What Lawyers Get Wrong When Starting a Law Firm
For many lawyers the thought of hanging their own shingle becomes more than a simple idea or hope during their first year of law school. For these lawyers, the idea of opening their own practice may be glamorous or involve some daydream of being well liked and respected in their community. For others, the idea of practicing law is slightly less delusional.
Regardless, if you ask any lawyer what he or she regrets about hanging their own shingle you will likely get a healthy range of answers. So, to shed some light on how lawyers approached the task of hanging their own shingle, I thought it would be interesting to see what they wished they’d done differently. In this article, we examine what several lawyers say they wish they had done differently.
The lawyers that I spoke to were all asked the same question: “What would you do differently if you could do it all over again?” The following were the most common responses:
After taking some time to review my notes from each of the interviews, I was especially surprised at the number of lawyers who stated that their biggest regret was not starting sooner. In fact, whether the lawyer had worked several long years at a big law firm or whether they hung their shingle right out of law school, almost every lawyer mentioned that they wished that they had started sooner.
There are many lawyers who see small law or solo practice as a viable and successful career option. As such, there doesn’t, in my opinion, appear to be any benefit to waiting to hang your shingle. For many, the decision to delay the launch of their small law firm stems from the desire to find some professional experiences under the tutelage of another lawyer and the hope for financial stability through a steady paycheck.
Unfortunately, seeking a steady paycheck translates into being dependent on that steady paycheck, making it more difficult to hang your own shingle. Moreover, I have never met a solo practitioner who has ever complained about not being able to reach out to other more experienced attorneys when they need assistance with something complicated.
Refusing to Follow Advice
It takes a certain kind of constitution to voluntarily choose to become a solo practitioner. Words like headstrong, willful and unyielding come to mind when I close my eyes and think of the typical solo practitioner. In some situations, and for some people, myself included, these constitutions, along with passion, drive and ego, may make an unfortunate combination.
For many solo practitioners, being able to ask for advice and being able to heed that advice are two mutually exclusive concepts. Many solo practitioners battle with “not being able to listen to feedback from staff or colleagues and refuse to acknowledge any opinion other than their own,” as one lawyer opined.
Selling to Friends and Family
The importance of having positive cashflow after opening your practice is as important as having a positive cashflow after years of practice. After talking to several lawyers, many regret failing to constantly sell or advertise their services to their immediate network of friends and family. After the novelty of having a lawyer in the family wears off, many lawyers fail to or simply forget to harness their best and most loyal client base: friends and family.
While your friends and family are important to your overall networking strategy, too many lawyers fail to see the elegance and importance of having your strongest group of friends and family proselytize in their communities about you and your practice.
Waiting to Advertise
For many lawyers the goal for the first several months, or even years, after they start their practice is to simply survive. While survival mode is certainly a strategy if you were stranded in the Australian outback and surrounded by hungry dingoes, simply surviving is not a successful business strategy for a law firm.
It is surprising how many lawyers open their practices and simply decide that they are not going to market or network their services because of the cost or time investment associated with such activities. The goal for any new law firm should be to spend their time networking and marketing whenever they don’t have money to dedicate to paid advertising strategies.
Negotiating with Clients
It is interesting that many lawyers who are on the cusp of failure and faced with having to close the practice down will offer clients discounts in order to close the deal or secure the business. This mentality and these practices often create unsustainable pricing practices with clients that reverberate throughout the practice.
The practical reality is that many lawyers fail to see that clients don’t need incentives in order to sign a retainer agreement. In fact, offering discounts has the unintended consequences of making the lawyer look desperate and weak.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h