcuff” yourself. Denny Crane once said something to the effect of, “keep a small nut, that’s the secret to life.” And it’s true. If you’re making a strong income and effectively living paycheck to paycheck, you’re right where somebody wants you. You’re making that money because you’re valuable. Often, we in turn spend that money either to feel good, impress, or sometimes just out of sheer boredom. That often results in either being forced to stay at a job that is unsatisfying or limits your ability to search for other employment.

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Second, examine whether you can prepare for the worst but deliver your best. For me to jump in, I needed to give myself at least 12 – 18 months of a lower income, yet still believe I would have the resources necessary to delivery my best legal work. If you have a good foundation, you hopefully never approach your worst cases scenarios for income. However, your planning to survive doomsday scenarios is what allows you not to fold when you face some adversity – and you will.

Third, listen to people you trust. There are a handful of people where I have been adamant that they must leave and start their own practices. That isn’t my advice for everyone. Starting your own legal practice is not for everyone. Each person’s situation is unique with respect to reputation, experience, marketability, personality, and practice area. For example, a criminal defense attorney with a great reputation often needs very little to start up. Tech savvy criminal defense attorneys initially need little-to-no staff, minimal office space, and their clients typically pay flat fees up front. Other practice areas are staff and cost heavy, and will require more immediate revenue streams.

Finally, while there is no perfect time, there is “too late.” Some of this is often driven by practice area, as some practices provide earlier opportunities for advancement and independence. While comparative baseball is often not the best metric, I generally recommend looking at the attorneys who are today where you want to be, and study where they were at your age.

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