Solo Out Of Law School
A “How Can” Guide to Starting a Law Firm
as a New Attorney
Copyright © 2016 by Virtualis LLC
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.
First Printing: 2016
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To my beautiful wife, Emilie and my friends, family and lifelong supporters.
Thank you. Your support and patience allows me to achieve my dreams.
Michael F. Brennan i
Part 1: Plan the Attack 18
Tune Out the Negative Speak 19
Turn Downsides Upside Down 22
Be Reasonable 26
Have a Plan B 30
Find Your Story 33
Get Your Head Right 36
The “F Word” 40
Part 2: Get Started 43
Define Your Perfect Client 44
Forget the Bells and Whistles 48
Build a Board of Directors 51
Learn Everything You Can About Sales 54
Pick Up Where the Last Guy Left Off 58
It’s All About Baby Steps 61
Forget About Being a Lawyer 64
Part 3: Define Your Voice 66
Be Disruptive 67
Build a Brand 69
Develop an Angle 73
Have Something to Say 76
Get Personal 79
Part 4: Processing Processes 82
Run a Business, Not a Law Firm 83
Embrace technology 86
Streamline Everything 89
Master Basic Accounting Skills 92
Define Your “Measurables” 94
Part 5: Make it a Lifestyle 98
Screw Social Norms 99
Redefine “The Job” 102
Show Up to Work 105
Always Start Something 110
Always Learn 113
Part 6: Selling Yourself 116
Get Out There 117
[* You May Be a Small Fish, but It’s a Small Pond 120*]
Be Picky 124
Target Passionate People 127
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail 131
Know Your Place 137
Embrace the Competition 140
Part 7: Weathering the Storms 146
Lean on Family 147
Find a Release 150
You Are Your Worst Enemy 153
It’s OK Not Knowing 156
You’re Going to Be Wrong 159
You’re Also Going to Be Right 162
Part 8: Define Success 165
Focus on Process Not Outcomes 170
Reclassify Compensation 173
Enjoy the Journey 176
About the Author 178
Notes and References 179
First are foremost, I would like to thank my wife, Emilie for her years of dealing with my wild ideas. Em, your constant encouragement and never-wavering support has been the main reason that I’ve been able to live the life of my dreams. Starting a practice without you standing next to me would be utterly impossible. From day one, you have been my biggest cheerleader. You’ve been the voice of reason whenever things have gotten tough. Your eternal optimism has fueled me throughout this entire journey. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate in life.
Thanks to my parents, Al and Cindy. You two have stood by me no matter where life has taken me. Whether it’s been talking some sense into me during a middle-of-the-night phone call or a simple, “I’m proud of you,” your love and support has given me the courage to make my life what I want to be.
To my siblings, Jane, Pat, Mary, and Joe, thanks for always supporting me. I know I’m not the most agreeable brother at times, but I’ve always been able to count on your encouragement.
Thanks to all my friends and legal colleagues. Your encouragement and support have always fueled my desire to become a better attorney.
Law school may teach you how to be a lawyer, but it falls painfully short when it comes to teaching the business of law. There are plenty of great books out there about the logistics of actually opening up a law firm, and I’d encourage you to check a few of them out because they can be tremendous resources as you launch your new practice.
But, let’s get one thing cleared up off the bat: this is not one of those books.
This is not a “how-to” book about starting a law firm. It doesn’t have any checklists or product reviews. It won’t give you step-by-step instructions on how to hang out your shingle. If that’s what you’re looking for, then this book isn’t for you.
I set out to write this book to present a different perspective on how to navigate the journey of starting a law firm. With a little searching, you can find plenty of information on trust accounts and how to conduct a client interview. Lists of the top ten ways to market your firm are more common than delays at airport security checkpoints. But for me, one thing was always impossible to find. That was lawyers willing to speak openly about the psychological challenges that come with hanging out a shingle.
It’s not easy to take a subjective assessment of yourself in a way that allows you to articulate your fears, hopes, goals, and weaknesses. But, doing so enables you to face them in an objective way. And, to me, that was essential to my growth as a solo attorney.
This book is about principles. It’s about mindset, motivation and viewing your work as a lawyer as something for which you can be proud.
