10 Things No One Tells You About Hanging Out Your Shingle

Many of us dream of working for ourselves. It’s part of the culture. We admire the fearless entrepreneur, and we’d like to be one.

Unfortunately, we usually have no idea what we’re getting ourselves into.

Here are 10 things no one tells you about hanging out your shingle:

1. You won’t have anyone to turn to for advice or feedback.

It’s tough when you don’t have anyone to go to with your questions. It’s not always possible to look it up and find the answer in your research. Often, you need someone with experience who can guide you.

Sure, you’ll find groups of solos who meet to discuss issues. You’ll have friends who can help. Hopefully, you’ll even develop some mentoring relationships. Realistically, however, all those lawyers are busy. You’ll feel like you’re interrupting, and you will be. That makes it hard to keep asking.

It’s also tough when you finish a big trial or hearing and have no one interested in your debrief. We learn a great deal as we process what just happened. It’s great to have someone who can reflect on events with you and act as your sounding board. That kind of person is hard to find when you’re on your own.

2. You’ll have stress through the roof.

You thought the bar exam was stressful? Forgetaboutit. The stress of the rent being due, the client demanding a refund, and payroll being due—all at once—is enough to leave you curled up in the fetal position, crying in a corner. Mix the financial issues with the challenge of selling your services and the uncertainty about your legal skills, and you’ll soon find yourself looking for a parking place outside of the psychiatric hospital as you prepare to check yourself in.

You’ll make it through the incredible stress, but you’ll have more than a few moments where you question the likelihood of survival.

3. You don’t have what it takes.

You think you do, but you don’t. You don’t have the knowledge, skills, or ability to do what needs to be done. You’re powered by hope, which makes things challenging. Eventually, you’ll get educated and learn the lessons you need to learn. But, especially in the beginning, you won’t know what you need to know, and that’ll make life much harder. You’ll sometimes stick with it because you have no other options, not because you know what to do next. You’ll feel trapped in your ignorance.

4. It takes years.

Everyone wants quick results, but for the most part, things don’t happen quickly. It takes a few years to get a practice to generate the money required to make it worth doing. The first year is often financially deceptive because lawyers sometimes take clients with them from their old firm. When that business dries up, it’s especially difficult if you haven’t been doing the marketing all along. Most practices require at least two years to work out the kinks.

5. Being passionate won’t cut it.

Sure, you want to be a lawyer. You’ve got the energy and desire. Sadly, that’s not enough. (I want a Robinson R44 helicopter really bad, but the company still wants a check before sending me one: wanting it is not enough.) You’ve got to have discipline, determination, talent, and skill. No amount of passion overcomes the required qualities. You’ll grow over time, but if passion is all you’ve got, you won’t last.

6. You don’t have the skills you need.

You’ll need to be proactive about gaining skills if you’re going to grow. You don’t yet know how to manage people. You’ll have to learn. You don’t yet know how to manage your finances. You’ll have to learn. You’ll also need to master the marketing and technology. Stick around here at Divorce Discourse, and I’ll do my best to help.

7. Imitation doesn’t help.

Initially, you’ll imitate what other lawyers in your position are doing. They’re getting crappy results, and you will too until you break from the pack. You’re going to need to do things differently to stand out. The same old approach gets the same old results. Don’t ask them what they’re doing and copy it. Ask them what they’re doing and then do something different.

8. You won’t get rich.

Opening your own practice will make you lots of money if you’re already making lots of money. When trial lawyer John Edwards decided to hang out his shingle, he was already killing it at the firm where he worked. He kept killing it (and then quit practicing law, but now he’s back). If you’re living on a measly associate salary, you may well earn less after striking out on your own. Be prepared for a cut in pay. This is going to take time. And, even when it’s all working, you may not make what you imagined. Lots of lawyers, even after years out on their own, are struggling.

9. It’s lonely at the top.

You’re going to find few others who can relate to your work issues after you strike out. Most others have jobs. They don’t understand your stress, anxiety, or issues. You’ll want to find other business owners and create a peer group. The old friends aren’t going to understand why you’re freaking out. Even when you create a new group, it’s still lonely at the top: that’s why that old saying sticks around.

10. The vendors don’t care.

The loneliness puts us in weird relationships with the vendors. It’s common sense that vendors just want to sell you stuff. They aren’t your friends. But the vendors are so good at being compassionate, and you’re so desperate for an understanding friend, that you start to believe they care. My guess is that the good ones do care. Unfortunately, they leave as soon as you can’t pay the bill. They aren’t your true friends. Understand that they aren’t the solution to the loneliness issue.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine when you open your own office. It’s tough. Expecting it makes it easier. My intention today is to inject a dose of reality into your decision-making process and to let those already out there know they’re not alone. Life is difficult. For many of us, it’s worth it.

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