I started my practice after law school and had very little, if any, clue as to what I was doing. I had to learn on the fly and through trial and error. Some things I did right, while on others, I fell short. If you are considering hanging your shingle, or if you already have, you can learn from five serious mistakes I made when I first started my firm. They say that success leaves clues, and I believe mistakes do as well. Looking back, here are some of the things I wish I had done differently, which I hope will help you avoid the same ones, no matter where you are in your journey.
1. Not Networking in Person
The first mistake I made was that I failed to get out of my office and network enough. They say that nothing productive happens in front of a computer monitor. At the time when I first started out, Internet marketing and blogging were getting bigger and bigger, so I thought I could grow my practice through digital effort. While that approach did help me bring in work, it would have been better to get out more and shake hands at networking events, bar association meetups, etc. Now, I do these things vigorously, but I should have done more of that at the start of my career because networking is a high-value use of any attorney’s time.
2. Not Marketing Creatively
The second mistake I made was to be boring with my marketing. I was simply looking at the Yellow Pages (yes, they were still around back then) and attorney websites and mimicking what other attorneys were doing. That meant that I was not standing out enough—I was blending in with all the others in lawyer-saturated Boston. My best marketing has been disruptive. It’s different from that of other attorneys. Make sure your website is not boring and vanilla. If you have the scales of justice on your website and/or serious photos of you in front of the courthouse with your arms crossed, looking overly serious, take them down. Marketing should attract and not repel. The best marketing is that which gets, and holds, people’s attention. With the advent of social media and an increasingly congested Internet, standing out is key.
3. Not Cultivating Referral Sources
The next mistake I made was not appreciating or even realizing the power of growing a database of raving fans. The best business asset that lawyers have is their list of people who know, like, and trust them. This list of attorneys and past clients will send you referrals and help your business grow. I neglected this when I first started out, but now, I consistently send mailed newsletters as well as email blasts out to my list of attorneys and former clients so that I remain top-of-mind at all times.
4. Not Running My Law Firm Like a Business
The fourth mistake was failing to run my practice like an actual business. All attorneys are in the business of law rather than the practice of law. Sure, we are in a noble and highly respected profession, but we are still running a business, just like any other service provider. For too long, I viewed my law firm as a practice rather than a business. Now, I run a cohesive and structured law business that is scaling thanks to systems and processes. The better you can run your law firm like a business, the better off you will be.
5. Not Focusing on Helping People
The fifth mistake was that I admittedly focused far too much energy chasing money rather than focusing on helping people. As I approach the midpoint of my career, I realize now that chasing money is empty and does not lead to career fulfillment. I have found, rather, that when you prioritize helping people, the money comes almost automatically. I understand that when you first start out a practice, concerns about money are incredibly stressful. But if you truly aim to help people rather than focusing on money, you will do extremely well, and you will find greater career happiness as a result.
There are countless other mistakes I made and will make in the future. But the preceding five are the biggest ones that I would handle differently if I had a mulligan. Please email me and share some of the big mistakes you made when you first hung your shingle because I would love to hear from you. My email is [email protected].
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 13, Number 5, December 2023. © 2023 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.