A mentor once told me that he knew it was time to do his own thing when he grew to dislike the colour of the walls at the firm where he worked. At that instant, he wanted to change everything about where and how he worked. He wanted to choose the colour of the walls in his office. He wanted to choose the furniture, the art, the décor, the staff. He wanted to change the procedures for this and that. He wanted different working hours, and a different address. He wanted his own thing, bearing his name. He wanted to call the shots; he wanted to work for himself.
Indeed, since this realization, my mentor has gone on to work for himself, and he has built a successful firm from the ground up. He employs multiple associates and his firm enjoys an excellent reputation.
How did he do that?
My mentor is not alone. Here are practical tips from lawyers who have gone out on their own and found incredible success in establishing their own firms.
For starters, Margaret Waddell, founding partner at Waddell Phillips Professional Corporation says:
When you decide to strike out on your own, one of the most important things about which you need to have clarity is what is the practice that you want to build.
Having a focused practice area or field ensures that you are able to deliver a clear message to clients and potential referral sources about the services that you provide. It gives you a target for building your expertise, so that you are not wasting time and resources trying to be everything for everybody. It is the surest route to becoming recognized as a go-to person in your chosen field.
Barry Weintraub, a founding partner at Weintraub Erskine Huang LLP, notes:
Law firms are about people. Getting to know each person takes hard work, understanding and patience, but it is the key to a strong foundation. The most important question in any firm is to identify the ordering of your common values, and what you hope to accomplish. It is not hard to identify in the abstract the values one would like to pursue (e.g., excellence, collegiality, respect, financial strength, mentoring, growth, openness, etc.), but it is much more difficult to decide which are the most important for you and others in your firm.