Top 5 Things to Think About Before You Go Solo
The barrier to entry in starting your own law firm has never been lower. You do not need a fancy office, tons of staff, or huge legal libraries to launch Your Name Here & Associates. Young attorneys are now realizing they no longer need to be trapped in a job they hate; they can create their own future.
Right now, many are embarking on that courageous journey. Some are doing it because they have the entrepreneurial spirit that nudges them toward the unknown, others realize the goal is more attainable than ever, and some are doing it because social media provides all the tools to roll out a targeted marketing campaign tomorrow.
No matter the reason, you can absolutely find success with your own practice, but before you form a plan, there are some important questions to consider:
It seems like a new law firm is popping up every week. Someone gets let go from their previous one – boom, they’re announcing they are starting their own. Somebody’s bonus is not as high as they hoped – boom, another new law firm is born. Seems like every single week, a lawyer is announcing they’re ready to go solo.
Is it because they believe they will make more money than they do as an employee?
Most likely they won’t, at least not for a while. The first 3-5 years are rough…REALLY rough. If you can get past year 5 and you are still okay with the money, then you are rocking and rolling, but those first few years can be brutal. Most likely, you’re bringing in more at your current job then you will the first few years in running your own law firm. Of course, there are the few lucky ones that hit a big case out of the gates but that’s extremely rare.
Is it because you want more time at home?
It’s true, you will have more flexibility, but you will also work more. You are now, the marketer, lawyer, operator and office manager for your firm. You don’t have enough envelopes? That’s on you. Mail didn’t get out on time? That’s on you. Taxes coming up? Better get everything over to the accountant on time or get hit with penalties.
Think of building your own law firm as a train that runs on coal. You need to keep shoveling coal into the furnace to keep the train moving. To get the train from 0 to 10 mph takes a lot of coal and a lot of shoveling. Eventually, you find some momentum and it may take less shoveling but you can never actually stop, because if you do, you will fall down the mountain.
You must figure out your why, and it can’t be something superficial like “more time, more freedom, more money” because those things most likely won’t manifest. At least not at first. If your why is superficial then you’ll quit the minute your why doesn’t become a reality. If it’s deeper than that – you’ll keep going.
Understand what you want, what makes you happy and if running your own firm can achieve that for you. If it’s just as simple as “I want to give it a shot and see if I can do that” then you absolutely should do it. I would never discourage anyone from starting their own shop; I only want them to do it for the right reasons.
Spend time self-reflecting and understanding your deeper personal wants and desires.
Does this scratch an itch for you? Does this satisfy a certain intellectual curiosity? What is the bigger purpose here?
Remember – if you are successful in running your practice, this will not be a 3–5-year journey. If you are one of the lucky ones, one of the ones that make it, this is a 20-30-40-year journey depending on when you choose to retire. So, figure out why you want to do this for the next 30 years, not why you want to do it next year.
Can you be flexible?
In any business, it’s those that can stick and move that reach the promised land (whatever your definition of the promised land may be).
There’s no playbook on how to run your practice. There are lots of books you can read, but there is no guaranteed path to success. If that existed, everyone would be running a super successful practice.
It is important to read books like The E-Myth, Traction, How to Run a Solo Practice, etc. Those are all good resources, but they are just that — resources. You must take what you like from those resources and leave the rest. There is no master plan to follow. Nowadays, there are lots of people selling “systems” on how to run your practice.
Read this part carefully, if they had a guaranteed “system” that can easily create and maintain a 7-8-9-figure law firm, then they would have a 7-8-9-figure law firm and not be selling the systems.
When you run your business, every huckster is going to make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and that they hold the secret, and they’ll give it to you for the low, low price of $499.00. You can do the math and realize they only need to sell 1000 of these “systems” to make a pretty penny. For the people who do have super successful firms, you’ll rarely find them selling “systems.”
If you run a 7-8-9 figure practice, why would you waste your time trying to sell systems to make a few hundred thousand dollars? What does that do for you if you are bringing in 8 figures a year? Either you don’t run the type of practice you claim, or you may have a ton of top-line revenue but almost no bottom-line profit.
Running your practice is about being proactive and reactive. You must have a plan in place and execute it to the best of your ability, but also be able to react to things as they happen – like staff leaving, HR issues, client problems, or even a pandemic.