It’s not a “how to” guide to starting a law practice, it’s a “how can” guide to starting a practice. You may not agree with, or even relate to, everything I have to say in these pages, But, by reading about some of the things that I struggled with, it’s my hope that you’ll realize you’re not alone.
You’ll quickly realize that there is no right or wrong way to build your business. It’s simply a matter of doing what works for you. My hope is that, by reading about what worked for me, the cogs in your head will begin to churn and inspire you to find the strength and creativity you need to keep pushing and keep building your firm into exactly what you want it to be.
With enough trial and error, it’s relatively easy to master the logistics of operating a solo practice. Keeping the right mindset when you begin to tackle them is the hard part. This book is about the principles I followed to do it.
2010 generally marks a low point for law school graduates in the United States. Still feeling the effects of the Great Recession and faced with a record number of new grads, law firms and corporate legal departments simply were not in a position to satisfy the plethora newly minted attorneys looking to begin their legal careers. In fact, beginning in 2007—generally considered the beginning of the Great Recession—the employment rate for new law graduates saw a decline from previously promising employment statistics. That decline continued for six straight years.^^1^^ According to the National Association for Law Placement between 2007 and 2015, the employment rate for new law graduates decreased a total of 7.4 % from its high point of 91.9% in 2007. ^^2^^
During the same period, at least two other major developments led to a change in the way recent law graduates and current students viewed the viability of beginning a solo practice. Developments in legal technology rapidly advanced while a fundamental shift from a seller’s market—where firms were able to dictate the strategies and methods from delivery of legal services—to a buyer’s market in which consumers were able to demand more custom-tailored legal solutions began to take shape. Technology made starting a new law practice with limited capital easier than ever before while the shift in legal service consumer mentalities created opportunities for client acquisition. Not only did starting a law practice become more conceivable for newly-minted JDs, it became a realistic and reasonable career move given market conditions.
Until recently, small firms were constrained in their operations by the limitations of legal technology solutions available in the market. But, changes in the way data is stored and accessed have dramatically expanded the array of practice management tools available to legal practitioners. Increases in cloud security and storage availability coupled with the relatively new convenience of being able to access the internet from anywhere with a cellular connection, through tablets and smartphones, have created a world where attorneys can forego some costs which previously were essential to operating a law firm.
Gone are the days when a physical office space and physical data servers were prerequisites to hanging out a shingle. Now, a new solo attorney can begin to grow a practice without much more than a smartphone, email, and a Dropbox account.
Technology has not only made it easier for lawyers to operate, but it has also had a profound effect on the way consumers of legal services assess their needs and primary objectives when retaining legal counsel.
Increased competition in the legal industry—from disruptive companies like UpCounsel, Avvo, and Shake—coupled with more accessible small firms has led consumers to demand responsiveness to their unique needs. Flexible billing structures, non-traditional representation models, and increased scalability have created a marketplace where consumers know what they want. This new marketplace has space for new players willing to tailor their marketing and representation models to highlight those desired value-adds.^^3^^
Quite simply, that reality has created a space in which new solos and small firms have an opportunity to carve out a share of the market—one previously dominated by larger firms.
It should come as no surprise then, that this new reality has led masses of recent law graduates, as well as current students, to consider solo practice as a viable career option. In the NALP's 2014 survey of 2013 law graduates, a very respectful 4.7% of new graduates reported being employed in a solo practice, though that number marks a far cry from the 5.7% of newly-minted attorneys practicing solo in 2010. However, it’s noteworthy that the 2010 number was the highest it has been since 1997.
Even in a relatively ideal market for new competition to emerge in an already crowded legal services industry, for new attorneys brave enough to take the plunge, there is no shortage of challenges.
Perhaps most challenging amongst them is the ability to master the psychological challenges that are inherent in operating a law practice. Mental toughness and endurance are imperative to the sustained success of any solo practitioner. This book aims to give one young lawyer’s perspective on how to keep your head in the game and give yourself a chance to make it.
“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien
If you’re reading this book, then you are probably thinking about starting a law firm. Congratulations on even getting to this point of consideration! That alone is a huge step towards the metaphoric ledge from which you are thinking about inevitably leaping.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right from the beginning: There is never a good time to start a law firm. Life has a funny way of creating all sorts of excuses that make it easy for us continually to put things off until the very inspiration we had to start something new—perhaps even revolutionary—fizzles away like a teapot losing steam.
