For the past few years, the legal market has experienced a downturn. Downturns result in experienced lawyers being laid off and new lawyers not being hired. Attorneys in those groups have two choices: 1) start their own firm, or 2) pursue a non-traditional legal career. Attorneys who are happily affiliated with firms have also capitalized on the new legal landscape by leaving their firms in pursuit of greener pastures. As a result, start-up firms of a single or just a few lawyers have gained increased acceptance by clients.
To be sure, many practice areas have always been associated with solo practitioners and small firms: divorce, criminal, bankruptcy, personal injury, and estate planning. Now, firms comprised of one or a few lawyers are competing with and succeeding against more established firms in the areas of corporate, real estate, and labor and employment law. Today more than ever, no matter what area of law you practice or want to practice, the time may be right to consider opening your own firm. I just opened my own, and I will share the thought process I went through, advice I was given, steps I took, mistakes I made, lessons I learned, and the successes (hopefully a lot of these!) associated with my new firm. Just as my firm is evolving, so too will my blog posts.
Overall, the process of opening a law firm is exciting; it’s scary; it’s freeing; and there is a tremendous sense of pride in creating something new. However, that decision should not be taken lightly. The top three things that many people don’t think about before taking this plunge are:
1) Making sure you can financially afford to assume the risk. This means not taking out a second mortgage on your home, or personally guaranteeing your entire savings in order to hang your own shingle. It also means understanding that you will not receive a paycheck for a couple of months at best: the month you do the work, the month you bill for your work, and the month you are finally paid for you work. In the coming blog posts I’ll share in-depth about the start-up necessities, their costs, and alternatives, if any. But until then, remember that although the sky is the limit in how much you can spend opening your own shop, a quality firm can be founded for just a few thousand dollars.
2) Making sure your family fully supports (and is a part of) your decision. I don’t have a lot of the external pressures that many attorneys who go through this thought process have. I have a wonderful wife who has a great job, and we don’t have any kids. She was completely on board with the concept of Austin Legal, LLC and was excited to help me market the firm. Even if your chips don’t fall the way mine did, having loved ones who can cheer you on when you doubt yourself and who are committed to helping you – however necessary – to ensure your firm is successful, is critical.
3) Making sure you know who you are as an attorney. By this, I mean, know your strengths and weaknesses. I have always represented companies in labor and employment matters. Obviously, labor and employment laws are a strength of mine. Conversely, I would be committing malpractice if I tried to represent a company in a merger or acquisition. Strengths and weaknesses go beyond practice areas, though. Are you a good communicator? Are you technologically literate? Can you work independently or do you thrive when someone else gives you deadlines? Will it frustrate you to spend entire days on troubleshooting, marketing, and administrative projects without doing a single bit of substantive legal work?
Starting your own firm is committing your life to your practice. Solo attorneys are small business owners in the truest sense of the word. There are no associates for us to assign work to and no one giving us work to complete. No set salary. No face time at the office. No dress code. No weeks of vacation. But…. yes, yes, yes, yes, yes it can be fun and rewarding. I’m excited to share my journey with you. I hope you look forward to sharing the highs and lows with me.