Sometimes, you need to move backwards. If you make a decision and it was a bad one, that’s okay, just regroup, and course correct. Let me be clear, it happens to everyone. Any law firm owner who says they’ve never made a bad decision is either lying or just hasn’t been doing it long enough (most likely lying). Before starting your own firm, you need to accept that the path to success and sustainability is jagged, not linear.
Running a law practice, or any business, is taking one step back to take two steps forward. Make sure you can be critical of your own decisions and adjust.
Are you a self-learner?
When you are on your own, there are no company-wide emails advising you of new case laws or new systems or new policies and procedures. You are the one that must find those things and let your firm know.
Finding your community, or your tribe, is a big deal when you are on your own, you need to have a tribe of people that you know can help you when you have questions.
Many times, you will have questions you’re embarrassed to ask, but if you have the right tribe, then you know other members will eventually have their own embarrassing questions to ask. It all evens out. If you are in a group of people who are just trying to show off to each other or act like you all know everything, then you aren’t in a very positive group. It will make it difficult to be successful if all you are trying to do is showcase how brilliant you are and one-up your colleagues, just won’t work. Do a self-audit and a group audit to make sure you are in the right tribe — one that will speak honestly and openly about real issues.
As a firm owner, you will run into issues you’ve never dealt with before, at least monthly if not daily. You need to be able to rely on a group of people who are going through, or already went through, the same things. Make sure you are in a group where you can provide value to the other members. You don’t want any relationship to be a one-way street, that’s not fair to the person who’s providing you counsel. Make sure you share your learnings, your mistakes, and your information so that the whole group can benefit.
There are incredible organizations like CAOC, CAALA, OCTLA etc. that have a community of lawyers who can truly help you reach your goals and answer all your questions. Find the group you trust and force yourself to learn as much as possible.
Attend CLEs, take notes, ask questions, reach out to mentors and find help. If you are scared to ask for help because you are worried people will think you’re dumb, trust me when I tell you it’s the opposite. People will respect you more when you reach out and ask for help. They know that it takes an effort to really make it and nobody does it alone.
Carve out time daily to make sure you can read and teach yourself something new. Being a self-learner is not an easy thing to do but it pays major dividends.
Can you ignore “the noise”?
What is “the noise”?
It’s the cacophony of social media, networking events, marketing, etc. that exists. You can not run a practice, or any business, if you are going to have “shiny object syndrome” and be distracted by the latest marketing gimmick or social media craze.
You must step away from that world and focus on you, your clients, and your business. You need a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly plan, and then you should focus on executing your plan. Of course, that plan may need adjustments, but those tweaks should be based on a deep analysis of why the plan must change, not simply because you saw another attorney post on social media that something was working for them.
Often, you are going to feel like everyone else has it figured out and you just can’t seem to get any traction. Trust me, everyone is figuring it out as they go. That new marketing plan Firm X launched, the one that looks so cool? It may not work, and they are tracking all results to see if it does and if it was worth it.
Accept the universal truth that everyone is learning, all the time. Everyone is figuring it out as they go. You are not the only one.
You must be discerning about letting other people’s behaviors affect you. Focus on you, your goals, your clients, fight the FOMO. There are too many events, too many happy hours, too many CLEs. You can not go to all of them. That is all noise.
Do you have the instinct to be able to determine what is “real” and what is “noise”? You need to quickly learn what is a legitimate use of your time, your brain power, and your money and what is just “noise.” We all have made mistakes in thinking something was real when it was just a mirage, but that’s okay. Over time, you will learn how to determine what is real and what isn’t.
If you focused on going out and having a good time as an employee, you must think differently as a firm owner. Am I just attending this event to have fun (“noise”) or is there a bigger purpose here? You don’t want to be justifying large expenses by claiming it’s all “marketing” or “networking.” Be critical of yourself and understand if you are investing in “noise” or substance.
Can you go all-in?
Starting your own law firm is a big leap of faith. If you have any hesitation, you shouldn’t do it. You must believe 100% that it’s within your reach and you are going to stick with it and figure it out. If you’re going to do this, you need to go all-in. There is no turning back, there is no plan B.
Reid Hoffman famously said, “Running a startup is like jumping off a cliff and trying to build an airplane on the way down.” Starting your own law firm is the same way. You have to jump off the cliff…start building…and keep building.
Every time you get a client, a case settles, or a client pays their invoice, that is a waft of air that pushes you back up, further from the ground.
But you can’t stop building.
Eventually, the plane is finished. You catch the right tailwind and you start thriving.
Good luck and enjoy the flight!