More Insight into the Challenges of Running a Law Practice

I posted an interview with Thomas, an attorney who ran his own practice and it attracted some attention. Thomas wrote a response which after thinking about it I like very much. Not just because it is a good response but because it adds even more insight into the challenges of running a law practice. Here it is:

…The practice of law is a very personal experience, and the ownership and maintenance of a solo law practice is even more personal. Yes, it’s even emotional. But that’s where it stops.

I owned and ran my own law practice for 8 years, and I litigated cases against the smallest and the biggest guys in the industry for 15 years. I have defended petty and major criminal defendants, and I have had the good fortune of working side by side with some of the most powerful attorneys in our State. Having stated the foregoing, at the end of the day when I would go back to the sanctity of my office, I would feel glad and content that I had the courage to take a step most would not, or could not take. But it all comes down to choices.

When my solo practice fell apart, it was because of the choices I had made. I chose not to go to someone with more business savvy than myself to salvage a good law practice. I also chose not to take steps to protect myself when it all hit the fan. Ethical obligations aside, the lack of business sense does not discriminate between a law practice or an auto body shop. It’s all the same premise.

Should a solo practice be run like a corporation, or at least subscribe to the model of how a corporation is formed, operated, and maintained? Absolutely!

A solo practitioner runs his or her law business without a safety net. The same protections that are in place for corporations do not exist for a solo business. But this does not mean that a solo cannot establish corporate-like protections, and it all begins with making intentional choices for the ultimate betterment of the business. Client care is important, but it is only one part of the equation. What good is client care when the practice’s infrastructure is defective, or unable to support the idealistic goals of the solo attorney. The reality of practicing law and running a law practice is not in how tough it is, but rather how quickly things can go to heck without a solid business framework.

If law students go to law school with the intention of becoming lawyers, it goes without saying or doing much marketing research that the newbie lawyers want to make MONEY!!! As do the middle to late career attorneys. But wanting to make money is a far cry from making it steadily, safely, and continuously. Most lawyers and I include myself in this group, have the education and smarts to convert clients into revenues, but most do not know where to begin and how to really do it. This is where a non-attorney with a strong business background can help focus and direct an attorney’s practice building needs and efforts. Attorneys have to come to grips with the fact that zeal and energy can never replace a healthy dose of Business-101. Look at it, adopt it, deal with it, and get over it.

On a final note, much to everyone’s relief, law school does not train law students to think like lawyers. This is at best a fallacy. What law school does is it gathers up a student’s jumbled and pathless thoughts, and focuses them on the issues at hand. This is not lawyerly thinking, it is thinking logically and with common-sense, something engineers and scientists do day in and day out. What a law student needs to learn about law practice and becoming an attorney is learnt in only one place. The trenches.