As I reflect back on my first year in solo practice, it almost feels like a dream. I spent much of the year experimenting with new things, worrying about things that were ultimately out of my control, and a fair amount of time pinching myself because I’d actually done it – I quit my job and started a business. For a girl that’s had a job of some kind since she was 14 years old, this is a big deal.
So for this month, I’ve decided to list the top 6 lessons that I’ve learned in my first year as a solo. I know Rachel Rodgers did a great article on this several years ago from her perspective as someone starting a law practice right out of law school, but I wanted to take the perspective of someone leaving a traditional law job for the solo life. So here goes:
1. Celebrate Your Exit. Attention is not really my thing. I was never one of those people to arrive fashionably late to a party just so everyone can see my outfit. However, when I decided to leave my traditional legal job to start my practice, I stepped out of my comfort zone and threw a “Going Away” dinner. I invited everyone business colleague, acquaintance, and adversary I knew. This one act had an amazing impact on my business from the beginning. By making those personal connections, I was able to get referrals and per diem business almost immediately. This went a long way in calming my fears from not having a steady paycheck as I built my practice.
2. You Don’t Need A Million Bucks, But Save Some Cash Before You Quit. Before I left my job, I saved enough money to keep me going during my first year of business. Now it wasn’t the year’s worth of expenses as is often recommended. I didn’t want to set a figure that I would use as an excuse to never leave. However, to compensate for the small funds, I cut down my expenses and paid off my credit card debt. Once you truly cut down on expenses, you’ll be surprised by how much money you actually need to keep going.
3. There Is Power In Discernment and Routine. Here’s the thing, when you have some cash saved it’s really easy to spend. I love online business and tech gadgets generally, so I was like a kid in a candy store when I discovered all of the apps, courses, pdfs and webinars that you can buy for your business. However, every shiny object isn’t the best object for you. More importantly, some of your best business moves are the routine things that everyone tells you to do like meeting new contacts for lunch, sending thank you letters, and writing blog posts.
4. Invest in Your Business And in You. People talk about the entrepreneurial mindset, but no one talks about the amount of energy it takes to acquire and sustain it. Day in and day out, you have to learn the best ways to market, sell and provide quality legal services to your clients. You also have to tackle the chorus of thoughts and fears in your head. The ones that keep saying, “you know, getting a job is probably easier” or “how, exactly, are you planning to cover your expenses this month?” So while you are investing in CLE classes and legal guides, be sure to add some self development books, coaches, and courses to your list too. As a solo, you are intrinsicly tied to your business and if you want it to grow, you have to grow too.
5. Dear Overachiever, You Really Can’t Do Everything. As lawyers we are taught that we must turn over every leaf. When I was studying for the bar, I had this intense study schedule that only allowed for 4 hours of sleep per night for several weeks. I also put a folding table and chair at the end of my bed in case I woke up inspired to study in the middle of the night. I felt like I needed to know everything, with business is not like that. You are not the best at everything and do not need to be. Your job is to focus only on the tasks that are essential to your practice and outsource the rest to someone else. Can you do it? Yes. Can you do as well as a professional? Probably not. Once more, it’s a waste of time to try.
6. All the Good Stuff is on the Other Side of the Jump. I was at a conference a couple years ago where one of the speakers stated the following, “Jump and a net shall appear.” At the time this sounded too impractical for a risk adverse lawyer and totally against my training. We investigate to determine whether it’s worth jumping, what’s the best route, and look over the cliff to make sure the net is there. The truth is no matter how much you plan and do, ultimately you have to trust that things will work out in your favor. And not jut trust it, know it like you know your social security number. It’s a given without thinking. Because once you take the first leap, there are several more after that.