Lawyers Are Business Owners Too

Last week I was on the panel for a continuing legal education class at the UNLV Boyd School of Law called “How to Start a Law Practice.”  The audience was comprised of law students, recent graduates, and licensed attorneys.  We had a good turnout either because of widespread layoffs in the legal profession or because all the lawyers had just received notice of a shortage in their CLE credits for the year.  I’m going to suspend reality for the purpose of this article and assume everyone was truly interested in the topic and not just the CLE credits.

The five lawyers on the panel represented a diverse mix.  On one end of the spectrum was the alum who, in four years, built a solo practice into an eight attorney personal injury firm with bragging rights to settlements in the eight figures.  On the other end of the spectrum was lil’ ol’ me, the only true solo who’s been plugging happily along with not so much as a part-time file clerk for over a year.

I’d like to think that, before the class, I had an appreciation for the vast differences in personality that guide each of us lawyers in practice.  However, after the class, the realization that our individual personalities can and should affect the way we practice law suddenly crystallized.

We were halfway through the third presentation when I realized I had a very different interpretation of “How to Start a Law Practice,” informed by my approach to hanging my shingle, which is working nicely so far.  Be frugal.  Resist the pressure to obtain and maintain the expensive and often unnecessary trappings of BigLaw firms.  Be a conscientious lawyer.  Be selective about your practice areas – you can’t be all things to all people.  Find your passion.  Do good work and the clients will come.  

As one panel member ticked off a list of things “real lawyers” have, most of which are often found in the big fancy firms, I realized how far from his definition of a “real lawyer” I am.  My heart had sunk after hearing his list because my presentation had listed most of his “dont’s” on my “do” list.  Simply put, I have different motivators than my fellow panelists which influence the way I practice law.  I get up in the morning not to make a ton of money or to drive a fancy car to a marble and mahogany appointed office.  I get up in the morning to follow my passion, which I’m incredibly grateful to have discovered.  I value my independence over money.  If you can be honest about your motivators, you are more likely to choose a practice area and a method of practicing that will keep you satisfied in your career for, well, your career.  

For those of you considering solo practice, or even going into business with another lawyer, there are different approaches to practice and none of them are right or wrong.  It’s a lot like law school exam questions – there is no right or wrong answer, as long as you back yourself up.  Back yourself up with a solid understanding and acceptance of your motivators, your goals, and your priorities and the confidence to stick to them.  Once you have those figured out, choosing a practice area becomes easier.  

This is true for any entrepreneur.  Find your passion, or at least what motivates you – money, independence, freedom, time with family, notoriety, public service.  Don’t apologize for it; let it guide you into business.  Fighting it makes no sense and stalls your progress.  Watch this:  I’m Gina.  I’m a lawyer in solo practice.  I don’t have raised letterhead, a fancy car, or a Rolex.  But I love my job.  Hear that?  I LOVE my job.  

So take some time to reflect on your personality, your goals and aspirations, and your motivators. And I hope one day you love your job too.