Hi. My name is Suzanne and I am an addict.
It started simply enough with a babysitting business in high school. Then I expanded that to a babysitting service I ran out of a bowling alley on league nights. Before you knew it, I was running a catering business out of my kitchen during college.
But it didn’t stop there. I sold real estate briefly, but it wasn’t my thing. I got into a career in computers as a database and systems engineer. Still, wherever I worked I always had a business on the side. “Consulting,” I called it then. Let’s call it what it really was: entrepreneurship.
The only time I didn’t run a side business was when I was in law school. Then I just dabbled in moot court and clerking for a law firm on top of my day job of studying for class.
After law school, when I went to work for a big firm, I thought I was over it. Thought I’d managed to quit starting businesses cold turkey. But then it happened: three years in and I relapsed. I was helping other entrepreneurs start their businesses through my work at the firm. It was like being an alcoholic trying to stay on the wagon while tending bar. Eventually the temptation grew too strong and I had to hang a shingle.
That was six years ago. I’ve now got a growing law firm, a virtual office business, and two software companies in which I’m a partner. I’m considering starting another business as well. I know I have a problem. I just don’t know how to stop.
Sound familiar? If you are addicted to entrepreneurship – if you cannot help yourself from starting up start-ups – then you and I have a lot in common.
All things being equal – the same work getting done in the same amount of time, ethical obligations observed, etc. – a legal entrepreneur is not the same as a solo practice attorney.
Owning a solo practice is running a business. Small business owners have a desire to work for themselves, the drive to get up early and work hard and build a thriving business. But they see the business they build as the end point. Once they get that machine humming, they are content to simply be the biggest cog in the wheel. You know these guys: they play by the rules and set up a law firm the same way everyone has ever set up a law firm. They’re profitable and, well, a little vanilla. Which is fine, but it’s not me.
Being a legal entrepreneur is a little different. We think bigger picture. Getting an idea off the ground is great – we love doing that, in fact – but what we really love is starting the enterprise and watching it run. We get up early, work hard, and try to figure out a better way to practice law while we are at it. We surround ourselves with people who do the work while we go make it rain. We start our firms with the intent of growing them into self-sustaining businesses that run themselves while we pursue other things… like starting our virtual office services, software companies and technology firms.
Legal entrepreneurs love risk and competition. We get up every morning looking forward to finding an envelope to push, and we have the temerity to experiment with how we run our firms. We may find a unique niche for our practices, or we may experiment with alternative fee and billing structures. Or maybe we will build a truly virtual practice or find a unique way to leverage technology to deliver legal services. Or maybe we find a new way to market our services to compete with other lawyers and beat them at their own game. Where others zig, we zag.
Legal entrepreneurs, in other words, are not just lawyers who happen to run a business. We are entrepreneurship addicts who happen to practice law.