Starting a Law Firm and Dealing with "The Competition" (or lack thereof)
This post is from the first blog I started, called “How to Start a Law Firm.” Over the years I’ve moved to different sites a few times and wanted to catalog all of my content in one place. If an article refers to a link and there is no link, sorry, that’s consequence of the move. Enjoy!
The idea for this article actually came from an article I was reading today about leadership and figuring out how one can become the best leader they can be. The gist of the article was that what we have to offer in the way of leadership is specific to the unique talents, abilities, and perspective that we bring to our relationships, and to try to fashion our leadership style after someone else just because we’ve deemed them to be successful is setting our self up for failure.
For example, who does everybody want to be like today? Steve Jobs. Hell, even I’ve written a blog post here about what lawyers can learn from Steve Jobs.
The thing about Steve Jobs, though, was that he was an asshole. He was a genius, but his leadership style was authoritarian, leading by fear. So people are trying to be like this because they think it will make them a great leader. In the end, all it does is make them miserable.
So What Does Leadership have to do with “The Competition” and a Successful Law Firm
I’m going to tell you right now.
The correlation I made with this article about leadership, which by the way, I thought was spot on, and your competitors in the legal field is our propensity to look at who is successful out there in the market and then do what they’ve done. The correlation is the same too – if you simply try to copy the people you think are successful, you’re likely to fail. I want to talk about why I think that is.
1. Your Competitors May Not be Doing as Well as You Thought
One of the funny things about law firms and their success is how deceiving it can be if one decides it should be that way. What I mean is, there may be people you see in court all the time, with a ton of cases, that you think are very successful. But if you pull the curtain back, you might be surprised to see that they are barely keeping their head above water because all those clients aren’t adding up in the bank account like you thought they were.
And yes, I know, they may be just as successful as you think they are, too. But here’s where I’m coming from with regard to this – who cares what they are doing?
Trying to be like everyone else is a great way to be miserable. It is a great way to suppress your ideas, your goals, and the path of your law firm, all because you think someone else is successful. Just like failing to follow your own leadership style, failing to follow your own ownership style will eventually doom you.
2. Okay, I Hear You, So What the Heck Does that Mean?
Let me start this part of the article off by saying I’m not saying you shouldn’t steal a good idea when you see it. Coming up with everything on your own is dumb too. What I’m trying to say is incorporate what you perceive to be good ideas, whether they be marketing, leadership, management, or anything else, into your philosophy as a lawyer and as a business owner.
For example, go read my post about Steve Jobs. I thought the book was excellent. I thought there were a lot of great things to learn from the way Steve Jobs took an idea and made it into the most successful company in history. For example, the attention to detail that Jobs expected of his employees was something I try to take back to my office. But what I didn’t take away from that book was that you’ve got to be a dictator to be successful.
When you start your law firm, take the time to dream about what it will be like. What will you like about your firm? What will you like about your employees? What kind of experience do you want to provide your clients? The answers to those questions are going to define the philosophy of your firm. They are going to lead you where you need to go to be successful. They are your compass when you are making a decision on where the firm needs to go.
3. Wrapping it Up: Dealing with the Competition
I’ve got to be honest with you, when it comes to my competitors, in a lot of ways I say “what competitors.” One of the great things about being a lawyer and running a law firm is the competition is not very business-minded. You aren’t going up against a bunch of Harvard MBAs, you’re going up against a bunch of Harvard JDs. That’s a big difference.
As you set out to form your law firm, don’t be too concerned with the competition. I like to think of the competition as a bunch of experiments I didn’t have to pay for to run. Take the successful things each incorporates (i.e. those things that you think provide the law firm experience people are looking for) and steal them. Throw away the bad things, and then finish it off with your own ideas.
One great thing I did from the start when thinking about a lot of ideas related to my firm (particularly when it came to business development) was to immediately do the opposite of what everyone else was doing. There are people out there that need your help. There are people out there that will pay for it. Taking an ad out in the yellow pages is the lazy way to try to get in front of those people. Taking an ad out in the bar journal is lazy. Coming up with something no one else is doing that differentiates you from everyone else and demonstrates a strong value proposition is what people are looking for.
How do you deal with “the competition.” How happy are you with the direction of your firm. Are you trying too hard to be Steve Jobs and failing to take advantage of your own strengths?
As always, I love hearing your comments, questions, and suggestions. Let’s hear them!