Brought to you by The Nye Law Group:
Maybe you’re a natural born leader. Perhaps you’ve grown tired of office politics. No matter what the reason, every year thousands of attorneys leave the relative comfort of larger firms to strike out on their own. Before you join their number, be aware of the hurdles to starting a new law firm.
Look in the Mirror
That’s right, you may be your biggest obstacle. Are you really willing to work harder? Freed from the demands of partners and the billable-hour hamster wheel, many solo practitioners become lazy. It takes discipline to work for yourself.
There are over 1.3 million lawyers in the United States today – an increase of nearly 30% in the last 20 years. Many are working for themselves out of necessity. The most successful ones are those who truly love running a small firm or being a solo practitioner. While being your own boss sounds great, if you aren’t willing to put in the time and effort you’ll surely fail.
Just because you’re a talented litigator or effluent rainmaker doesn’t mean you have the skill set to run your own show. Are you a natural leader and even more importantly, are you a team builder?
Attract the Best
The old saw about the weakest link applies here. Unless you plan to start a one-man (or one-woman) shop, you’re going to be relying on a small collective of attorneys. Each of them has the drive to set out on their own.
To avoid clashes, consider altering the traditional compensation plans. When one of you brings in a new client, the rest could benefit. Regardless of what strategy you use, stick to it. If a new attorney wants to join your firm but demands a different compensation formula, politely refuse.
The Business of Business
Running your own law firm has more in common with managing a medical practice or even a hair salon than the work you did as a hired attorney. You’ll be in charge of a small business. That means everything from accounts receivables to hiring admin staff.
Yes, much of it can be outsourced to bookkeepers and temp agencies. That doesn’t change the fact that you have to be aware of everything that goes on at your new company.
Unfortunately, there’s a decent chance that you never learned how to manage a business in law school. You’ll be dealing with leases, insurance, utility payments, and a host of other issues you never faced when you were working for someone else.
Desperation Never Looks Good
When there are bills to pay, it’s easy to accept a new client whose needs fall outside of your specialty or area of interest. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for failure. If you let down a client, it’s not going to help your reputation.
It’s Who Knows You
Traditional networking and client development remains invaluable. Still, it’s a mistake to rely on them exclusively for new clients. Work hard to differentiate your brand by using targeted advertising on social media. Consider hiring firms who specialize in marketing for new law firms. Hosting community events like art shows or visiting local centers to answer questions about the law can also help build the business. You should also have your own website and join professional organizations.
Keep in mind that there are drawbacks. For one, if your practice fails, you may not be able to return to a large firm. They are often reluctant to hire attorneys who practiced for themselves, believing their skill sets have atrophied. Still, despite the challenges, many attorneys who have started their own firms consider it the best decision they ever made.