Hanging Out A Shingle
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
It doesn't get any better 6 years down the road when you have a thriving practice. Did my associate get that motion on file? Do we have someone to cover that case on Tuesday when I have a conflict? We have to hire another member for our team but are we (i.e., am I) going to be able to afford it?
It's tempting in those stressful situations to use toxic techniques in the office to try to control the situation. To try to instill a fear of consequences to gain results from your employees.
Address - don't ignore - the issues assertively. And listen to your employees, your team, who you can't afford not to have with you on this journey, because they, more than anyone else, will have have your back. And when you are done listening to them, expect that they listen to you too - to your feelings about the situation you are addressing.
But don't yell, name call or belittle.
If (or when) you do, don't be afraid to apologize. Sometimes, an "I'm sorry" adds a degree credibility - and integrity - that your team can't live without. Because that's exactly the kind of honesty you expect from your own employees.
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 email@example.com. You can also reach him through his websites www.tenglerlaw.com
I was on a mission today to go and see the movie that just came out about Steve Jobs. I've been dying to see it since I first saw the preview about a month ago. But, alas, when I checked out my AMC movie theater app for times and locations, the movie wasn't available anywhere in the Chicago-land area. And then I read the fine print . . . .
The movie was released on October 9 but only in select theaters in select cities. Chicago, I guess, hadn't been selected.
So I did the next best thing and picked up Time Magazine and read the article about Jobs that Time just published.
I was disappointed.
The article - and it's rather in-depth - goes into great detail about the life and vision and work of Steve Jobs. But the writer continues to come back time and time again that they reason for Jobs' greatness is his genius. Not his hard work, dedication, discipline, or developed sense of vision. But that the reason that Jobs' was so successful was because there was simply something innate about him - something we can't understand, something we don't have.
I don't know Jobs from Adam. And I haven't studied his life in the least bit. So maybe Time magazine is right.
But when I think about helping lawyers start and develop their own law practice, I am leary about this way of thinking, the kind of thinking that says, "Successful people are successful because there is something special about them."
This kind of thinking encourages lawyers who haven't yet started their own practice but who want to go out on their own to question themselves. "Maybe I'm not talented enough?" "Maybe I don't have what it takes?" "Maybe I don't have the special magic that you need to start a law firm?"
And in the process of that self-doubt then accomplish what you are afraid of happening - failure.
Again, I don't know Steve Jobs from Adam. Maybe he was pure genius. Maybe his success had little to do with hard work and discipline but just had to do with his innate intellectual ability and other innate characteristics.
But I know that innate ability or genius has little to do with starting a law practice. It's a science, not rocket-science. And if you apply certain principles and work hard at it, success is inevitable.
For more information on starting a law firm, contact Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his other website at www.tenglerlaw.com .
When I first went out on my own, I knew I needed a website and had no idea what to do about it. Websites are expensive to create - especially if you are already thousands of dollars in law school debt, have no income, and no clients.
Well, I was in luck! And so are you - if you want to start a law firm, have no money, and need to create a website.
But first things first. Why do you need a website? I mean, can't people find you in the phone book? Can't people find you through referrals? Well, yes.
But that's hardly where you're going to get your first clients. To get clients, the most cost-effective (and effective) way is to list yourself on directories - findlaw, avvo, yp.com, lawyers. com. But listing yourself on a directory is really irrelevant, if when they click on your profile, it doesn't lead anywhere.
When potential clients click on your links on a directory, the click needs to lead them directly to your website where they can find out about you and your firm.
HOWEVER, initially you're simply not going to be able to afford a fancy, properly SEO'd website. (Remember, you don't have any money or clients. How could you forget?). So, like me 5 years ago, you're going to need a free one.
And that's why you're in luck. There are a ton of companies out there who offer free websites. I'm a fan of weebly.com . That's where I listed my first website. And for a whopping $20 a year I was able to change my free domain name from www.tenglerlaw.weebly.com to www.tenglerlaw.com .
