No, Hanging A Shingle Does Not Make You An Entrepreneur.

Self-employed versus entrepreneur
I enjoy reading Keith Lee’s blog posts on Above the Law.  He’s conversational, sensible and generally pretty much on the money when he shares his thoughts.  However, last week he wrote a post which highlights a big problem within the legal field – confusing self-employment with entrepreneurship.

I suppose a challenge coming from me seems a little strange because I often write about both solo practice and entrepreneurship.  But, I never confuse the two.

Going solo does not make you an entrepreneur.  It makes you self-employed.

Let me explain the differences and why they are important.

By way of example:

A man loves to bake cupcakes. He decides to open up a cupcake store.  He has no desire to do anything beyond working ‘in’ his business as the baker and this is all he knows.  His wife helps him negotiate a bank loan and line of credit, keeps the books, negotiates leased space, orders supplies, and fills orders.  He hires help as needed. He markets his products through social media, local ‘taste of the community’ events and special promotions. He sustains himself.  He works ‘in’ his business. He is self-employed.

In contrast, a woman loves to bake exotic cupcakes, wants to get national exposure on Cupcake Wars, get investment dollars from the SharkTank, has already mapped out how she’s going to have 1, then 10, cupcake trucks, build out a franchise for these trucks across the country and eventually build a cupcake empire under her brand, quite possibly expanding into other baked goods.  She’ll hire bakers, get a manufacturing plant and distribution center.  She’s already working on a decorating tool which will revolutionize how cupcakes are frosted and there is a patent pending. She spends her time working ‘on’ her business. She’s creating a new world, one from her own imagination. She’s an entrepreneur.

No, Keith, solo and small firm practitioners for the most part are not entrepreneurs.  They are self-employed.  And there is nothing wrong, in fact there is much right, with this status. But they are not entrepreneurs.  While statistics you site showcase that there is ever-increasing self-employment, it is not ever-increasing entrepreneurship.

Yes, Keith, in a perfect world law schools would actually be teaching entrepreneurship and technology, hosting hackathons and cerebral ironman competitions, unleashing the creativity of law students that for so long has been pushed aside or squashed.  They would be encouraging students to re-imagine and reshape the delivery of legal services while simultaneously teaching core doctrine, ethics, client communications, and negotiation.  Students would be provided an environment to build that better mouse trap within the profession and they would be encouraged to do so in law school.  Law schools would be producing the next great legal startups in addition to competent attorneys. I do agree that the majority of law schools are ill-prepared to do this.  That’s the sad truth.

I can say there are some schools headed in the right direction.  I have been an entrepreneur mentor for the Law Without Walls program originating from University of Miami School of Law for going on four years. This program is very unique in that it teams up law students from over 30 law and business schools across the globe to create solutions to problems existing within the profession and they then pitch their ideas to Venture Capitalists.  I’m also on the advisory board of the Suffolk School of Law – Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation which is definitely being steered in the right direction captained by their newest Dean, Andrew Perlman. He has already begun to revamp the curriculum to focus on technology education, delivery systems and much more alongside traditional education and working with the Sawyer Business School. These pioneering programs will start to turn out legal entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day, law schools should be turning out legal entrepreneurs.  But given they have only just started to grasp the fact they should at the very least turn out lawyers who are capable of being self-employed, I don’t hold out much hope for the near future.  I’m fairly confident it will be a very, very long time before the majority of law schools will have a stated goal of (or are capable of) turning out legal entrepreneurs even though this is exactly what the profession needs at this time.

This entry was posted in Inspiration, Solo & Small Firm Practice, Subjective Opinions, The BS-Free Zone and tagged Above the Law, Entrepreneurship, Keith Lee, Self-employed. Bookmark the permalink.

Enjoy our blog posts with lunch! Enter your email address and we'll send you an email each time a new blog post is published.

Want your free copy of Business Call is Back and Attorney Guide to Virtual Receptionists? Subscribe by email below and you will be able to download them immediately.

3 comments on “No, Hanging A Shingle Does Not Make You An Entrepreneur.

  • Excellent article not just for attorneys but all business owners. Understanding this distinction and acting accordingly eliminates many of the frustrations and disappointments of running a business. Looking forward to sharing this with my peeps. Thanks Susan

  • Susan – thank you for pointing out the difference, and affirming that there is nothing wrong with being self-employed and not identifying as an entrepeneur. I was listening to a radio segment the other day discussing how entrepeneurs must have a fire in the belly and have a singleminded focus on what they are trying to achieve, and wondered if maybe I was a bit naive about starting my own firm. But while I might not be a law firm entrepeneur, I went out on my own so I would have time and mental space to pursue other professionally related projects, such as training young associates, and starting a non-profit to help ordinary people navigate financial challenges. Being self-employed will allow me the flexibility to be “entrepeneurial” in other ways.

    • Ariadne, you hit the nail on the head when you said, ‘Being self-employed will allow me the flexibility to be “entrepreneurial” in other ways.’ You can have both an entrepreneurial spirit and be self-employed. It’s just going out on your own is not in and of itself ‘being an entrepreneur’.

Comments are closed automatically 60 days after the post is published.