In 2009, in the midst of the economic crash, Jeff, my now husband (boyfriend at the time), and I decided to do what now seems slightly insane — quit our day jobs to start a law firm. We learned a lot along the way, about the practice of law — both in terms of client service/management as well as running, operating, and growing a business.
For anyone considering flying solo, my suggestion is to find someone to take the journey with you, if possible. I feel very fortunate that my husband and I shared a vision for a law practice that’s sustainable, profitable, gave us a sense of purpose, and fit our lifestyle. Having a partner is great for many obvious reasons — division of labor, someone to bounce ideas off of, but most importantly, someone to keep you accountable and keep you going.
“Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.”
― Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Here are 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Flying Solo.
1. My Biggest Obstacle Is Myself
What I learned over time is to not let my inner critic sit in the driver seat. Of course, a certain amount of overcoming the inner critic was required for us to start the practice, but every day I struggled with feeling not good enough, not smart enough, and feeling panicked that at any moment, someone was going to call me out as being a fraud.
I don’t know if it’s a function of getting older, practice, or the mindfulness practice but over the years, but I developed an unshakable sense of can do attitude.
Interestingly, the stronger my sense of can do attitude gets, the more opportunities show up in my life.
“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
― Vincent van Gogh
2. Everything Takes A LOT More Time
Starting and growing your practice takes, well, practice. In the beginning, everything will take a lot more time than you could ever anticipate. When your web developer promises to deliver your firm website in 10 days? Yeah, that’s never going to happen.
Figuring out how to reconcile your clients’ trust account? I used to spend an entire weekend every month doing this. Do yourself a favor and hire a bookkeeper. This may be the single most important advice I can offer to any solo practitioner.
The good news is that over time, you’ll become more efficient.
3. The Art of Saying “No”
The worst client you can ever have? The client you don’t like from the initial consultation.
When you’re first starting out, there’s an overwhelming sense that if you don’t sign-up every potential client that walks through your door, your practice will fail.
Learning to trust your gut and declining clients takes practice but is critical to the success of your law firm. The 80/20 rule is in full effect in law practice. 20% of your clients will cause 80% of your grief.
4. It’s a Marathon
During the early years of our practice, I used to fret about all the little things — if the phone didn’t ring for a day, I’d convince myself that we’re going to go homeless. If the website crashed, it felt as though my life crashed with it. I obsessed over every detail of our practice. Needless to say, this is unsustainable and very taxing.
Adopt a long view for your practice. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, the small stuff can sometimes matter, but keep your eye on the ball — what is the long-term goal for your practice?
5. Do What You Love
Every reflective person sooner or later faces certain questions: What is the purpose of my life? How do I find a moral compass so I can tell right from wrong? What should I do day by day to feel fulfillment and deep joy?
– David Brooks
This quote comes from David Brooks’s New York Times article, What is Your Purpose? It’s worth reading.
Many lawyers see flying solo as an escape — escape from the firm structure, escape from the unbearable boss, escape from the grueling hours, and escape from unfulfilling, dissatisfying work. I think this is a great start to exploring your life’s purpose. After all, understanding what you dislike (and the reason for it) is crucial for aligning your life towards fulfillment and deep joy.
However, I invite you to go deeper and explore the questions Brooks asks. The best part of flying solo is that you can define for yourself what your practice is going to look and feel like. You can determine the clients you wish to serve. You can decide what it means to have a purpose-driven law practice.
Next week, I’ll share with you additional lessons I learned from solo practice, including getting clients and law firm money management.
Until next week…
P.S. Are you interested in flying solo or starting a small law firm practice? Please take this six-question survey. I’m also offering a Clio-sponsored Webinar on Better Lawyering Through Mindfulness tomorrow. Please join me and over 1,500 other lawyers. Finally, I’m going on a month-long road trip and I’d love to connect with you. Details can be found here.
Jeena Cho is co-founder of JC Law Group PC, a bankruptcy law firm in San Francisco, CA. She is also the author of the upcoming American Bar Association book, The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Happier, Saner Law Practice Using Meditation (affiliate link), as well as How to Manage Your Law Office with LexisNexis. She offers training programs on using mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress while increasing focus and productivity. She’s the co-host of the Resilient Lawyer podcast. You can reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jeena_cho.