Are You Ready to Leave Your Firm & Go Out on Your Own?
By Terrie S. Wheeler
You might find yourself in one of two scenarios. You have been practicing in a large firm for many years and have developed the contacts and expertise you need to spin off and start your own practice. Or, maybe you are a recent law school graduate unable to find gainful employment as a lawyer and decide to hang your own shingle. Either way, there are many benefits of being the CEO of your practice. The latest American Bar Association data shows that nearly 80 percent of all lawyers in the United States practice in firms with fewer than five attorneys. Small firms comprise the life-blood of the legal industry.
However, before you jump off the entrepreneurial cliff, there are a number of things you will want to consider:
Clients hire lawyers not law firms. Your clients are loyal to you. It’s likely your clients chose you, not your law firm. To the extent you have clients you have attracted into your practice, they will follow you assuming you can show them that not only will they not suffer because of your move, but they may well benefit from a reduction in your hourly rate, and receive more personal attention.
Your overhead allocation. Many large firms have a per lawyer overhead allocation anywhere from $150K-$300K or more per year. You won’t need this level of per attorney overhead when you start your own practice. Therefore, your practice can potentially be more profitable than it is in a law firm.
Office location. Depending on your practice, you don’t necessarily need Class A office space downtown. Many lawyers I know have national practices and rarely even meet with clients in their offices. However, if you do need swanky space, consider some of the office suites in your area. Office suites offer all the amenities of a large firm (receptionist, waiting room, conference room space, a nice office, copy, fax and secretarial services) with an affordable price tag.
“The E-Myth Attorney.” The “E” in the title stands for entrepreneur. Written by entrepreneurial guru, Michael Gerber, this is a must read book for any lawyer contemplating going out on his or her own. The key concepts focus on helping you build a profitable enterprise rather than “owning a crazy job.” You will learn how to manage your finances, and develop replicable processes so you don’t have to work so hard. Not every lawyer is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Before you jump, make sure you are!
Choose your partners wisely. You don’t have to go it alone! You may find a couple of like-minded lawyers you would like to join forces with. Before entering into a partnership agreement, make sure you refer to last month’s article on “Keeping the Success in Succession Planning,” paying attention to having open discussions with prospective partners. These discussions include reviewing strengths, three-to-five year goals, traits and characteristics, roles and responsibilities in the practice and more.
File transfer protocol. Before opening your doors, research the process required to transfer your client files from your existing law firm to your new firm. Focus on making the process as seamless as possible for your clients.