It’s human nature to doubt ourselves, our skills, and our abilities to succeed. For you, that could be a fear of not being able to support your two young children, or maybe it’s a worry that your friends will look at your decision to strike out on your own as an indication that you were not “good enough” to get one of those plush Big Law jobs.
Here’s what you need to remember: If everyone thought that going to law school, spending tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars on education, and spending countless hours with your head buried in books and outlines just to say “no thanks” to becoming a big-shot lawyer sounded smart, they would be doing it. If everyone thought what you are about to consider doing was an excellent idea, then they would be doing it themselves.
People are going to doubt you. People are going to critique your decision to open up your own shop, and they are going to let you know about it. To be honest, one of those doubters from time to time is going to be you.
A harsh reality? Yes. One that you can weather? Absolutely. Being in business for yourself means that you are going to need to have incredibly thick skin. You’re going to need to let things roll off your back, because at the end of the day, no one’s views matter except for yours. People are going to judge you regardless of what you do, so it’s best to accept that and forget about it.
You are no doubt reading this book for a reason. Whether you’re passionate about a growing niche area of law, you think that billing 2200 hours a year at a large firm sounds like the easiest way to drive yourself to an early grave, or you just can’t find work anywhere else, you’ve no doubt had at least a passing thought that starting your own firm may be your best chance at happiness and prosperity. You may have ideas on how to make the law more accessible to clients or more responsive to industry needs. You probably want to do things cheaper, faster, or more efficient than the established law firms that are already out there.
If everyone shared that same belief, they would be doing it too.
If you can’t convince yourself that your reasons for wanting to start a law firm are valid, then you have set yourself up for failure before even getting started.
So, forget what other people think and stop worrying about what they may be saying. Most importantly, turn off that little voice in your head telling you that you can’t do it and that you’re going to fail. If you can’t have confidence in yourself, you are destined to fail. You might as well realize that now because you are going to be your biggest cheerleader for the foreseeable future, so get on your good side now before things get tougher.
Think about why you want to start a law firm in the first place. Whether it’s the freedom to work with the clients you want or the ability to make it to all of your daughter’s soccer games, put that thought in the front of your mind and keep it there. Positive inspiration becomes your best friend when the road gets bumpy.
There are endless reasons not to start a law firm. Think about it.
After all, you have no experience, no paying clients, stiff competition from alternative legal service providers with massive marketing budgets and worst of all, a very real fear that people may actually know that you feel like you don’t have the slightest clue what you are doing.
Most people would be hard-pressed to name another profession where an otherwise bright individual (you did make it through law school, sit for and pass the bar exam, after all) would look at the current state of his or her industry, see the bleak outlook, and move forward anyways.
So how are you going to use those challenges to your benefit?
As an attorney, you have acquired the ability to think about practically anything from multiple perspectives. In the field of law, two sides can look at the same set of accepted facts and draw two entirely different conclusions based on perspective. I’m a big fan of the television show, Dateline. Dateline has become mostly an investigative and true crime show typically showcasing hour long real life murder mysteries. One of the most frequent themes seen during an episode is police officers confronting a suspected killer (usually an ex-lover or spouse) with news that their loved one has been murdered. Often, the reaction by the unsuspecting interviewee is central to the question of guilt at a subsequent trial. Prosecutors and police very often point to subdued reactions as an indicator of guilt, the logic being that anyone who finds out that someone they care about has been killed will react in an outburst of forlorn emotion. Of course, those that react with such raucousness are also pinned as murders who must just be “putting on an act.” Meanwhile, the defense views such reactions very differently. Perhaps the lover was so overcome with shock that the surreal news produced no emotional response. Or, naturally, for those that do react with an outburst of tears and desperate screams are reacting as one should react to hearing such life-altering news.
The point is that the undeniable facts of the situation can be interpreted in two entirely different ways depending on the lens through which they are viewed. As an attorney, you can probably see both sides of that coin. After all, it’s your job to take the facts of any situation and use them to your client’s advantage.
The ability to take that skill and apply it to building your business is going to be essential to your success. Just like a good prosecutor or defense attorney faced with a client’s taped reaction in a murder investigation, you need to take the facts of your situation—whether real or perceived—and make them work to your benefit.
