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Overcoming Common Setbacks to a Successful Solo Law Practice

What it takes to move past the road blocks and launch your own law business.

In our last post, we looked at five traits of successful entrepreneurial lawyers. Today, in a continuation of that idea, we look at some action items that can help you overcome the common setbacks that hinder lawyers from starting their own firm or solo law practice. Launching a new business is a challenge, and as with any challenge, it is helpful to not only assess your strengths, but also to examine your potential weaknesses so that you can find ways to adapt and move forward.

Learn to run a small business

Time Management for Lawyers

Many lawyers complain that law school didn’t prepare them for entrepreneurship. “Most law students never learned such lessons in traditional law school curriculums. But, this is no time to be old fashioned,” wrote Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard in this Entrepreneur article.

Running your own firm means being more than just a lawyer; you’re also a business owner, a manager, a marketer, and an accountant. Even if you plan to outsource many or your business management tasks, it helps to gain a basic understanding of how to run, promote and structure a small business. Resources like the Small Business Development Center offer a wealth of classes on starting and running a successful business. With this knowledge, and the confidence it provides, you will be better prepared to face the ups and downs of small business ownership.

Prioritize your tasks to focus on the highest and best use of your time

Lawyers are trained to go through everything with a fine-toothed comb, looking for errors and liabilities, but this trait can stifle the ability of your business to grow in a fast-paced world. Consider this ABA Journal anecdote about one lawyer-turned-entrepreneur who spent days analyzing and rewriting a month-to-month lease for his business – something he admits was a waste of valuable time.

Running a successful business means being able to make decisions quickly and decisively, and sometimes that means you must be able to cope with the idea of a few loose ends. It also means prioritizing. A common refrain in small business management is “do what you do best, and outsource the rest.” Consider the value of your time in performing your primary business function—providing legal services to your clients—and then consider how you can streamline your other workload so that you can spend more time generating income and less time in the weeds with tasks that fall outside your areas of expertise.

Be assertive and project confidence

“Self-efficacy is very important predictor of success in almost every aspect of life. Confidence in one’s ability to organize and execute a course of action affects people’s performance,” wrote Eyal Yaniv and David Brock in this piece on reluctant entrepreneurs.

If self-confidence is an issue, seek out others who have gone through the small firm development process. Build a network of both peers and mentors who can help you when times get tough. LawBank offers a community of attorneys with diverse skills, at different points in their careers. The collaboration and mentorship opportunities can be a tremendous benefit to startup law practices.

Once you’ve gained the confidence provided by a good support network, project that confidence when interacting with potential clients and partners. Your business associates want to feel comfortable that you know what you’re doing, that you are confident in the solutions you are offering, and that you are the best person for the job. Help them believe that.

Communicate a clear value proposition

To succeed as a new business, you must have some way to stand out from the crowd. Your potential clients need a reason to choose you over the lawyer down the street. “In service businesses, there are often no inherent advantages to the customer. We won’t switch to another provider unless we’re totally blown away by the personality of the entrepreneur,” said Inc. Editor-in-chief Eric Shurenberg in this article about why some entrepreneurs succeed.

So communicating a clear value proposition is critical to new business success. It helps to write down an explanation of the value you provide. Why are you a more appealing option? Why should a client consider you over another attorney or firm? What experience and skills make you unique in your field?

One potential advantage for new solo lawyers could be membership in prestigious professional organizations or associations with legal communities, such as LawBank. Portraying yourself as part of something bigger can give potential clients that extra boost of confidence that you possess not only the requisite skills, but the support network as well.

Focus, focus, focus

When faced with the myriad tasks of running your own business, it’s easy to get distracted by non-essential work (or play) and lose the drive that prompted you to start your solo practice in the first place. “Savvy entrepreneurs know how to stay focused on their priorities in the face of these distractions. They understand how to manage and lead their time, rather than simply reacting to issues and requests as they come in,” wrote Nellie Akalp in this piece for Mashable.

If focus is an issue, consider the wealth of resources available to entrepreneurs to help you streamline your workflow and concentrate on what’s truly important. Small business management organizations like the Crankset Group offer classes on focusing your time and skills. Also, today’s small business owner has a multitude of options for outsourcing many of those distracting tasks—everything from your accounting to your social media marketing. LawBank and other organizations catering to small business owners regularly host seminars on ways to better manage your business. These groups want you to succeed, and have done a lot of the legwork for you when it comes to developing effective systems. Be sure to take advantage!

Tell us: What other traits do you think make or break entrepreneurial lawyers

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