Big plans start with small steps


I did a coaching call with an attorney who is planning to leave the firm where he works and open his own office. He’s been planning this for a few years. 

I remember what it feels like to open your own office and I’m excited for him. He’s got a lot of promise, and a lot planned, and I think he’s going to be very glad he made this move. 

But there was one part of his plan that bothered me and I told him so. His plan called for him to immediately open two offices, followed soon by a third, in different cities many hours driving time from each other.

He has reasons for believing he can succeed in all three locations, and I have no reason to doubt this, but I told him he should start with just one. 

One office, get it going, make it profitable, hire help, and then explore opening office number two. 

Keep it simple. 

Simple means “something you can do”. Something he can do: open one office.

With some experience in opening the first office, some cash flowing and some help helping, he will have the knowledge and wherewithal to open the second office and make it profitable in less time and with less effort.

As for marketing, we talked about his many options, but here again, I suggested that he keep it simple. Other than getting his website up and running, that means continuing to do what he’s been doing to bring in business–an email newsletter. 

It is his primary marketing method and it’s working well for him. I gave him suggestions for expanding and streamlining what he’s doing, leveraging what he already knows and does to get to the next level. Given his experience, I have no doubt that he will do exactly that.

Start where you are with what you have. Good advice for marketing and opening offices. 

Marketing online for attorneys


How do you transition from lawyer to successful lawyer?


Comes a question from a new-ish attorney who works for a firm in Kenya and wants to know how to transition from learning the law to applying what she’s learned and “thinking like a fee earner”?

It starts with acknowledging that practicing law is both a profession and a business and that you must wear both hats. Of course, that’s literally true when you go out on your own but its also true when you work for a firm because if you don’t bring in clients, you might find yourself replaced by someone who does.

It sounds like my Kenyan friend understands this. So, what’s the next step?

The next step is to educate yourself. Take classes, read books and blogs and newsletters on marketing and management. Learn something about sales. And work on your communication skills. Meet other lawyers who are one or two steps ahead of you and find out what they did to get there.

If you’re thinking about going out on your own, build a war chest. Save every penny so that if and when you make the leap you’ll have more staying power and more options.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for making the leap before you’re ready.

When I opened my own office I was hungry. Literally. I needed to bring in clients or I couldn’t pay for groceries. I had burned my boats behind me and to survive, I was forced to do anything and everything to bring in business.

Necessity is the mother (and father) of invention.

In retrospect, a lack of money wasn’t the biggest issue, nor was it a lack of experience. The number one challenge was a lack of contacts. So, if you do nothing else, focus on building a list of people who know, like, and trust you.

Do that and you’ll be golden.

Start your education with this


How much cash should you have before you open your own office?


I just heard from a lawyer who works for a firm and is thinking of going out on his own. He wants to know how much he should have in savings before making the leap.

Well, you need some cash–but a lot less than you might think.

You don’t have to invest in inventory. You don’t need to hire anyone until you have clients. You can get into an office with a couple months rent.  And if you plan to advertise, you don’t have to buy TV time or billboards, you can start with a small budget and scale up.

In other words, you don’t need a big pile of money to open your own practice. What you need is some cash on hand to pay your bills until the practice is producing enough income on its own.

But how much?

Six months? A year? Two years?

I don’t know. I don’t have a formula. But I can tell you this: it’s better to have “too little” than “too much”.

A big pile of money in the bank takes the pressure off of you. You can take your time. Be selective. Relax and do things “right”.

And that’s the problem. If you don’t have to hustle, you probably won’t.

When I opened my first office, I had almost no money in the bank. I sold my childhood coin collection to buy some (cheap) furniture and pay the first month’s rent on a small office. I bought an IBM Selectric typewriter with nothing down and payments of $43.43 per month. I bought some stationery, cards, pleading paper, legal pads, file folders, and pens. I had enough left over to cover a couple of months rent and basic expenses.

I was open for business, but I didn’t have any. No clients.

I took out a cheap classified ad in the local bar journal, seeking overflow work and appearances. And I hustled my rear end off to bring in some clients of my own. At first, I took anything, including work I hated and was barely qualified to handle. Most of my clients paid me next to nothing because that’s all they could afford and I took it because I needed whatever they could pay.

Every month was a struggle to cover my bills. It took five years before I figured things out, but I made it.

I made it because if I didn’t bring in business, I didn’t eat.

Looking back, I don’t know what would have happened if I had had lots of money at the start. Yeah, I do. I probably would have gone through it, thinking I had lots of time, and only then would I have had enough pressure to make things happen.

Your situation is different. You have more experience as a lawyer than I did. You know more about marketing than I did. And you have the Internet, which allows you to ramp things up more quickly. But you also have more competition than I did.

The bottom line on making the decision to open your own practice has little to do with how much money you have at the start, and everything to do with your drive and determination.

How bad do you want it?

If you’ve got lots of energy and you’re willing to work harder than you’ve every worked before, if you’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make it, you’ll make it.

Or you won’t. There are no guarantees. No paycheck, no benefits. Nothing. You have to build it all.

It’s called risk, but risk is the path to reward.

Make sure you have a marketing plan before you open your own practice