What I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Law Firm

Starting a business, including a law firm, is thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and lots of trial and error. One day, you’re on top of the world celebrating a big win. The next, you question your own sanity and why you ever decided to do this. Over the last seven years, I’ve felt it all. While I wouldn’t trade starting my own practice for anything, there are some things I would go back and tell my younger self if I could. 

Find Your Tribe Early

Being a solopreneur is great because you can pivot and adjust quickly to take advantage of new ideas and opportunities. On the flip side, being on your own boss can be lonely. You don’t have someone to bounce ideas off or to be there in the trenches with you. I found one of the best things I did when starting my practice was to surround myself with other lawyers who were not only in the same solopreneur boat but who also had a similar philosophy about throwing out the old law firm business model and instead building a profitable business that supported wellbeing. Looking back, I spent too much time listening to colleagues who were entrenched in the traditional model. While I always appreciated the time they gave me, I never felt truly supported. It wasn’t until I found others who agreed that burnout wasn’t a badge of honor and that a law firm was a business just like any other that I really started to stand on solid ground. 

Keeps Your Eyes on Your Own Firm

When you start a law firm, it’s only natural to look around to see what others are doing. Not only can it be a good way to learn but it provides reassurance at a time when we often feel unsure. The trouble is what other firms are doing is oftentimes playing into the antiquated traditional narrative. Remember when you were in school and, during a test, the teacher would say, “Keep your eyes on your own paper”? It’s the same concept here, except we’re keeping our eyes on our own firms. You don’t want to ‘cheat’ off another law firm that doesn’t have the right answers. I wish I would have trusted myself more at the beginning instead of thinking I had to create a business that looked like everyone else’s. It was when I started listening to my gut (and other successful business people outside the legal profession) that I really hit my stride. 

Have a Clear Picture of Your Finances from Day One

In the beginning, any dollar that comes into the law firm is a win. We understandably focus simply on generating revenue and paying expenses. I would know: I did exactly that for years. It wasn’t until I learned about the Profit First method that everything changed. Instead of being a cash-in cash-out business that broke even (and sometimes landed in the red), I shifted my approach to pay profit first and allocate every dollar of revenue into a specific category. From there, I made better business decisions and turned my business around from having zero pretax profit to nearly 40% in just one year. Had I implemented this method from the beginning, I would have stressed less and felt more secure about finances. 

It Takes Longer Than You Think

I am terribly impatient, so I thought I was being generous when I told myself it would take a few months until my business was generating the revenue I wanted. Ha! While there are some entrepreneurs who can make that happen, for most of us, building a business takes a bit more time – especially if you’re like me, entering into a new geographic market where you don’t have any connections. Having savings and another source of income helped me fill the gap as my law practice got going. Even with it, though, I would tell my young entrepreneurial self that it will likely take closer to eighteen months to get to a solid, consistent level of revenue. So be patient and play the long game. 

As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” While knowing these things may have made the journey a little easier, I wouldn’t be where I am today without having learned these lessons the way I did. My hope in sharing them with you is that they help you get unstuck or at the very least, feel better about where you’re at. To learn more about the moment that changed the trajectory of my firm, I invite you to read my post That Time I Gave the Bird to the Traditional Legal Model. I share the behind-the-scenes moment that led me in an unexpected direction and how I’ve carried it with me through today.