(And no, it didn’t start as a side hustle.)
After graduation, many job-seekers hunt down positions in established companies with a large pool of clients. That’s precisely what I did as a new lawyer. Working for a big firm provides financial stability, mentorship, exciting cases, and the potential for upward mobility.
But it’s not the best choice for everyone. Some lawyers find the grind of an established firm to be too much, often citing poor work-life balance, limited control, or long hours as reasons for branching out on their own.
In this case, opening a solo practice may be the best choice. However, it’s a challenge to get a law firm—or any newly established company—off the ground. It takes time and dedication to become profitable.
Looking to quit your stable position to venture out on your own? You can do it! And no, you don’t need to start with a side hustle.
Here are five lessons I learned from quitting my job to start my own firm, which apply to anyone looking to make the leap from employee to entrepreneur:
1. Plan your departure carefully
How you leave your current job can make or break your future. It’s important to leave on good terms with transparency to maintain a good relationship. You may be able to rely on your old firm to bring clients into your new one through referrals.
Your established firm may have difficulty fitting small clients into a busy schedule. Referring them to you benefits both of you, but that won’t happen if you leave on bad terms or try to steal clients before you go.
2. Create a client acquisition strategy
Lawyers used to rely on their reputations to bring in new clients. The market has gotten more competitive, however, and clients find lawyers in any number of ways. It takes more than a name and social network to attract new business.
Before you venture out on your own, you need a client acquisition plan to gain momentum for your new firm. A mix of marketing methods, including traditional radio or television ads combined with digital marketing through search or social media, is important.
However you choose to approach your client acquisition, it’s vital to have a strategy with client profiles, a well-functioning website, marketing objectives, and a well-rounded marketing mix. Without a plan, you won’t know what works and what doesn’t.
3. Do the math
Planning the financial aspects of starting a business is challenging. Most people struggle to anticipate all the costs and set an appropriate budget, but this is important for your success.
There’s no hard-and-fast number for what it costs to start a law firm or any new company. You can estimate your costs, however, and determine your budget.
Consider all your expenses, including technology, services, office space and supplies, and professional expenses like licensing and insurance. If you plan to staff or outsource, consider that in your budget.
Lawyers may benefit from a virtual firm. This is a good way to start with low overhead and helps you estimate your costs before you’re stuck with an office building lease. You can set a timeline to open a physical office in the future.
Remember to consider all your expenses. Some often overlooked expenses include office furniture and décor, office supplies like paper, staplers, and filing cabinets, and staff amenities like a coffee machine or a table and chairs for a breakroom.
Ideally, you’ll have enough money set aside to cover your professional and personal expenses for a year or so. If your firm performs well and you have unexpected expenses, you’ll have a cushion to get by until you can bring in more clients.
4. Nurture your network
If your former law firm can give you referrals, that’s a great start for your new firm. If not, you can rely on your personal and professional networks to get referrals. Don’t be shy about reaching out to people who may need your services.
For example, if you’re a family law attorney, you can speak to local therapists and counselors. If you’re in personal injury law, contact the local healthcare providers to see if they have referrals for you.
Start networking as soon as possible. If you’re planning to open your own firm, letting people know early is a good practice to get your name out there in advance. It’s not appropriate to speak to your current firm’s clients, however, unless you’ve already discussed your plan to open your own firm.
5. Venture out on your own
Going solo isn’t a small undertaking, but it’s well worth it! You’ll have control over your practice and your career, and there’s a sense of satisfaction when you tackle the obstacles to create your future success.
Contributed to EO by Maxwell Hills, the founder of Hills Law Group a premier Orange County divorce law firm. Max’s entrepreneurial career stretches back to his teenage days when he had his music used in Grey’s Anatomy and ESPN. Max leveraged that experience to build Hills Law Group from 0 customers and $0 in revenue into a respected firm in the industry.