At my law school, becoming a lawyer or clerk in Biglaw was touted as the ultimate achievement. Unfortunately, that meant the vast majority of my classmates were having … sloppy seconds? I knew the idea of settling accounts in six minute increments for the rest of my legal career was tantamount to blowing my eyes out. Likewise, checking quotes or writing legal opinions has not been my best life. No thanks, I will pass.
So I chose the path of least resistance. Somebody hire me! For 11 years I did the best jobs I could. Now I am creating it. I had to deal with my untrue, preconceived notions first, such as that solo and small business practices weren’t for me, and attorneys hanging their own clapboards couldn’t be employed anywhere else. It took some work, but I’m so grateful that I found my way to entrepreneurship as a lawyer.
Here are some lessons I learned on my journey. Some I wish I had known before I hung my clapboard:
Just do it!
Do you remember the Colin Kaepernick Nike commercial at the height of your kneeling against the police brutality controversy? Ahh, yes, an easier time before the uprising. The ad is full of video footage of athletes resisting the odds despite their class, age, race, gender, ability and religion. This is the type of video you watch to prepare for a triathlon or key presentation. The “just do it” energy makes up most of the fight. Setting up your clapboard takes mental energy.
Enter impostor syndrome, stage on the left.
Like a stubborn blackhead, cheating syndrome occurs at the worst of times. It is this agonizing self-doubt that keeps us (mostly women) from betting on ourselves. We buy the lie that we are fraudulent, not smart enough, and not worthy enough to take calculated risks. Impostor syndrome locks you in gold handcuffs on a high-paying job or keeps you locked in the rat race instead of living a life that lives up to your deepest desires.
The reality is that we are worth doing in business – when asked to do so. For some, becoming a small business owner is a big mistake. It is not for everyone. However, for the chosen few of us who wish to tread this path, it is incredibly rewarding. Ignore the naysayers and your inner self-doubts. Repeat the Nike ad until the end. Your dreams are only insane until you do. So just do it.
Clarify who I serve and what I do
Now that you have made up your mind to go on strike, it is beneficial to define who you serve and what you do. If you’re like me when you first started, your immediate thought is to take someone with a recognizable heartbeat.
Traffic ticket? Sure, why not.
Government contract? Sign me up.
While the spaghetti-on-the-wall method is tempting at first, determining who to serve and what kind of law to apply will help you focus and lead to more success. Be the CEO of Your Law Firm by Ally Lozano is a hands-on book on how to start a law firm.
3. I have to pay myself
It is very tempting to put your heart and soul into your law firm and pay yourself like a part-time intern or not at all. Fight the urge to forego payment. Yes, you may not start out with a high salary, but pay yourself a living wage. What’s the point in building a practice that doesn’t support your lifestyle? I know so many lawyers who have a successful practice but struggle to get monthly payrolls. Full disclosure: I’ve been there myself. Cash flow problems are the worst, but this doesn’t have to be the norm in your practice. Build up reserves, rent a cash bus, find out.
Next week I’ll share a few more tips on what I would have wished for before starting a law firm. Please send me constructive comments or questions to [email protected] I would also be happy to receive your suggestions for topics!
Iffy Ibekwe is the principal attorney and founder of Ibekwe Law, PLLC. She is an estate planning evangelist for the transfer of wealth between generations with effective will and trust. Iffy is writing her first book on culturally literate estate planning, available in 2022 (prayers up!). She graduated from the University of Texas School of Law and has practiced law for over 14 years. Iffy can be reached by email at [email protected], on their website and on Instagram @thejustincaselawyer.