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Fear

Fear

It’s what screws things up for most lawyers who aren’t as happy with their law firms or their lives as they could be.

And fear has an ugly way of growing into frustration,  resentment, defensiveness, anger and worst-of-all the twin-devils: Justification & Compromise.

I say “happy lawyers make more money”.  So what happens to lawyers who make compromises with themselves and then turn their skills of advocacy in-ward on themselves to justify their compromises?

For one thing, they eventually become angry.

They also don’t make nearly as much money as they could.

That is to say, all things being equal, an unhappy lawyer could be a much more profitable lawyer if only he or she took the steps that would result in him or her being a happier lawyer.

What makes most lawyers happy? 

  • Is it a temporary bump in cash-flow?
  •  Or a victory in court on behalf of a third party whose case, cause or matter doesn’t really matter that much to you?
  • What about a nice stiff drink or some other “vice” like gossip or criticism of people whose own happiness shouldn’t affect you one bit, but inexplicably it still does!?!?

No, what makes lawyers happy is when we get to do what we love to do on cases, causes or matters or for people whose outcome resonates for us.

And what enables a lawyer to engage in these activities which make us happy?

Proper, professional and reliable “real world” law firm management.  Which such management includes marketing, sales, financial controls.  And policies, systems & procedures that work to protect us from all the b.s. we don’t like to do.

Because law school didn’t teach us anything about the business of running a law firm, did it?

Now, when I say “happy lawyers make more money” you can now recognize that it’s the law firm management that causes us to have the option of doing what makes us happy.  It makes the law firm more profitable too.

So why did I write “fear” in the subject line of this email?

Because fear, more than anything else is what prevents far-too-many lawyers from taking the steps that lead to being a happier lawyer with a more profitable law firm.

But it’s not fear of failure that gets in the way.

Of course that’s the “accepted” and the politically-correct explanation that all our friends and family and bar officials and CLE directors and everyone else is prepared to undertand and accept.

No-one challenges us on it when we give them these types of explanations for why we don’t do the things that must be done to find out just how great our law firms and our lives could be:

“I’m afraid if violating bar rules”

“I’m afraid of losing money”

“I’m afraid of getting a bar grievance filed against me”

 BULL SHIT!

You might as well add, “I’m afraid of being eatten by a crocodile” to the list because, afterall, being eatten by a crocodile is universally-accepted as a bad thing.

But what do any of these fears have to do with building a more successful law firm that enables you to explore your true potential?

I’ve been at this for more than 10 years now.  I have had the unique opportunity and the privlege of working with thousands of lawyers.  And I myself have had my struggles with my own fears too, both as a lawyer and an entrepreneur.

So I can tell you with a high-degree of authority that the fear that holds most lawyers back from doing what must be done to be happier and consequently more profitable lawyers is NOT the “fear of failure” .

It’s actually fear of success.

I’m going to let that sit with you for awhile.

And when you’re ready to talk-about, doing-something about it, you can decide for yourself which description resonates most with where you are today with your law firm or in your legal career and then schedule a call to speak with me at www.HowToMANAGEaSmallLawFirm.com

How to Start a Law Firm (part 2)

Steps

  1. Define your goals:
  • Financial – How much money does the firm have to ‘gross’ in order for you to ‘net’ enough to live the way you WANT to live? ;
  • Personal – How many hours do you WANT to invest on a daily, weekly and monthly-basis?;
  • Professional – What types of cases, clients do you WANT to work with in your practice?  Remember starting a law firm is an opportunity to create the life you WANT.  Don’t settle.

2.  Inventory your skills and resources.  If you know a particular practice area very well that’s probably the best practice area to concentrate on in the beginning rather than having to learn a new practice area at the same time you’re learning how to run the business of a law firm.

  • What kind of hands-on business management & marketing skills do you have?
  • What kind of budget do you have to cover living expenses while the firm gets established, working capital for start-up and operating expenses and to invest in educating yourself about the business of how to start, market & manage a law firm so you don’t waste years of your life & career learning these critical skills the hard way

There are many free resources available to help you.  Including many provided for free by me.

