When I told my non-lawyer friends that I’m opening a law firm, they were pretty impressed. Parents, family members, and friends were all very excited and full of congratulations. Luckily, I have lawyer friends as well. They were the ones who asked the hard questions. Those questions tested my plan and my drive. Every attorney I spoke to asked me pretty much the same questions I had already asked myself numerous times.
What Will You Do When You Don’t Make Any Money?
This is one of the first things a lot of people think about when they decide if they want to go out on their own. For me, it was a simple matter of math. I’ve kept a budget since my junior year in college. Some months I’m under budget, some months I’m a little over budget, but it tends to even out. So I sat down and did the math.
The first step was determining which expenses could be cut if necessary. Then I looked at what my monthly budget needed to be after cutting those expenses. Using that amount, I determined how much money I would need in the bank before leaving my job. I assumed an initial law firm investment of $3,000 and no income for six months. This means if I make no money for the first six months of owning a law firm, I will be able to pay my bills, eat, and keep a roof over my head.
Six months is my estimate for the amount of time it takes to start bringing in money. Most of the lawyers I spoke to said to budget for three to four months of no money. One attorney recommended a year. Of course, I’m hoping we can bring in clients right away. But I’m not counting on it. I call this policy hopeful pessimism.
What Will You Do When You Don’t Know How to Handle Something?
In my opinion, this issue is almost more important than the money issue. The money issue only concerns me and those around me. This issue concerns my duty of zealous advocacy for my clients. The short answer is simple: CLE publications and mentors.
I’ve already sat down with half a dozen or so local attorneys and picked their brains about various questions I’ve had. Through these attorneys, and others, I’m creating a network of helpful mentors. I know which people I can call for help on various issues.
In the beginning, I will have a lot of questions. I don’t want to pick up the phone every time I’m not sure how to handle something, or want a pointer. That’s why we are investing in some CLEs. Specifically, we are using the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. They’ve got some great introductory books with sample forms, relevant case law, etc. It’s pretty cheap to just buy the materials for a CLE and audit the course. Definitely a worthwhile investment.
Do You Have the Dedication to See This Through?
This was the toughest question for me to answer. I couldn’t turn to math, or trust my ability to network and research. Instead, I had to sit down and decide if I have what it takes. I believe I do. I know I can work hard and put in long hours. I know that I can achieve some ambitious goals when I put my mind to it. But have I judged myself correctly? That’s what keeps me up at night.
Ask me in a year.
Read the next post in this series: "Designing a Logo."