The Mindset For Starting A Solo Law Practice

In this video blog post I talk about the conversations that I have frequently had with lawyers who are thinking about starting their own law firms. These conversations happen with lawyers with a wide range of experience, from just out of law school, to leaving medium to large firms, or government employment one, two or even three decades into their legal careers.

Video Transcript (provided by otter.ai and not proofed but looks pretty accurate):

Hi there. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds if not over 1000 conversations with attorneys who are contemplating or sometimes just fantasizing about starting their own law practices. What I hear attorneys talk about is, do I need to get business cards, website, bank account, trust account? What software? Should I use to manage my books? What software should I use to manage my practice? Should I form a corporation or an LLC? What kind of taxation should I choose? Should I get professional liability insurance right out of the gate 1000, other little logistics that don’t really matter, until they make the mind shift.

Because as we work through, we discover that, even though they’re certainly willing to work on and solve those detail problems, that any attorney that has the right mindset can really plow through in very short order and software themselves, it comes down to their beliefs. So not all attorneys have that solo practice, or small law firm owner mindset right out of the gate. And the thing that I oftentimes find myself telling attorneys who are fixated on the details is, you’ve got to get your head straight first, before you decide what these details are going to be. Because if you don’t have the resolve, if you haven’t essentially programmed your mind and your intentions to successfully make the jump into owning your own law firm, that none of the details details are ever going to matter. And sometimes it’s a matter of on learning a set of limiting beliefs.

So for example, I talked to a lot of attorneys that have been somewhat institutionalized, maybe even starting in law school, going into either the government or into a medium or large law firm, where they feel very dependent on not only the infrastructure that’s provided to them in those settings, but also the camaraderie, the backup, really the ability to not feel alone at any given time. And if you talk to any solo practitioner, although well, any business owner for that matter, even though they can surround themselves with people, even though they can surround themselves with other colleagues who also may happen to be solo practitioners or small law firm owners, when you own your firm, you’re the bottom line. And that can feel very lonely at times. And so you have to get your belief straight. And once you get your belief straight, and you come to the conclusion that yes, I am going to be a solo practitioner, I am going to be a successful law firm owner, I’m going to build whatever size firm you set out to build once you lock in those beliefs. And once you remove the limiting beliefs that you may have, either consciously or subconsciously accumulated around your identity as a lawyer, then you can project those beliefs into your future.

And I believe that once you get your beliefs straight, there’s really a matter of then just setting your intentions, doing a fair amount of active listening and then taking action. Let’s talk about the intentions part of it first, to have a successful small law firm, you have to have a meaning behind your practice, you have to have a true north. So why are you doing it. And it can be because you want to be able to choose your clientele. It can be because you want to have the freedom to set your own schedule. It can be because you want to work cases, the way you want to work them, maybe with more integrity than what you’re seeing happening in the current situation that you’re in. Maybe you want to switch from being a corporate lawyer representing the interests of the corporation against the little guy to then helping the little guy, whatever it is for you. Knowing that true north is important because that true north is going to be something that you’re going to have to come back to over and over again when things get hard. The next is setting the intention for the standards of your practice. And so the standards are how am I going to conduct business? How am I going to treat my employees? How am I going to treat my clients? What comes first in my practice. So the standards that you set really dictate the company culture that you build around your firm. And even if you’re just a solo practitioner, you don’t even have a paralegal or receptionist, even if it’s just you, you still have a company culture, and that company culture is how you treat yourself.

And so the next thing that I advise attorneys that are thinking about starting their own practice to consider, is their intention around the impact that they want their firm to make. What is that firm going to mean? Is it going to be a driver of a satisfying lifestyle and quality of practice, where you can pick and choose which clients you want to work with? Are you going to take over a practice type in a geographic area? Are you going to forge a reputation as a thought leader amongst other lawyers in the community? What What does it mean to you? What does success mean to you, besides just the dollar and cents, and then finally, I advise attorneys to set their financial intentions. So what does success mean for you in terms of of dollars, if you don’t have that true north, if you don’t say this is how much I want to make. And this is how this is going to be compatible with the other things that I mentioned, the meaning the true north, the standards that you set the culture and the impact that you want to make. If the financial intention that you set is not compatible with those and doesn’t support those, then you’re always going to run into conflicts in your own mind, do I take that next matter, even though I’m so busy, that I can’t handle the matters that I have? Do I take on this case that I don’t believe in or that I know is a loser to collect the fees? Do I take on this case that I know is a loser and ultimately is not going to help my firm or the client because I have compassion for that client? Well, if you’re clear on your finances, if you’re clear on how you’re going to financially govern your practice, then those decisions will be easier to make.

The next thing that I advise attorneys that are thinking about starting their own practice to do is to listen. And by listening and I mean, read books, listen to podcasts, read blogs, and more than anything, have conversations with those that have been there that have done that, that you see living a solo practice or small, firm owner life that you want to emulate and learn from and have those conversations, buy them coffee, buy them lunch, hit them up on zoom, but listen to others, others that have been there and done that are always very willing to share that information, share their experiences with those that are coming behind them. And finally, and this is the most important of all, once you’ve set your beliefs once you set your intentions, and once you’ve listened a fair amount so that you know exactly what you want to do, then you have to take action. I see so many attorneys that really want to start their own thing, get hung up on the action part. And they simply never act. They languish year after year in that prosecutor’s office in that public defender’s office, in that big corporation in that medium sized law firm, always wondering what it would be like always saying, well, maybe next year, the it’ll be a better time, maybe next year, the kids will be out of elementary school or out of braces or out of college or we’ll get through that wedding or I will have built up enough savings or I’ll qualify for Medicare or whatever. There’s There’s never a good time when you get too much in your head about other things that are going on in your life. And so you have to plan you have to learn and then you have to take that leap.

About The Author

Attorney Dan Jaffe previously built successful small law practices in WA and AZ. He currently serves as the CEO of LawLytics.

Other posts by Dan.