Starting your own law firm is a dream. If you are able to make your own law firm takeoff, that would mean a lot of things. You would have control over your time and work. You will be able to build the kind of workplace where you will love to work in (this was a big reason why I started iPleaders). You will be respected for your work and contribution. You will probably be much richer, but in any case, you get to decide your fate. You bear the risk, but you enjoy the rewards too.
It is not for everyone, because the risk scares many people. Some people just want the rewards minus the risk. But there is a vast majority of people who really want to start their own law firm one day, someday, despite knowing the risk.
How big is the risk anyway? If you are a competent lawyer, you are in a great market to start on your own because finding competent, honest and hard-working lawyers is so difficult. It is not too difficult to start and run a small or solo law practice.
Scaling it up, of course, is a different ball game.
I recently interviewed about a dozen lawyers working in top law firms, people who I respect for their quality of work, and asked them what is stopping them from starting their own law firms. The answers I got were very instructive. Let’s run you through these reasons:
Fear of failure
Beginners are less afraid of failure, but as you grow in the legal profession, you put on a veneer of prestige and success. You are drawing a good salary, living in a good house, driving a good car on which you still have to pay the EMI. It is hard in that place to take any risks at all. You feel that you have a lot to lose. Even if you just lose 1 year’s salary, and that amount is 30 lakhs, it is quite scary, isn’t it?
This is why you will see younger lawyers or those who didn’t hit professional success in a law firm or an in-house legal department and have been struggling in some way or other starting up more frequently. That sounds crazy, but it is true.
More difficult the game, lesser the competition. And sometimes the lack of competition is enough reason for you to win.
Fear of failure and losing the status and money they have already put in work to earn stops a large number of competent lawyers from starting up even though they are otherwise very well placed to do so.
The first couple of years are the years of horror in most lawyers’ lives. After this, things begin to get better usually, if they develop competence. It is hard to leave when things are getting better after a phase of fear and struggle.
Lawyers, if they manage to survive in a law firm or a chamber that pays a decent salary for that long, find a kind of comfort zone in their work within 3-4 years. They mostly do the same kind of work, especially in law firms. Most of their life is predictable at this point. They get very comfortable with their life. To leave the same and venture out in the wilderness does not look appealing.
Even when they dream of starting up someday, they feel tremendous inertia.
Do I know enough?
A common excuse is that I am not ready to start up yet, I need to wait till I am more senior, till I have gray hair, till I have more experience, etc. Mostly this is a creative justification for not taking a risk.
Nobody was born with the knowledge of how to run a business. And at the end of the day, starting your own law practice is essentially starting a business. You will have to learn how to run a business. One way to learn is to learn on the job, by making mistakes. Or you can rely on books that may be relevant. I also highly recommend doing a course on legal practice development and management.
You are not going to learn about how to run a business by doing a job. There is a lot of difference between the two. Lawyers who start young tend to build better practices than most of those who wait for a long time – simply because they spend more time hustling and learning the ropes of how to run a law practice.
In terms of legal knowledge, surely you do not know enough. A lawyer never knows enough.
You will get better with more exposure. When you are in a job, you do what is more important and profitable for the organization, and not necessarily what will make you a better lawyer. Your learning within an organization may not grow because you are required to focus narrowly for the sake of efficiency and profitability.
But you can learn, and you learn faster when you have to go out there and get business, as well as handle the accountability for delivering the results to your client. This is vastly different from working for a boss. The increased ownership leads to greater responsibility, and greater responsibility leads to faster development. I see lawyers who practice independently mature much faster than those who stick to a safe job, although there are exceptions.
In 2012 when I quit my job in a big law firm to start a legal education company, somehow I did not hesitate about what I did not know. I said I will figure out on my way. When I look back it feels crazy that a lawyer with just one year’s experience ventured out to take on much bigger competitors and wanted to offer top-notch online courses. Precocious, wasn’t it?
But we managed.
Also, with technology being ubiquitous and making legal knowledge accessible on fingertips of even an intern, or a client, excuses, like I do not know enough yet, have ceased to be valid. There was a time legal knowledge was something to acquire and remember over the years, but this is now how it is anymore, given that anyone can find all the relevant laws within minutes using powerful technology tools. I highly recommend that you check out programs like Litigation Library and Master Access. These can really speed up your learning and help you to deal with clients at a moment’s notice.
I need to save more first
I have heard this from many friends who eventually went on to start a law firm. One of my colleagues in Trilegal used to say often that he wants to start up but will wait a bit more till he has some savings. He has been working for 5 years in law firms at that point, and had no savings yet! He kept saying he needs to save in order to quite for at least 7 months, at which point the firm decided to let go of his entire team.
Very upset, my friend decided to not look for another job, but borrowed 1 lakh from his father, and just started a practice from his bedroom. I still remember referring his first client to him. Today he runs a very reputed boutique law firm, with several crores in profits.
It wasn’t as hard as he thought it will be. It helped that he is a terrific lawyer and has a strong business sense. It is also true that in the first one and a half years he struggled to find clients who could pay decent rates for quality work. But half the game is to sustain in the market until clients begin to trust you. Trust is also a factor of how long you are in business and how many people you managed to do well by.
When I started, I had 3 months of rent and food expenses in my bank account. I had no idea when I will earn my next cheque. But it came, soon. It always does, if your intent is right, you can genuinely do good work, and ready to take a leap of faith.
The worst-case scenario is that you work a bit cheaper than what you should charge! Until you find your footing of course, after which you can move on to charging a premium. Do not wait until you have enough savings. I have friends who have half a crore saved in the bank but still can’t find the confidence to quit.
Some people are genuinely bad at organizing a practice
Everyone should not start their own law practice. There are plenty of talented lawyers who are better off in a law firm or working under someone else. To start your law practice, you need to develop a whole new set of skills, related to management.
You need to find clients and ensure that they have a good experience.
You need to learn how to price your services right. You need to understand your market and how to position yourself in there, you need to understand marketing and branding.
You have to learn how to attract talented lawyers to work for you and how to retain them. If you have partners to work with, you need to select the right ones and then ensure they stick with you. You even have to keep a tab on the performance of the lawyers you hire and you have to train them.
You need to retain old clients while you are trying to bring in new ones. You need to build efficient operation and train the support staff so that work moves like clockwork.
Basically, apart from the law, there are tons of moving parts in an organization and you need to master a whole host of them.
This is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some lawyers are meant to build organizations, and others should just focus on their legal work, benefitting from an organization that provides them the rest as facilities.
Are you planning to start your own law firm? Have you started one and learning to manage and grow it at the same time?
It is hard enough to start your law practice, but what if you could prepare and train for it? What if you could apprehend the problems that may arise in the future and nip them in the bud? What if you could learn the best practices?
We have a course that will shorten the learning phase. Do not learn by doing mistakes when you can learn systematically in a safe environment, from top experts. It is the Legal Practice Development and Management Course.
It is making a difference to the careers of lawyers who have been practicing independently for a long time, and it will certainly be an eye-opener for you. It is backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee. Check it out over here. You can participate in the course for 30 days, attend classes, do the assignments and if you find that it’s not helping you, take a full refund, no questions asked (read the refund policy properly).
Check out the list of our stellar guest faculties, basically, the who’s who of the legal industry to get a sense of what is in store. It’s on the course page here, just scroll down a bit.
Here are the courses for which the enrolment is closing in 3 days:
EXECUTIVE CERTIFICATE COURSE
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