Starting a Law Firm | One Year Anniversary
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!
If you look in the archives, you will quickly see that this isn’t the one year anniversary of this blog. It’s actually the one year anniversary of me starting a law firm. On June 1 last year my doors officially opened for business. And I must say, it’s been a wild ride, both legally and from a business standpoint.
I meant to write this post on the first of June, but was sidetracked by some work. Another important date is right around June 1 for me, my birthday. And this one just happened to be my 30th, so it was extra special. After partying all weekend with my wife and parents, I had some catching up to do. So, sorry (to me when I look back on this and this post isn’t on the first), but I know you’ll forgive me.
Because this is such a special post, I thought I’d give you two great pieces of information if you are thinking of starting a law firm. First, I’m going to give you ten things I wish I’d known before starting my law firm. Second, and this might be the most helpful information I’ve ever provided here, I’m going to give you a month by month breakdown of what I earned.
These are only going to be gross numbers because it would take me too long to figure my expenses month by month, but I will tell you at least half of every month, no matter how much I made, went toward expenses of some sort. I think it’s extremely important to put as much money back into your business as you take out, particularly in the beginning. So that’s what I did.
Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting a Law Firm
1. You Must Have a Plan To Get Clients
I’ve said this before, but if you don’t have clients, you don’t eat. All of your plans to get clients might not work, but if you expect the phone to start magically ringing you are going to be sorely disappointed.
2. Your Marketing Plan Shouldn’t Include “Networking” Events
This might only apply to me, because I can see how some networking events could be beneficial to other practice areas, but what I usually see at networking events is a bunch of people that don’t have any work or clients looking for work and clients.
Don’t get me wrong, I still go to these things, but when I do it I try to meet people that I can send work too. That is how referral relationships are formed. You have to give before you get. And if someone gives to you, no matter what it is, find a way to give back. Just trust me on this one.
3. Don’t Let Your Perceived Weaknesses Manifest Themselves
I need to explain this one. Ever hear of a self-fulfilling prophesy? It’s like when you think something (usually bad) is going to happen and then magically it does. And psychologists have found that in some subconscious way people tend to make these things happen by seeing only the things that promote that final outcome.
For example, I have a young face. When I first started meeting clients and seeing people, I was always worried they wouldn’t want to hire me because I looked young. And guess what? People didn’t hire me, and a lot of the times it was because of a perceived inexperience. But, in the end, it wasn’t really about my looks at all. My worries about it manifested themselves in my giving the sense to people that I wasn’t comfortable with what I was saying. Don’t do that.
4. When You Get Scared, Work Harder
I’m not going to lie, every once in a while a little doubt creeps in my mind. What if no one calls? What if I can’t pay my rent? What if I lose a motion?
Some people, when this happens, let the anxiety paralyze them. The successful people in life use this as a motivation to work that much harder to make those feelings go away. Don’t let that fear of failure own you. 99% of your fears are in your mind.
5. But Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand
Some ideas you have, particularly for marketing, just aren’t going to work. Think adsense for lawyers and really most paid online advertising for attorneys. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try these for yourself. On the contrary, I think you owe it to yourself to try them – what if they work?
With that being said, though, after about 3 months or so you are going to know if you are getting your money’s worth (and this doesn’t mean making you rich, it means at least paying for the service and getting to put something in your pocket). If it doesn’t, get out and try something else.
6. If You Want to Be Successful, You Are Going to Be Uncomfortable
Almost all of the things you do during the first year of owning your law firm you will be doing for the first time. It’s going to feel strange, and not good strange. But you have to press on and do it. Here’s a short list of some of the things I did:
Opened a stand in a farmer’s market offering free legal advice;
Gave presentations to fraternities on how to survive a police encounter;
Went to several attorney events not knowing a single person in the room;
Gave a presentation on blogging as a form of marketing; and
Just generally threw myself out there at every opportunity.
7. You Can Be Fancy When You’re Rich
Where a lot of people get in trouble out of the gates is spending too much money on things they don’t really need. When you start your law firm think lean and mean. After a year I still don’t have any administrative help. It sucks sometimes, but it saves me a lot of money.
While you’ve got a lot of extra time, spend it. When you’ve got a lot of extra money, spend it.
8. Keep Control of Your Calendar
I’ll be honest with you. This year, on two occasions, I missed court dates. They just didn’t get calendered. Thankfully nothing bad happened because of that. I was able to show up late and take care of what I needed to take care of, but it’s not a good feeling. Put in place a system so that you can rest easy at night knowing you know everything you need to do for at least the next two weeks.
9. Read Less, Do More
I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of being a business owner. That means I love thinking about ways to improve and grow my business, and I love hearing from other people what it takes to have a successful business. But at some point you have to stop reading the blogs and books (except for this one!) and put foot to pavement, as they say.
It’s so easy today, with the internet and all the other stuff going on, to get sidetracked. It’s okay every once in a while. Do it every day and you’re going to be broke.
10. This Isn’t For Everyone
I think it’s just my mindset, but starting this law firm hasn’t been hard for me. Sure, the work has been hard. The commitment has been hard. And the tight money has been hard. But I haven’t for once thought I should have done something else or I made the wrong decision. I never thought that anyone couldn’t do this.
But not everyone can do this. Some people just don’t like the risk. And that’s okay. But, if you are thinking about starting your own law firm just because you can’t find a job and you think that’s the on
ly thing left, make sure you aren’t just wasting your own time. It’s not hard to start a successful law firm, but it’s not easy either. You have to want it.
Let me put it to you this way. You ever meet a professional athlete? I’m sure you’ve seen one on television. When they are playing their sport they look amazing. They do things you could never dream of doing. And the reason they are as good as they are is because they have worked as hard as they can at that for their entire lives. They’ve sacrificed time away from doing fun things to go to that tournament, missed prom, and put in countless hours of time perfecting their craft. This firm is your craft. If you want it to be good you’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to be passionate about it.
Okay, done with the top ten, now what you’ve all probably been waiting for (and why most of you probably just scrolled to the bottom of the page), my first year law firm gross revenues:
June, 2009: $0.00
July, 2009: $200.00
August, 2009: $2,661.67
September, 2009: $4,032.21
October, 2009: $4,321.47
November, 2009: $6,013.20
December, 2009: $4,914.29
January, 2010: $6,810.00
February, 2010: $6,479.39
March, 2010: $8,015.79
April, 2010: $5,560.20
May, 2010: $9.148.79
I think these numbers provide a telling story. First, have a little bit in the tank when you first start out, because it’s probably going to be slow. Second, you can start making at least some money fairly quickly. Third, your income is probably going to fluctuate pretty wildly for a pretty long time (this is why you keep expenses low). And fourth, it is possible to do this.
So, here’s to a great first year. See you next week.