In law school, they teach you about torts, liens and writs of mandamus, but not about how to run your own law firm.
The skills to be a good lawyer do not magically translate into the skills necessary to run a small business.
Yet there is no shortage of lawyers starting their own firms right out of law school, or more established lawyers making the jump from large corporate firms to hanging their own shingle.
Those who have made the leap often provide the best advice for those thinking about it. What do they say?
Branigan Robertson made the jump right out of law school. He provided a list of tips for those tempted to follow the same path. His number one tip is to ignore the naysayers.
Why? Because there will always be doubters, including your own colleagues and law professors. According to Robertson, lawyers tend to look at the downside, and might encourage you not to take the risk. However, they haven’t necessarily done it themselves, so how do they know?
Once you make the decision to start your own firm, you can learn from the first solo lawyer in the country to build his own website. Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer from Memphis, TN., is widely considered the first ever lawyer/blogger. He started his practice 20 years ago in 1994.
He recounts the best business advice he received:
There are three things that you can deliver on: price, quality and speed. If you try to deliver on all three of these, you will go out of business. But if you deliver on 2 out of three, your business can excel. Greg strives to deliver good quality work, quickly – but he is not cheap. He is happy to let other lawyers be the cheapest.
What would Greg do today if he had to start his practice again with a laptop and $500?
Join a bar association with a mentor program. Take a pro bono case so that he could get experience building an immigration law practice. Set up an online profile and start writing online (via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook).
Greg Siskind was a maverick. Others may be looking for more meat and potatoes advice. TheWisconsin Bar Association has 20 tips that are more grounded for most aspiring small business owners/lawyers. They focus on extensive planning, budgeting and marketing. They urge the new law practice to narrow focus the practice as much as possible and be careful about giving away too many services to friends and family.
The legal publication also echoed what lots of other successful small business owners/lawyers have stressed beyond just the basics of planning, budgeting and marketing. They urge the aspiring small business owner to sweat the small stuff and think big.
Long-term planning is key, as you should plan for what you ultimately want to become. Even if you’re starting small and you’re the only lawyer in your firm.
Having a long-term vision for your firm will help give the small business a direction in those early days when there is bound to be a few bumpy days or weeks. The long-term vision might eventually be changed — even dramatically — but it is always best to have a mission and vision to guide you and provide inspiration when it is needed most.
Although some lawyers ultimately return to a corporate law firm after striking out on their own, that is the exception. Those who are motivated, patient and flexible find the freedom of owning their own firm and being their own boss a satisfying and fulfilling career change they have no intention of reversing.