Less than 2 percent of law school graduates move directly into solo practice after passing the bar. The majority (almost 46 percent) take positions with existing law firms, while others take positions in government, business, public interests, clerkships, and education. Comparatively, about 8 percent of MBA graduates immediately go into business for themselves after finishing school.
Since courses in law school don’t often cover the how-tos of being an entrepreneur, fresh law school graduates may mistakenly believe they don’t have the background knowledge required to successfully start a solo law practice. However, many parts of a law school curriculum provide a solid foundation for entrepreneurship.
Are you thinking of striking out on your own after law school? Here are some of the skills that can help you on your path to success.
Negotiation is a skill that’s critical to success both in business and for an attorney. As an attorney, the negotiation usually happens on behalf of your clients. As a business owner, you’ll be negotiating everything from hourly rates to business contracts and more. Understanding how to set yourself up for success in all manner of negotiations will give you a big advantage in owning your own business.
Good communication skills, both written and verbal, are essential for attorneys and business owners alike. Communicating well with clients, employees, colleagues, and other attorneys will create better working relationships, reduce misunderstandings, and improve efficiency. Good communication also results in higher customer and employee satisfaction.
While not strictly a skill, a thorough understanding of ethics is a required part of becoming an attorney. A solid ethical foundation will serve you well as both a lawyer and a business owner. Building a reputation as an ethical business owner and attorney can become a key selling point for your services and encourage repeat and referral business.
The process of graduating with an undergraduate degree and then a law degree isn’t a short one. In most cases, you will have completed at least seven years of school by the time you’re finished. After you’ve finished with your degree, you’ll have to dedicate yourself to passing the bar. Dedication is a skill that can be honed and is often overlooked, even though it’s critical for success in almost any endeavor. If you dedicate yourself to building your business in the same way you dedicated yourself to becoming an attorney, your chances of establishing a profitable and successful practice will grow exponentially.
Remember all those hours you spent researching in the law library? Doing quality research is a learned skill, especially in today’s world where many people’s research skills are limited to the first ten results of a Google search. Quality research will be a critical part of planning and building your business. Among other things, you’ll need to research office locations, competitions, specialties, marketing plans, and more. You’ll need to do in-depth analyses on a variety of factors to ensure you’re making good long-term business decisions. Having good research skills will ensure you’re making decisions based on accurate and relevant data.
Details are the name of the game when you’re practicing law, and they’re also critical to running a small business. As an attorney, you have to be aware of every detail that’s relevant to the cases of each of your clients. As a business owner, you’ll also have to be aware of every detail about your business. You’ll be in charge of everything from accounting and billing to customer service and marketing, in addition to doing the actual legal work for which clients are hiring you. All of that is going to include a lot of details you need to be keeping track of at all times. Learning to be detailed about casework in school will give you an advantage when it comes to managing the details of your business.
Desire to learn
Building your own business is going to be a learning experience and a long-term exercise in problem-solving. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know and there will be plenty of things you don’t know about running a start-up business. Owning your own business means you need to become an expert in a variety of areas, and it can quickly get overwhelming. If you love to learn, however, you can approach the unknown with a sense of curiosity rather than dread, and it will make learning all those new skills a pleasure, rather than a burden.
When working on a legal problem, you have to consider it from all angles to build the best strategy for your case. Building a business also requires a great deal of strategy. You’ll have to consider critical business details such as location, specialty, marketing and more. In addition, as you start out, you will likely have limited funds to invest in growing your business, so you’ll have to be strategic about budgets and finance to ensure your capital is used in the ways that can most effectively grow your business. A solid business strategy is critical to the success of businesses, especially in the early stages. Consider creating a strategy that will take your business from start-up to success in the same way you would craft a strategy to win a client’s case.
Let’s face it. Almost everyone hates group projects in school. There’s a good reason that instructors still assign them, though. Learning to collaborate and accomplish a goal with a group of disparate personalities is a skill that everyone can use in the real world. As a new attorney venturing out on your own, you’re still going to need support. Even after law school, there are going to be plenty of things you don’t know, and having a network of contacts with whom you can collaborate or ask for advice and feedback on cases will be an invaluable asset. In your work as an attorney, you’ll need to collaborate with clients, opposing counsel, court staff and more. As a business owner, you’ll need to collaborate with vendors, clients, and other attorneys to make your practice successful. Even if you are venturing into business on your own, you can’t do it completely alone.
No one who’s done it will tell you that starting your own law practice is going to be easy. But neither was finishing law school, passing the bar exam or becoming an attorney. By doing those things, you’ve already demonstrated you have the drive you need to accomplish your goals. And by now, you’ve hopefully recognized that you have quite a few other skills that will help you to succeed as well.
As an attorney who has successfully established my own solo practice, I can tell you the benefits far outweigh the challenges. I get to work with the clients that I choose, in the law specialty I prefer. I work the schedule that I want and can prioritize my life as choose. There’s no pressure to move up in the firm because I’m already at the top. Plus, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am building a solid future for myself while helping my clients. While building a solo practice isn’t going to be for everyone, I think more young attorneys should seriously consider it. For myself, I can’t imagine a more satisfying way to work as an attorney.
Are you thinking about starting your own business? What’s the biggest concern holding you back?