What Drives You?
The longer I survive in solo practice, the more often I’m asked to present to law students or lawyers interested in starting their own practices. Early on in my practice, I was one of five lawyers on a panel for a CLE class at my alma mater on “How to Start a Law Practice.” The audience was comprised of law students, recent graduates, and licensed attorneys.
The panel was pretty diverse. On one end we had the alum who, in four short years, built a solo practice into an eight attorney firm with bragging rights to settlements in the tens of millions. Yours truly was on the other end of the spectrum, the only true solo who had been plugging happily along for over a year with not so much as a part-time file clerk.
I thought that before hearing all the panelists’ stories, I had an understanding and even an appreciation for the personality differences that guide each of us in our lives and specifically in our practices. Afterwards, however, the realization that our personality differences can and should affect the way we practice really crystallized.
Halfway through the discussion I realized I had a much different approach to hanging a shingle, which was working nicely a year into it and is still working three and a half years later. Be frugal. Resist the expensive and often unnecessary trappings of BigLaw firms. 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.
One panelist ticked off a list of things “real lawyers” have, including a fancy office, expensive furniture, a highly paid secretary, a designer wardrobe, and a luxury car. Imagine my surprise when it dawned on me that, based on his definition, I’m apparently not a “real lawyer.” I shouldn’t have to pay my student loans, then, right? HA! I suppose that’s the beauty of a panel discussion – the audience benefits from everyone’s experiences and we’re all different. I have different motivators than my fellow panelist which influence the way I practice law. I work not to make a ton of money or to drive a fancy car to a marble and mahogany appointed office. I work because I have found my passion and my practice allows me to follow it. My independence is more important to me than my net worth.
My point is, be honest about what drives you, and follow your bliss. If you can figure out your motivators, you are more likely to choose a practice area and a way of practicing law 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 fight it. Don’t apologize for it. Instead, let it guide you. 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.
Before you hang your shingle, take some time to reflect on your personality, your goals and aspirations, and what gets you out of bed in the morning. I hope one day you love your job too.