As new lawyers await bar results, and more establish lawyers consider going out on their own, we probably should give some consideration to how NOT to start your own law practice. Or, on the flip side, what are the typical fail zones that need to be avoided in setting up a private practice.
Setting up private practices is sometimes (a lot of times) complicated by the fact that a new graduates cannot find a law job (which is a whole different story), or the more established attorneys are terminated, leave, or the firms with which they are associated fail or break up. My point is that exigent circumstances often lead to ill considerations -- namely, leaping before looking.
Really Wanting It. The problem with being forced into the private practice of law is that lawyers tend to lack clarity as to why they wish to start a practice. They ignore things like what is their individual practice area or niche? (A niche is better than a practice area). That gung-ho feeling is missing, or it is forced or contrived. And, the lack of it leads to a lot of problems and failures that are sometimes just difficult to quantify. In short, lawyers have got to want it.
Borrowing Money. There is a misconception that banks and lending institutions will loan money to start a practice. Generally speaking, this is not true. First, new businesses fail at an astounding rate. Second, although there are community banks and credit unions that lend to lawyers, these institutions often lend to more established professionals. But, here is the thing. Lawyers starting out probably already have enough damn debt. Lawyers can fake business lending with with credit cards or risky, high interest loans. But, they are likely jeopardizing their families and mortgaging their futures. It is not to be done if it can be avoided. Most of this money can be avoided by not taking on overhead starting out. I contend that if a lawyer has a cell phone, computer and broadband, then he or she has a law firm.
Paying Clients. For some reason, that still till to this day baffles me, most first-time private practitioners ignore or subjugate to other interests the issue of locating paying clients. There is still some fallacy out there that if lawyers will simply hang out a shingles that clients will find them, with wallets and pocketbooks wide open. It might be more true for lawyers leaving established firms, with established client bases, but it is probably the most practice-deadly thing lawyers starting out can do.
Lawyers must be able to sell the services they are offering. And, let me just stop here and say that lawyers are not selling the practice of law. It might help in terms of obtaining law jobs, but lawyers are otherwise not selling the prestige of their degrees. What lawyers sell, if they are legitimately successful, are particular solutions to particular problems. Most clients do not hire lawyers. People, groups, associations and companies hire people who provide solutions to their problems.
In this day and age, if lawyers do not know what they are selling, how are they going to sell it?
Admittedly, it makes it difficult if new private practitioners seek to practice where potential clients have already established retention habits of the lawyers they chose. Regardless of the buying habits of individuals and companies, I can assure you that referral sources have referral habits, relationships, new lawyers will need to overcome with persistence. New lawyers will need to locate and make contact with these referral sources to encourage a change in those habits.
My last point, then, is that the thought of obtaining paying clients should be the first and continuing priority of business lawyers entering the private practice of law.