I get so tired of tripish sayings like "you've got to take risks if you want to get ahead." Or, "you've got to throw caution to the wind". We somehow try to embarrass those that do not want to take great risk by accusing them of ignoring their dreams.
Which of the two following quotes really relate. TR who said, "No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being ..." Or, Ray Bradbury who compared, "Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down."
Sure you can point out someone who fell into a big pile of his own badly calculated risk and came out smell like a rose. Mixing metaphors, however, just remember that 80% of the people who jump off a cliff do not live to tell about it.
Do not get me wrong, I take risks every day of my life. We all do. I have faith. Most of us do. And, we honor those who turn out to have vision. We should. But, there is a big difference between this and taking what is the metaphorical equivalent leap off the Empire State Building. Whether you relate the ground underneath the Empire State Building as pay dirt or merely concrete, the impact is going to be disastrous.
Here in my estimation is why taking more than minimal risk no longer operates well for most people in this country. First, a lack of reasonable health insurance coverage for those not employed by bigger companies. Second, the size of the non-dischargeable student loans that most of us are forced to accrue. And third, the dismantling of all reasonable safety nets for those of us that try, such as the elimination of reasonable bankruptcy laws. Remember, 80% of all leaps of faith end in business failure. Therefore, the risk is not rewarded if you cannot escape the indentured servitude that happens later when you find yourself in the predictable 80%. It is difficult to recover. Therefore, it is discouraging to try.
Political differences aside, what gets to me most are those that hype this risk sloganeering to a " Ye tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" level. This leads to a need to take on the trappings of wealth and success to prove you are fearless.
It is all terribly misguided on the one hand, and simply terrible for the entrepreneurial culture of our country, and specifically our legal community, on the other.
There is a solution, or at least a compromise. You can take risks, but risk little. The key is to avoid the trappings of wealth. I know it might be difficult for a young or newly minted lawyer, but try and be humble. Forget the visible trappings of success.
I suggest three steps or precautions to limit risk:
1. You might know that area in which you might wish to practice, but you need to have a plan, whether it is ultimately correct or needs modification along the way, as to how you will find paying clients. Believe it or not, most lawyers going out on their own seem to ignore this step in lieu of planning their office, their staff, their insurance coverages, their commute, and no telling what else. You risk less if you have thought through this crucial step first.
2. Forget about office space, staffing, up to date tech, who will answer phone lines, office furniture and all the rest. The entire purpose of working for yourself is so that you do not have to work for other people. There is very little difference in having a low paying, inflexible job and working for all of those, like landlords, who want you to sign contracts and pay them before money goes home to you and your family. There is always time to get too big for your britches, but for now when there is no guarantee of money or earnings coming in, there needs to be no guarantee of money going out for discretionary office overhead. If you have a cell phone and a computer you are in businesses. Be literal about this aspect of starting your own firm.
3. Get your family overhead in order. If you can delay the payment of student loans, do so. Even if it turns out you can pay them currently, there is a big difference in being able to do so and being required to do so. Cut out non-essentials. You need broadband, but you might not need all several hundred cable channels. Refi your home to lower your interest rate and cut your payment. It might not be a great time to buy a new car. Consolidate your unsecured debt with a lower interest loan from a credit union. The point is that the less you need to get by, the easier it is to comfortably build a new practice. Also, most people starting out do not have three to six months of overhead in the bank, but set aside a couple of thousand dollars for true family emergencies, like a broken car.
I know that scrimping and scraping is no fun, but it is better than the alternative. It lowers the risk of failure. Besides, if you follow the three points above carefully you will not have to do so for long.
I would always rather begin from zero than below zero. I do not want to struggle just to make it to zero. Below zero is what contacts, obligations, staffing, marketing costs and too high of living expenses do to you. It makes what is otherwise risky too risky.