Starting and running a law practice is hard work. You have to ensure your business has positive cashflow. Meet and manage client expectations. Ensure that employees are satisfied. Constantly continue to learn the law and practice it. And, especially in my line of business, muster the energy every morning when you walk into divorce court to zealously advocate for your clients and negotiate with opposing counsel.
There is little time for frivolity or silliness.
And then my partner, Loni, and I welcomed two beautiful babies into our home as foster parents.
Sleep became the number one commodity. We did shifts of 5 hours each night for those first several months to ensure we at least got several hours of uninterrupted sleep. We set up a morning routine, designating who took the babies to day care on which mornings and who got them ready. We did weekend day shifts. If I worked Saturday morning, Loni ran errands in the afternoon. Our lives, work and personal – when we weren't comatose – had to increasingly run like clockwork, simply to ensure we could function.
And then along the way something magical began to happen. Obviously, the first was baby-talk. Never in my life could I have imagined talking like a little baby as an adult, lawyer, and businessman, until these two precious creatures came into Loni’s and my life. And then I could hardly stop it. “Goo, goo, gah, gah.” “What are yoooou doing?” “I love you sooooooo much” all the time smiling ear to ear just wishing and hoping to extract a smile and giggle from those babies.
Then there was the game playing. Holding Moo Moo (my silly nickname for the baby boy) high in the air and then pulling him close just because it makes him scream with laughter. Or the blanket game, the tickle the leg and arm game, or the belting out of songs game as they play on YouTube just because it makes our precious babies happy.
I could go on with the silliness – there is no end to the love we feel helping to make these babies the happiest little creatures on the planet with all kinds of silly games and voices and singing - but you’ve probably heard enough already.
What's relevant for the purpose of this article is the effect such silliness can have on one’s practice.
I sat in the courtroom the other day waiting to argue my motion to quash beside opposing counsel. It was an important motion. I didn't know how I was going to need to respond if it wasn't granted. Would there be a risk of being held in contempt? Would there be a jail sentence? Would there be a need to appeal?
Without realizing what the other was doing, opposing counsel and I pulled out our phones simultaneously and showed each other a silly picture of one of our children and we both immediately started laughing.
As I approached the bench 2 minutes later, I had nothing but a sense of peace as I argued my motion, thinking carefully through my arguments and, in the back of my mind, having a sense of peace knowing I would see my babies that evening.
The court granted my motion. But, even if it hadn't, all would have been right with the world.
This past weekend, I attended the retirement and going-away party of my good friend and mentor, Perry Reynolds. It was both a happy and sad occasion. Happy, in the sense that I was celebrating the life of a man whom I love and respect. But it was also sad.
Sad, because we have met for dinner almost every month for the past 10 years and he has helped guide me through some of the most difficult and successful times in my personal life and career as a lawyer. His move is sure to change our ability to do that.
But his impact on me will last the rest of my life.
If you are looking for a mentor as an attorney and entrepreneur, you can’t go wrong if you connect with a person that shares the characteristics that I have had the benefit of observing in Perry.
Good mentors for attorneys are (generally) not lawyers.
One of the most refreshing aspects about my relationship with Perry is that he is not an attorney. He brings to the table a fresh perspective, an outsider’s perspective. His insights into business are just as applicable as a lawyer’s but he sees things from a different angle.
As a lawyer, you need an outsider’s perspective when you are running a legal business. Outsiders can provide helpful tips about marketing, managing employees, and landing and maintaining clients that attorneys may be more likely to be blind to.
Good mentors have been around the block and can relate to your personal story.
Perry’s done it all. Kids, divorced, single, poor, well-to-do, married and now an independent consultant. His life has been filled with experiences that he can draw from.
Nothing has been more comforting than knowing when I have faced a personal or professional challenge that Perry probably has experienced something similar that may give him insight into my situation.
Good mentors are unapologetically optimistic and non-judgmental.
I could always count on Perry to have a positive perspective about life and any situation I was facing. His example helped change how I approached and perceived personal and professional challenges. Rather than allowing myself to feel mired, I began to see difficult situations as opportunities. That kind of perspective is essential when you are running a business as an entrepreneur. You have to continually problem-solve and there should be a sense of excitement and confidence that you can overcome anything.
Good mentors value risk.
Nothing is more debilitating to an entrepreneur and a lawyer than someone who is afraid of risk. Perry never questioned my advertising methods, the expenses related to them or risks in acquiring new hires. Risk goes along with success. Perry understood that implicitly.
Good mentors are are gracious, kind, charismatic, and empathetic.
Perry embodied these characteristics. Connecting yourself with someone with these characteristics is essential as an entrepreneur. You don’t have time for gossips or toxic people.
Good mentors see (your) success as inevitable.
Perry never questioned whether I would be successful. Ever.
Not because he was naïve. Nor was I. But because we both knew that gnawing self-doubt was a waste of time when there was so much to experience, do, and accomplish.
Your relationship is mutually beneficial.
Perry wasn’t just a mentor. He was a friend. We both valued hearing about each other’s experiences – even though I, clearly, was the person who got the better end of the deal.
Perry Reynold served for years as Vice President of Marketing and Trade Development at the International Housewares Association, a non profit trade organization with over 1600 member companies from over 40 countries that has promoted the sale of housewares since 1938. He now resides in Jacksonville, Florida, where he works as an independent consultant. He can be reached through his website at www.perryreynolds.com or email at email@example.com.
Most people probably envision that they will be making substantially more money when starting their own law practice. And rightfully so. Rather than those payments by clients going into the hands of the partners of the firm while you are working your butt off for an underpaid salary, those payments will be going straight into your hands. And if business expenses are significantly less than cash flow, you will stand to make good money.
The fact of the matter is that making good money on your own should be given. You should expect for cash flow to be between $500k and a million dollars a year after 4 or 5 years of practicing.
But there are other reasons for starting one's own practice because let's face it, money, while it feels good and can be a great motivator, is not enough for many of us with entrepreneurial vision. There are other reasons we want to start and run our own law practices.
You get to be the person in creative control. One of the best things about starting your own law firm is that you get to make all the creative decisions. Remember when you asked your supervising partner if you could branch out in a certain area of the law and she said no? Remember when you wanted to handle a piece of litigation in a certain strategic kind of way and your boss interfered with that decision? Not so, when you are on your own. You make your own decisions. You choose the direction of litigation. You figure out what works and what doesn't work for marketing.
You get to create your own office culture. Remember when one of the senior partners yelled at you for your alleged incompetence? Or another attorney in the firm? Remember how you thought you would have handled that differently, if you were in charge? When you are on your own, that's exactly what you get to you. For good or bad, you are responsible for creating a work environment that is both productive and humane.
You are in control of your own time. This is a blessing and a curse. But, from my perspective, much more of a blessing. No longer are you motivated by what your boss may say or do if you don't meet a deadline. You are in charge of prioritizing what needs to be prioritized and then making projects, research, motions happen. Perhaps that seems more scary to you. But it shouldn't be. Deadlines and time management when you are running your own law practice are organic. They make sense because you understand what time needs to be put into what projects - and then you are the person who makes sure that it happens.
Brad is the founder of the Law Office of Bradley R. Tengler, Inc. and of HangingOutAShingle.com. If you are interested in finding out more information about starting a law firm, contact him at 815-997-5200 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him through his websites www.tenglerlaw.com