For example, maybe you’re afraid that a potential client, when facing a choice between you—a newly minted attorney without much more than some mock trial experience and a summer internship at the District Attorney’s office under your belt—and Joe Lawyer—who has practiced civil litigation for 25 years and successfully negotiated dozens of cases to six and seven-figure settlements—would never realistically chose you over him. But, that lack of experience does not have to be a negative. Instead, maybe it can mean that, unlike Mr. Lawyer, you have no preconceived notions of what the process should be. A settlement may not be in your client’s best interests. Mr. Lawyer may know that he can take a quick paycheck by getting out early because he has handled a similar case before. To him, it’s an open and close case.
Meanwhile, because of your lack of experience handling that type of case, you know that you are going to have to spend countless hours poring over statutes and case law to build a working knowledge of the issues involved. During your research, say that you find a rarely seen exception to the law that means your client will easily win on the merits if the case goes to trial, meaning a much higher payout for both you and your client.
The very lack of experience that you were viewing as a negative has all of a sudden turned into one of your strongest traits. Not knowing the law led you to uncover a way for your client to win big. It led you to see the case as a unique set of facts and circumstances while custom fitting a solution to those facts and circumstances.
Your lack of experience isn’t a weakness. It’s a strength. It enables you to represent clients without any preconceived notions of process or outcome.
What about the lack of paying clients? Clearly, your business is doomed to fail if you don’t have a steady flow of new business coming in. And, in the beginning, taking on a new client is probably going to feel less probable than winning the lottery. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it gets better in a hurry. But until it does cash flow will be limited for a time as you get yourself established.
Unfortunate? Sure. But, look at it through a different lens. Without much technical legal work to do, you have ample time to focus on business development. You have the ability to spend your valuable and limited time perfecting your product and your delivery. What makes you stand out from the crowd? What’s your angle? Akin to developing a prototype of a new invention, which can be tested and tweaked until it is the best it can be and ready for sale, you are going to need time to test and perfect your product. Honing what you have to offer future clients will give you the foundation you are going to need to survive long-term.
It’s not a negative, it’s a positive.
Lack of paying clients merely frees your schedule so that you can focus on developing a product that paying clients will want to use and recommend.
What about the lack of a steady stream of income? While it obviously may seem bad, try looking at it differently. Right now your funds are limited which means that you’re going to need to maximize every dollar you spend, whether on advertising, software, networking or even paying for your personal needs. You simply don’t have the luxury of wasting a single cent. That’s going to force you to think about what expenses are essential to the operation of your firm. It’s going to force you to cut out everything that is unnecessary to running a successful business.
Lack of money enables you to stay lean and able to adapt to changing market conditions.
What about all that competition? After all, you’re not the only one out there practicing in your area of legal specialty. Stiff competition in a crowded industry may mean fighting harder for each client. But, it also means that there are countless other lawyers and firms from which to learn. Look at the firms that have been around for 100 years. What do they do that is so effective? What about the lawyers that have weathered the storm and figured out how to make it five or ten years on their own? How did they find their footing and how do they distinguish themselves from the masses? There is competition in every industry. Embrace it and make it work for you.
Lack of a client base, lack of income, and stiff competition can all potentially unhinge your fragile business before it gets off the ground by stomping you down mentally. But, viewed through a different lens, they can create an ideal environment in which to build a new business. It’s all about perspective, and by turning negatives into positives, you are going to give yourself and your business more than a fighting chance to succeed.
There’s nothing wrong with making plans for your business. You should consider all of the standards—cash flow, startup costs, when you are going to get clients, how you are going to get them, what you are going to do to generate referrals, and so on. But, my advice is that you need to be reasonable in your projections and your predictions.
The reality is that it’s likely going to take much longer than you think to get to where you want to be.
When I started my business, I made the mistake of spending a substantial amount of my startup capital on advertising. I thought, almost embarrassingly, that if I pumped enough money into sponsored listings with search engines and social media websites, clients would be flocking to me right away. That certainly was not the case. Because of that hasty decision-making and unreasonable expectation, I put myself and my business into a hole early on. It would have been much easier, and much less stressful, to start slow and start smart.
It’s easy to fall into a trap like I did, as we tend to tell ourselves something is bound to happen if we really want it. Silly, I know, but everyone can relate. It’s human nature to have faith in our beliefs even if that faith is unfounded. By putting some reason behind those beliefs we can give faith an objective ally.
