Starting a Law Firm is Just Like Skydiving

Earlier this year my girlfriend and I bought a Groupon for a skydiving class and tandem jump. The deal was for an hour of instruction, then a tandem jump and some photos. As I found myself leaving the comfort of a perfectly safe airplane, I realized I had felt this way once before: on my last day at my old job.

There is So Much You Don’t Know

As it turned out, the hour of instruction we received was more like a ninety-second demonstration using some action figures. I could teach you everything I currently know about a tandem skydive in three bullet points:

  • Cross your arms over your chest while falling out of the plane.
  • After you’re out of the plane, immediately bend your knees. Visualize kicking your partner in the butt.
  • Lift your legs for the landing so you land on your butt and slide. Otherwise you will break your legs.

Despite this tiny amount of knowledge, I decided to hook myself to a stranger and pray. I felt the same way when we went full time at the firm. Although my partner isn’t a complete stranger, there was a lot of praying involved. And a lot of things we didn’t know. Aside from substantive knowledge, any new attorney starting a firm has a lot to learn about running a business, local court procedures, how to talk to clients, and so forth. And the worst part: there are so many things I didn’t realize I didn’t know. Which makes learning those things tricky.

Things Can Go Very Wrong

Once you’re out of the plane, you pretty much have two things that can go very wrong. But if they do go wrong, you’re in a lot of trouble. First, the parachute could fail to open. Then the backup parachute could fail to open. If both things happen, you better have a succession plan in place.

When you have your own practice, there are a lot more things that can go wrong. But if they happen close together it could be equally disastrous. Losing a few key cases a year could cause financial instability. Making a mistake on one or two client files could lead to a bad reputation and a silent phone. If your computers crash and you lose all of your client data without a backup, you’ll be in quite a pickle.

Which brings me to my last point of similarity.

You Need a Backup

If it were up to me, I would have had about three emergency parachutes instead of just one. I’m assuming there was one. That wasn’t covered in the training. Similarly, you need a backup for your law practice. And I’m not just talking about your data. You need someone you can call when you don’t know the answer to a substantive legal question. You need to know who you can reach out to if you need a hearing covered, or who you can refer a client to. These things are a net to help you as you grow in the profession and as a business, and they’re just as critical as the backup parachute.

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  • Paul Spitz

    Why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Leaving a law firm to start your own, on the other hand, is more like jumping out of a damaged plane leaking fuel with an engine on fire