How I started my own practice and what I have learned (so far).

The past two months have been both exhilarating and daunting as I have embarked on this great adventure of solo-preneurship by opening my own law practice. In the short period of time since I opened my doors, I have fielded questions and comments from several colleagues and friends which included statements on “how brave” I was to honest and curious questions wondering how I actually did it.

Truthfully, the doing was the easiest part. I’m a lawyer – so actually doing things is not difficult. I am accustomed to having an overwhelming to-do list every day so checking things off was relatively routine. Lining up the major components of a law practice included legally establishing the business entity, setting up the appropriate bank accounts, procuring malpractice insurance, purchasing the multitude of software programs necessary to run a law practice, designing a website, securing office space, purchasing business cards and letterhead, setting up an email account, and establishing firm accounts at the various courthouses, among several other items.

What was much more mentally taxing was thinking about everything that needed to be done and worrying when things went wrong. And they did go wrong. I set up my business during COVID after all. Matters which would have been routine in January took weeks to get done simply because government and financial offices were altogether closed or working with a drastically reduced remote staff.

When I look back and honestly assess the last few months, there were several things which kept me on-task and aligned with what I was trying to accomplish. The first was my firm start-up task list which I ruthlessly kept on top of religiously. My type-A personality kicked in as I planned out each week, noting what needed to get done and in priority order. For example, I needed a business address in order to incorporate. And I needed a federal employer identification number for just about everything else. Without bank accounts or malpractice insurance, I couldn’t open my doors, so those items had to take precedence. Once the foundational pieces were in place I could move on to the more “fun” items on the list.

Second, I quickly realized several items on my start-up list were aspirational and not necessary. Would it be nice to have every single professional membership and bar association registration switched over to my new firm the day my doors opened? Yes. Was is it necessary to actually service my clients? No. I gave myself grace and started shedding unrealistic expectations of what needed to actually be in place when I opened. It was more important to understand how my practice management software worked so I could enter my time, generate bills, and maintain my docketing system, than it was to establish my email marketing list (which I still have not done by the way) or my firm social media accounts.

Finally, and most importantly, I relied on many extraordinary friends and colleagues, so much so that it would be impossible to actually name each one of them. Honestly, I was overwhelmed at the amount of support I received when I announced I was opening my own practice, from people in Chicago to friends and colleagues across the country. I still haven’t even been able to respond to everyone and say thank you for their well wishes. (I promise I am going to get to that!) I received such an outpouring of generosity of time and support in various forms that I realized that while my solo practice was indeed a solo business, I was far from alone. No matter my question, how big or small, there was someone willing to step up and answer it or even just give me a gracious nudge (or a full -throttled push) of encouragement.

So what have I learned so far?

  • When I first opened, I did not know what I did not know. There was so much coming at me from an administrative aspect I was just trying to keep up. I am now getting my feet under me with respect to an actual work flow of the business. It is a work in progress, but each day the business tasks become easier and less time consuming.
  • Software in this 21st century COVID world is everything. Understanding what you need and researching what is out there is time consuming, but well worth it. In some ways, the plethora of options is debilitating because there is so much from which to choose from practice management to accounting software, video conferencing, email hosting, and document management options. I have a feeling I may be constantly evaluating what is out there – such is the world we live in.
  • Being adaptable is not a luxury – it is mission critical. Harnessing technology is a must because that is what clients expect. I am learning how to use online forms to capture factual information that is necessary for client intake and routine filings. I am also using practice management software that allows me with one “click” to submit a bill to a client via email with a link to pay by credit card. These are things we expect of our own vendors and online providers – so our clients expect the same of us.
  • I have shifted my focus from being an employee to understanding that now I wear all of the hats. My brand is my business. I am my business. This is both exhilarating and overwhelming as I can say I am the captain of my own ship.
  • The practice of law is literally changing before our eyes. In a COVID and post-COVID world we are going to need to be flexible with clients and meet them where they are. They have so many different options when it comes to legal services that we cannot expect them to conform to a certain set of rules that we believe are necessary in order to provide good client service. Quite honestly, we do not know where we will be in three months, six months, or a year. Will we still be conducting remote trials and evidentiary hearings in a year? Or will people gradually start being comfortable doing in person meetings and mediations prior to that? We don’t know. And we might not know for a while.

The biggest change I have personally undergone in the last few months is that my perspective has changed because it had to. My daily routine changed and my responsibilities are greater. I can choose to look at myself as a lawyer who has a solo practice, or I can choose to look at myself as a solopreneuer who is a lawyer. I choose the latter. Why? It allows me to think of my practice not only as a law practice, but a business – my own business. To be a successful business owner you must be innovative, have a growth mindset, and think beyond the current day. To be a successful lawyer you must continually practice critical thinking skills, legal analysis, and deliver quality client service. Combining those skills provides the greatest opportunity for achievement as a lawyer who also owns his or her own business.