As an athlete, I had experienced the sensation of butterflies in my tummy a thousand times. It’s that nervous feeling of uncertainty that one has just before a big game—the feeling that one will either conquer or be conquered. I admit that it’s a common feeling. Yet, as many times as I had felt butterflies, never before had I imagined that I could experience an emotion more paralyzing. The thought alone was overwhelming. It was total fear, the fear of starting my own practice as a newbie.
In 2008, I graduated from law school and passed the bar. As most new graduates, I felt a sense of great accomplishment. Then, I realized that I was in the midst of a severely declining job market. After endlessly job searching and interviewing, I knew that I had to do something different. I decided that I should consider starting my own practice.
Between the conception of this “bright” idea and starting my practice, I experienced quite a bit of fear and doubt. It was nearly a year before I accepted that I was actually capable of being a successful solo attorney without years of experience to guide me. The following are tips on how to conquer the fears of starting a practice as newbie.
Do your research. One of the most important factors in moving forward with my practice was research. As a young lawyer who had never owned a business, I knew very little about what it took to start and maintain a practice. I was overwhelmed by the thought of all that I didn’t know and felt very uncomfortable with what I knew. As such, I made a decision to do as much research as I could. I began by reading several guides on how to be an entrepreneur. I utilized free resources on the Small Business Administration website, including online tutorials. I even tracked down a copy of Jay Foonberg’s acclaimed book: “How to Start & Build a Law Practice.”
These guides helped me understand how to overcome many hurdles that most entrepreneurs encounter when starting a business. I learned about business plans, licensing, applying for loans, advertising, marketing, billing clients, contracting services, and more. After researching, I felt more confident that I had the basic knowledge to get started.
Learn by observing. Most lawyers will tell you that law school doesn’t teach you how to practice law. Many things are learned by trial and error. Yet, there is little room for error when one is trying to build a reputation and practice. As such, I think it’s important to learn as much as you can from other practitioners. It will be beneficial to find a mentor, sit in on court appearances, intern, and read books, forms, or other pleadings for assistance. I did all of these. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even at times when I felt confident about my work, I asked other attorneys for their opinions. In doing so, I was able to build relationships with older colleagues. I also left with helpful advice and cases to bolster my arguments and understanding of the law.
Networking. Starting a practice requires more than knowledge of the law. When I started, fellow attorneys quickly informed me that being successful meant being a business person first and foremost. “There is the practice of law and the business of law,” they would say. “If you can’t conduct business, it doesn’t matter how well you practice.”
To succeed at the business of law means that one must maintain a profit. This can be one of the most stifling considerations in deciding whether to start a business. “Where is my income going to come from,” you must ask. Income is primarily generated from clients. As such, it is important to establish and maintain a good client base. This can be successfully done through one’s connections and involvement. I found that most people either need a lawyer or know of someone who does. As a result, the more people that you know the more potential clients you have. Most of my clients are referred to me from family members, friends, church members, or through organizations that I participate in. My networking has therefore been invaluable.
Be Confident. My greatest fear stemmed from my lack of confidence. Part of me believed that I could start a practice as a newbie, but a larger part lacked the confidence to step out in faith. It was not until I gained a sense of spiritual empowerment that I developed the confidence that I needed to move forward. I began to say to myself that “I can do all things through Christ Jesus,” that “I am more than a conqueror,” and that “God has not given me the spirit of fear.” I had to believe in myself. Building this self-assurance was critical to my forward progress. It also continues to help me during times when I feel overwhelmed.
Just do it. One can have all of the necessary tools, but at some point you must put your plan into action. The action is the fun part. It’s when you get to see your vision materialize. So start looking for office space, open a business account, and tell people that you are in practice. Taking these steps doesn’t mean that you’re completely ready or that you won’t have concerns, but at some point you just have to do it. It’s like having butterflies before the game. Once you get started, the fear will begin to dissipate. Undoubtedly, other fears may arise as you face new challenges. Nevertheless, challenges are meant to be conquered. Don’t be afraid to be a newbie blazing a trail. Don’t be afraid to see past your fears into your destiny. Instead of asking yourself “who am I to be,” ask “who am I not to be…?” Arise and conquer!