The great thing about www.weebly.com , as well, is that you can create a blog on the platform and begin building your social media audience and creating content - the importance of which we'll discuss in a later blog.
So get out there and get going on your website. You're certain to find a free platform. It's going to make you a lot of money and help launch your practice to success.
When I first went out on my own, there were a lot of nay-sayers. "How are you going to pay your student loans?" "You're going to get your clients by advertising? Really?" "Do you really think you're a good enough attorney to start your own practice?"
All toxic questions. All designed not to solve any problems. All questions that I heard from other people. AND heard within my own mind when I first hung out my shingle.
Don't listen to them. Don't entertain them in your own mind. You don't have the time for such foolishness.
First, train yourself to be positive. By positive, I don't mean naïve. I don't mean reckless. Rather, train yourself to problem solve so that when you see a challenge, you see the possibility of success - not the possibility of failure. Then work hard to accomplish the goal of overcoming that challenge.
Second, surround yourself with positive people. Make new friends. Get rid of old, toxic friends. Associate with people that are excited about life, excited about ideas, and can dream along with you. You will find there are some amazing people out there who you didn't even know existed.
Third, work hard and be passionate about what you are doing. There is no shame in shedding bad habits that keep you from accomplishments - too much drinking, not getting up early enough, not exercising enough, not taking the time to be creative.
When you start your own law practice, you put your life in your own hands and can do a lot of good. You simply don't have the time or luxury to be negative. And there is just too much to get done for yourself and other people to let yourself soak in your own worry.
When they came into my office, I immediately didn't like them. They wouldn't stop talking. They complained incessantly about their previous attorney. They explained how they expected me to litigate their case, despite their ignorance of the law and courtroom. And after an hour of free consultation, they wanted to talk another hour.
I didn't even quote them a high retainer. I didn't want to take their case and politely told them I needed to go.
Saying "No" to taking on toxic clients is just as important as learning how to get potential clients to say, "yes" to your services.
Toxic clients will consume your time, complain about your bill, complain about your services, and not pay you. Don't let them hire you. Or, if you find out in the middle of a case that the relationship is toxic, fire them.
You will be happier. Your practice will be stronger. And you will have more time to devote to those who really need your help and appreciate it.
I remember my first retainer. It was probably 6:00 o'clock some weekday evening. The client signed the retainer agreement and gave me the money. And I left the office that night and walked into one of my favorite restaurants to meet friends with $500 dollars in my pocket.
I was elated - and I had no idea how I just managed to do that.
The question that often looms in the minds of attorneys who want to start their own practice is how are they ever going to get clients. ” I remember the thoughts that raced through my mind. "Who would hire me?" "How can I be sure that any advertising will be successful?" "How can I be sure that clients will keep walking through my door?"
All completely normal questions from an outsider's perspective. But completely unproductive and illegitimate once you put into practice basic advertising practices and office procedures.
So . . .
First, budget for advertising. It will work.
Second, do your research. Find directories that place high on Google for your area of practice. Find out how many average impressions and clicks to your website you can expect.Third, sign the contract. Call the advertising company, the directory, and just do it.
Recently, my significant other and I decided we had gotten too fat and were going on a diet. We signed up for this healthy eating/dieting plan through Advocare, planned our meals for the week on the weekends and packaged the food in baggies for throughout the week, and made a list (or actually, Advocare made the list for us) of what we could and could not eat.
Before we knew it, the habits we began to form resulted in us losing a significant amount of weight.
In many ways, starting a law practice is very similar. During those first few months of "terror" when I hung out my own shingle, I formed habits that have stuck with me to this day - working Saturday mornings because the phones are quiet, always getting an intake in for an appointment within 48 hours, always calling a potentially new client back the same day . . . .
Habits give us an edge over other people who have not developed them because what might take others a good deal of thought and mental effort come naturally for us who have developed habits.
So, start developing good habits now to launch your successful practice and take a few minutes this evening to list 5 that you want to develop.