Working On vs In Your Law Firm

I’m currently revisiting The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to do About It.

Whether you’re thinking about starting your own law firm or you already have your own law firm, it’s a book I recommend (here are some others).

Sam reviewed it here. If you don’t bother with his full review, read this:

What he means is this: build your business as if you were building the prototype for a franchise, a packaged business model you could sell repeatedly, whether or not you actually intend to do so.


But will it work for a law firm? In particular, will it work for a solo practitioner or small law firm?

Yes, if your goal is to grow into a small (or large) firm. No if you want to stay solo. Gerber points out that a sole proprietorship is a recipe for exhaustion and burnout. And I think he is probably right when it comes to “regular” businesses. Professional businesses are a bit different, and I think we can “stay small” without going insane. If you do want to grow, however, there is a lot to learn from the franchise model. Even if you do not want to grow, there is a lot you can learn from this book.

But this post isn’t completely about the book. It’s about understanding one important point from the book: The difference between working in a business and working on a business.

Now before you get all “cray cray,” we all know working as a lawyer in a law firm, is vastly different from working at a McDonalds or a tech start-up.

However, working on a law firm might be much more like thinking like Ray Kroc than you think.

Working In Your Law Firm

Working On Your Law Firm

  • Creating systems at your law firm.
  • Human resources (hiring/firing, vacations, overtime, payroll).
  • Thinking about overhead.
  • Writing and revising client service policies and procedures.
  • Policies and procedures for business reports and records.
  • Procedures for safety and security.
  • Management policies, processes and procedures.
  • Plans for business development.

So here’s the deal. If you don’t like aren’t willing to work on your law firm, you shouldn’t own a law firm. You should get a job as a lawyer. And you should stop lying to yourself about the glamour, excitement, freedom and green grass of owning your own law firm and being your own boss. Instead, you should hone your craft. Become a better lawyer.

And if you conclude that you would really rather be a lawyer than own a law firm, don’t beat yourself up. You might not realize it, but you just made a huge leap forward.

On the other hand, if you’re willing, or even better, enjoy the challenges associated with defining and growing a business, then, and only then, should you consider starting your own law firm.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that being a great lawyer will make you a great law firm owner. They’re two entirely different things.


  1. I enjoyed The Emyth Revisited and recommend it (but unfortunately, I learned most of what it has to teach the hard way long before the book was written!)

    Also on my must read list for those in business are David Allen’s Getting Things Done and The One Minute Manager.

    Attorneys should not bother with the Emyth for Lawyers – just get the original.

  2. Avatar Tamim says:

    “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that being a great lawyer will make you a great law firm owner. They’re two entirely different things.”

    This is the most important sentence in this article, and every lawyer should know that.

  3. Thanks for the great post! I’ve given copies of the E-Myth to many lawyers – particularly mid-level associates and sole practitioners. Some are amazed that there are other ways to become more profitable than billing more hours or raising rates.

    I’d add to the list:

    Working in your firm:
    Assuming that someone else has a handle on firm operations, because it’s their ‘job’
    Complaining when work assignments from others dwindle

    Working on your firm:
    Not just creating systems, policies, plans and procedures, but executing them and measuring results.
    Taking an active interest in the business of your firm – showing up to meetings, participating and learning

  4. Avatar JG says:

    Thank you for writing this, important insights!

Leave a Reply