Starting a law practice is hard work, just like being a lawyer is hard work. There is a veritable horde of coaches, consultants, and gurus, though, who are peddling the fiction that you can build a law practice in four hours a week by “building a practice that works for you, not the other way around” and similar baloney.

Can you cut hours and take vacations in the long term (probably once you’ve taken on a small staff — virtual, if you like)? Absolutely, and you won’t need a guru whose only qualifications are owning a copy of The Four-Hour Workweek and reading that Esquire editor’s article about virtual assistants.

In the meantime, you need to work your ass off.

Over the last 7 years, I have had a moderately successful solo practice, then a not-quite-as-successful, not-quite-solo practice, and now a successful-as-I-want-it-to-be solo practice. And I worked my ass off for this. Every year, my consumer law practice required (a little) less of me, and earned me a little more money. The same is true now, with my tech startup practice.

The secret? Not international virtual assistants. It was because I got more efficient as I made mistakes and gained experience. And my reputation grew, my referral network got deeper, and I just plain got better at lawyering and running a law practice.

In order to do that, I often worked 60–80 hours a week. Then, a slow week or two would show up and I would work less for a while and catch up before the next wave knocked me over. Of course, slow weeks often meant I didn’t have enough business to keep me busy, so I would be stressed out about making money instead of being stressed out about my next hearing.

To try to alleviate that stress, I would use my “free” time to focus on marketing. I would update my website and post to my consumer law blog, reconnect with my network and try to make new connections, and plan seminars for potential clients and referral sources. I may not have been working on cases, but I was still working as hard as I could to bring in new business.

When starting a law practice, the only way to ensure success is to work as hard as you can until your experience, reputation, referral network — and everything else you are working hard at — kicks in and results in some momentum. After a while, you can think about hiring someone (or a few someones) to help give you a break now and then.

It takes 3 years to get to find out whether your practice will survive and support you. And you have to work your ass off for those three years to find out for sure. The most successful lawyers I know are also some of the hardest-working lawyers I know. If you don’t want to work hard, you are in the wrong profession.

So when you hear from gurus peddling the magical, low-maintenance practice of your dreams, chuckle quietly to yourself, post about it on Twitter, and get back to work.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdrummbks/4433070323/)