So you’re a fifth-year associate, burned out on the struggle to make partner. Or you just passed the bar, and the prospect of a months-long fruitless job search sounds unappetizing and exhausting. Either situation can lead to the same, game-changing move: starting your own firm. From the very first day you “hang out your shingle,” you’re not just an employee anymore—you’re a manager, an accountant, a marketer, and (most important of all) an entrepreneur.
You can think of it this way: your new firm is a startup, a word that has a lot of anxiety-provoking questions attached to it. Will you end up penniless, with nothing but an Aeron chair to your name, like a victim of the dot-com bubble? Will you look back on this as a reckless decision that cost you a lot of time and money?
By training, lawyers focus on the negatives of a course of action, but rarely look at potential benefits. Starting your own practice has one big benefit—freedom—the option to try just about anything to help make your firm effective.
At big or even medium-sized firms, even the smallest changes can require rigorous review through the appropriate, pre-designated channels. It can take a long time to make anything happen, and political drama or institutional stasis can still derail the best ideas. But at your small firm, you can bypass the bureaucracy. You can try anything you want, and your big, brilliant idea can be implemented (or scrapped) tomorrow.
By viewing your small firm as a startup, you’ve basically been granted an infinite number of choices. Most people don’t get to experience that kind of flexibility. And though this might seem overwhelming at first, keep in mind that every choice is an opportunity for you to succeed, not just fail.
From time to time, we hear business owners reminding each other to “adapt or die.” Though we appreciate the gist of this truism, it doesn’t do anything to counteract the fear and uncertainty you might feel when you’re striking out on this adventure. Though you’re certainly about to start adapting to the changes the market throws at you, don’t concentrate on the possibility of failure—focus on the probability of success. Learn to change, and learn to live.
– Kat Stromquist