In the beginning, there is really very little that you need to get started. Any new attorney can send out a nice letter to family and friends letting them all know what he or she is doing. In fact, I guarantee that, if it hasn’t happened already, your family and friends are going to be approaching you with plenty of legal issues they need advice about. Naturally, you’re not going to be able to help everyone because you simply don’t have the expertise. But my point is this: There will be work that you will be able to do, and it will come to you with little or no effort. Of course, it’s probably not going to be enough to keep you up and running for the next few years, but it will hopefully show you that there are going to be people that need your help, and if you can keep reasonable expectations of how often those opportunities are going to arise, you are going to be ready to assist when they do.
That definitely does not mean that you shouldn’t have lofty goals for what you want your business to become, but it does mean that you need to remember that it’s going to take some time to reach those goals. In the short term, you need to look for small victories. Setting yourself up to meet realistic expectations is going to give you perspective and it’s going to enable you to set realistic benchmarks for success. Hitting those will provide you with the motivation to keep pushing and give you optimism that you’re on the right track. If you don’t set reasonable expectations, you’re never going to hit those benchmarks on time, and you may quickly convince yourself that you must be doing something wrong, or it’s just not for you.
Set your expectations low and set yourself up for success.
Thinking that you’re going to be pulling in $15,000 a month on a steady basis isn’t realistic unless you are in an incredibly unique position in the market or geographically. I didn’t pay myself a salary for six months as I built up a cash reserve and kept the lid on my spending. When I finally did pay myself, it was much less than my business plan or projections said it was going to be.
If you’re expecting a $100,000 salary in your first year, don’t bother taking the plunge into the world of solo practice. As has been said by practically any attorney who has done this before you, starting a firm isn’t easy. And, a hefty paycheck certainly isn’t going to come overnight. Reign in your expectations. Figure out the minimum you need to live and aim for that in the beginning. Your goal at the start is just to make it one more day. You’re going to need time to feel out the market, establish yourself, and build your brand.
Understandably, it’s hard to gauge where your firm will be in the future and when it will be there, so my advice is talk to other lawyers that have done it and ask them how long it was before they really truly were where they wanted to be. The answers might surprise you. They might give you a pessimistic view of whether you can actually succeed. But you know what? You can and you will, but only if you take it one day at a time and set reasonable expectations.
Oxford dictionary defines success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” Often times we think of success in terms of achieving a particular level of wealth or outcome in a relationship or career. But look at the definition. Success is a finite concept. Once you find it, there’s nowhere to go. You’ve hit the finish line. In business, how are you going to even begin to define what that finish line will be? Take a look at successful companies and you’ll realize that they never hit the finish line—they aren’t successful, but instead they are continually reaching for success while constantly redefining what success means to their businesses. You need to do the same thing.
Success by definition is a terminus. It’s essential to the growth of your business that you don’t ever feel satisfied. You should continually strive for success, but in doing so you need to always adjust your expectations and objectives in a way that is going to keep you moving forward. In business, there is no finish line.
Tradition says that entrepreneurs cannot, and should not think about failure—that it’s not an option. But, just because it’s not an ideal option doesn’t mean it’s not a very real possibility. To the contrary, I think common sense dictates that an entrepreneur needs to consider failure as an option. Time will tell how real of a possibility it may be, but ignoring the possibility that you just may not make it as a solo is a recipe for disaster.
I won’t sugar coat it. Starting your own business means giving up a lot. Whether it’s the cushy big-law job or the opportunity to join a boutique firm with a close-knit group of experienced attorneys, there are plenty of other ways you can use your legal skills to generate a paycheck.
And, it’s not just law firm jobs you’ll be passing up. Your law degree is an asset, and it makes you valuable. Even at a time when record numbers of attorneys are graduating from law school, you still possess something that can open plenty of doors for you. It takes courage to decide that you are not going to walk through any of those doors. There are plenty of voices out there that will tell you that, once you make that decision, you cannot and should not look back. “It’s a choice you’ve made,” they’ll say, “so you need to live with it.” And, doing so means that you probably missed out on other opportunities that may have otherwise been available to you.