But consider the hidden ‘cost’ of free in terms of the time required to piece everything together vs. just enrolling in a course.

Imagine the difference between the student who chooses to enroll in a well-organized course in law school with discussions lead by a supportive and experienced professor vs. the law student who simply takes the course syllabus and endeavors to spend the whole semester on his own looking up and studying all the cases in the library by himself or with a few of his buddies.  Who is going to do better on the exam?

3.  Make a plan and put that plan to budget and time-table to acquire the skills you find yourself lacking in.

Do this BEFORE you start trying to follow anyone’s advice about writing a business plan or how to create a law firm website that actually generates business, etc.  The root cause of the successful law firms isn’t what you can see from the surface from a casual conversation with another lawyer in passing, or in a blog.

Warnings

If you’re reading this and you’re a lawyer I’m going to assume you’re a pretty smart person and you want to be successful.  So I’m going to skip the usual and obvious warnings here.  Instead, the biggest danger to look out for is advice from other lawyers.

  • Some aren’t nearly as successful as they’d like you to believe.
  • Some are in fact very successful but may not have traveled a deliberate and replicable path and so their well-intentioned advice can be a real distraction.
  • And sad to say, some lawyers are just jerks who would rather have company in their misery and can be quite persuasive in their efforts to recruit you into their merry band of losers.

How to Start a Law Firm

Starting a law firm can be one of the best decisions a lawyer can make.

Not only can you make more money as the owner of your own law firm but you can also enjoy the freedom to pursue the types of cases and clients you get energy from vs. working for a firm where your cases and clients may be dictated to you even if they’re energy vampires.

Good News:  Did you know that according to ABA statistics nearly 60% of lawyers in the US are actually solo practitioners?  And that’s not a recent statistic.  The fact of the matter is that the face of the most successful lawyers in the US has always been a solo practitioner.

More Good News:  Did you know that lawyers have been starting SUCCESSFUL solo & small law firms for more than 500 years?

That’s right, this is a very well-documented fact.  As business models go law firms are pretty well tried & true and you can make alot of money just sticking to the fundamentals.  Only trouble of course is that they don’t teach us the fundamentals of starting, marketing and/or managing a successful law firm in law school.  Which is why, sad to say, so many solo lawyers DON’T have “successful” law firms.

Zig Ziglar, a well known success coach said that if he was going to go into a new line of business he knew nothing about the first thing he’d do is study what the average person in that business is doing…and do the opposite!

Because if you do what everyone else is doing you’ll only get the results everyone else is getting.

The main reasons most lawyers who start a law firm don’t find as much success as they could are:

1. They don’t stop to ask themselves what it means to have a “successful” law firm vs. just having a law firm.

2. They don’t appreciate the difference between the job of being a lawyer vs. the business of running a law firm. 

One we are reasonably well prepared for by law school and subsequent years practicing law; the other we are not.  Because ten years of becoming the best lawyer in the world in your chosen practice area may expose you to little or no experience in how to run the business itself.

3. They fail to consider the opportunity cost of trying to figure it out themselves the hard way.

Figure if you’re good enough to pass the bar exam and choose a reasonably straight forward practice area, if you know what you’re doing when it comes to the management & marketing of your law firm you should be able to gross at least $100,000 in your first year.

If you’re already well-established in a practice area, have a book of business, contacts in the community etc. that number could be much higher.

But what if you waste the first five years of your practice trying to teach yourself how to start, market & manage the business?  That could easily cost you half of your time, energy, enthusiasm and creativity, couldn’t it?

Translate that into dollars and it’s easy to see why some experts estimate that lawyers who try to teach themselves how to run a law firm vs. pursuing a deliberate plan to acquire these skills could easily be leaving as much as $250,000 or more on the table in terms of opportunity cost.

In a future post I’ll outline the steps I recommend every lawyer takes when starting a law firm.  You can get much more detailed information that space here permits at: www.HowToMANAGEaSmallLawFirm.com