I’ve never understood that logic. There are very few opportunities that simply pass you by. Why some people insist that you can’t try to make it as a solo without giving up the option to later go work for a firm is beyond me. If things don’t work out, you are still going to have the knowledge that you’ve gained through years of school, and likely now also years of experience practicing law. So, unless you’ve chosen to turn down your dream job to start your own law firm, my advice is to tune out those that will insist that your choice to go solo has doomed you to a lifetime of career failure if things do not work out.
On that note, I will say this: No one goes into anything expecting to fail. Otherwise, what’s the point of trying it the first place? Setting out on a path with an expectation that you will never reach the end of the trail is foolish. But there’s a difference between setting out on a course expecting to fail and thinking about what failure would mean.
Setting yourself up for failure is not an option, but thinking about the possibility is a necessity.
Think about failure. Picture the worst case scenario. What would things look like if you needed to admit that you didn’t succeed as a solo attorney? Will your family leave you? Will you go broke with no hope of recovery, dooming yourself to life on the streets? Will your friends disown you because they can’t imagine being surrounded by your negative energy? No, no, and no.
By thinking about failure and what it means for yourself and your life, you’ll realize that it’s not the end of the world. You can always stop, turn around, and go through the doors you may have passed up at the beginning of this journey you’re about to embark on. The opportunities in the future may not be the same, but they will be just as attractive.
So, it’s OK to think about what may happen. It’s OK to think about what you may want to do if you come to a point where you decide you no longer have a desire to put any more time or effort into building your business.
Have a plan B. If your business works out (and I hope it does) then you will have done something that so few knowledgeable and creative attorneys have been able to figure out. But, for whatever reason, if it doesn’t work out, you can hold your head high knowing that you gave it all you had. It does not mean that your legal career is over. It just means that you are making a decision to take it in another direction.
Keeping that perspective frees you up to enjoy the journey, no matter where it takes you.
When people ask you why you started your own firm, what will you say?
Every year, thousands of people start their own businesses across the country. Whether it’s because of a dead-end job that was no longer tolerable or because a little lightbulb went off with the next great idea that the world was missing out on, everyone’s journey to being self-employed is a different one.
The son of a coffee roaster, Alfred Peet grew up in the Netherlands with an appreciation for quality coffee. However, upon moving to the United States after World War II, Peet quickly found the coffee culture much different. Coffee across Europe was something to be appreciated, while in America, quite the opposite was true. In the Land of the Free, coffee was something to be drunk and not thought about (and as many would say, for good reason too. In fact, Peet himself famously referred to it as, “the lousiest coffee in the world”). Seeking to introduce a more European appreciation for coffee drinking to the community, Peet opened a small coffee shop in Berkeley, California where he roasted his own coffee beans using techniques from his homeland. He focused on using quality beans and slow, deliberate roasting. Peet’s appreciation of quality led to more than just a good cup of joe. It created an experience. His tiny Berkeley shop became a favorite hangout for the nonconformist contingent of Berkeley residents as they were seemingly attracted to this new anti-establishment café.
Peet’s vision for what coffee should be quickly spread outside of Berkeley. In fact, Gordon Bowker, Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegl were so interested in Peet’s new brew that they eagerly learned his methods and opened their own coffee shop in Seattle (yes, that one).
Today, there are over 200 Peet’s locations nationwide, Starbucks on practically every corner, and countless smalltime operations across the country that are based on Peet’s idea of what the coffee drinking experience should be.
David McConnell initially worked as a travelling door-to-door book salesman, who, like many travelling salesmen, was astutely aware of his audience’s desire (or lack thereof) for his product. Looking for a way to stick around houses long enough to at least be able to pitch his product, McConnell began offering free samples of homemade perfume that he blended himself to housewives in exchange for the opportunity to talk about his books. He quickly realized that the women were far more interested in the scents than the books. Thus, he quit peddling books and started the California Perfume Company, today known as Avon. McConnell borrowed the same concepts from his days selling books door-to-door and applied them to the sale of cosmetics.^^4^^ Today, Avon has over 6 million representatives and totals more than $8 billion in sales worldwide. ^^5^^
Everyone’s story is unique. Alfred Peet did not set out to start a coffee revolution in the United States. He just wanted some good coffee. David McConnell just hated selling books and kept his eyes open for new opportunities. The point is that you have gotten to this stage in life through an intricate web of random and not-so-random decisions, events, and inspirations. They form you into the person that you are and your outlook on the world. No one else has your perspective or your unique desire for what you want the future to be.
So, figure out what drives you and how you can use that inspiration to do something unique. Draw on it to set yourself apart from the thousands of other lawyers and law firms that make up your competition, and use it to build something the world has yet to see.
Find your story and 30 years from now maybe you’ll be the next Alfred Peet.
It should go without saying that starting your own business requires some preparation. You would not run a marathon without properly training for months, and starting a business is no different.
That’s not to say that you need to spend months thinking about how every little detail is going to work because chances are almost certain that things are not going to go exactly according to your plan. The growth cycle of a small business and its ultimate fate is simply too speculative for you to be able to approach it with any level of certainty. But, you do still need to prepare yourself for the journey ahead.
Being a small-business owner, or more specifically the owner of your own law firm, is going to test your resolve. There are going to be days that you are going to wake up and say, “What the hell am I doing?” You are going to doubt yourself and you are going to question your decision to tread out on your own path. But, do you know what? That is completely normal.
An inquiry through any search engine will reveal the bleak statistics on the failure rate of new businesses. It’s far too easy to look at those statistics and wonder why you and your new firm will be any different. Asking yourself how you are going to succeed when so many of those that have come before you just couldn’t cut it is OK.
It’s OK to think about what the future may inevitably hold for your firm.
So the question, then, is what separates the “haves” from the “have nots?” There are probably dozens of ways to answer that question, and depending on who you ask, you will likely get a number of varying responses. Lack of planning, poor management, insufficient capital, lack of focus, and a handful of other reasons are all commonly cited as reasons why new businesses fail. But, to me what separates the “haves” from the “have nots” is not a desire to succeed, because every entrepreneur has got that. Rather, it’s the ability to keep going when doubt creeps in. It’s mental toughness. Mental toughness gives you an edge. It allows you to keep yourself invested in your business regardless of the challenges it may come up against. It gives you the ability to find solutions to those other commonly listed reasons why businesses fail.
Running a marathon is traditionally viewed as one of the greatest feats of physical activity. While average fitness buffs can cover the 26.2 miles in around three-and-a-half hours, elite professional marathoners can flirt with times around two hours. That averages out to a cool 4:58 per mile. For even the most regular of amateur runners, that sub-five minute per mile pace is unfathomable. So what does it take to accomplish such an immense feat? American marathon record-holder Khalid Khannouchi^^6^^ offered the following insight to USA today:
“It’s a combination of discipline, hard work, harshness of weather. The most difficult part is keeping your focus for a long period of time. The time I like to prepare for a marathon is four months. Marathoners seem either to be training or getting ready for the next workout. You wake up every morning and you know what you have to do. You have long mileage to accumulate. Sometimes you’re already tired from your last two or three workouts. You still have to wake up, have the motivation and go outside and do the training.
The key is you have to be patient mentally and physically. Control of emotions is important. I’ve found a lot of people can’t do that, even if they are professionals. You have to run smart. Sometimes I run in the back of the (lead) group, five to 10 seconds behind. I’m pacing myself and body the way that suits me to run better. That’s difficult to do sometimes.” ^^7^^
Building a law practice is just like running a marathon. And, like a marathon runner, you need to prepare mentally for the race ahead. It takes a combination of discipline, hard work, and tremendous focus. It requires you to push forward even when you’ve been drained of all motivation. You need to realize that, at times, you’re going to doubt yourself. Whether it’s your strategy for finding clients or your interpretation of a particular law, you’re going to question your decisions. It’s simply human nature to do so.
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There are plenty of books out there about the practical aspects of opening a law practice. This book is different. Solo out of School is a book for both law students thinking about a solo career and attorneys looking to open their own firms. It's about mindset, motivation, and viewing your solo career with perspective that allows you to see yourself and your work as something you can be proud of. It's not a "how to" guide to starting a law practice. It doesn't say anything about the tools you'll need or whether to open a brick and mortar office. Rather, it's a "how can" guide to developing the mental toughness and right mindset to succeed as a solo attorney. It's a collection of little lessons and simple reminders for when your choice to go solo in the first place come into doubt. Solo out of School is about finding the strength and motivation to keep pushing. By embracing the words on its pages, my hope is that you'll realize, no matter how much you doubt yourself or second-guess your actions, you are good enough to be successful as your own boss.